What if you mix the mayonnaise in the can, WITH the tunafish?
By week 6 I felt like I had begun to get the hang of a basic working practice of doing Personal Kanban using a physical board. I definitely still had room for improvement, but I felt ready to start on the next phase of this experiment - tracking the work using an electronic board. Another reason I wanted to begin this phase was that I was about to begin traveling and teaching again.
The questions I initially had about this were:
There were a number of concerns I had about each of these questions.
Maintaining Working Habits
When I am teaching Scrum classes or coaching I always advocate starting out with a physical practice of working with a board on the wall whenever possible. There are two primary reasons for this.
The first is that when people are adopting an Agile practice, doing the work with physical tools allows the practitioners to develop their own working version of Scrum. Once they have established their practice, they gain clarity on what they need a tool to do for them. If they begin with an electronic tool, they learn to work the way the tool works. Each of the tools offers it’s own take on Agile and this may, or may not work to the benefit of the practitioner, but more often than not I’ve seen people rely on the tool to drive their habits (or provide them with an excuse for not applying some aspect of a practice.)
The second reason is that while it may not seem like a big deal, there is a psychological boost that comes from walking up to a board and moving a card into the Done column. It’s not a huge boost, but it is a good feeling to physically do that. If you can do it multiple times a day, there is an increased sense of accomplishment and this helps drive the practice. While I do think there is also a boost from doing the same in electronic form, I have not personally found that to be as positive an experience.
Ease of Use
Since I was still in the beginning stages of training myself to work this way, I wanted to make sure I would be able to find a tool that would allow me to maintain the good habits I was developing, while allowing me to continue to experiment. I also wanted to make sure that the process of creating a task, or moving a task would be as simple/easy as writing something down on a post it and moving it across a physical board. My assumption was that if the tool proved to be more complicated to use than a physical board, I would be less likely to maintain or improve on the habits I was developing. Anytime using software becomes more difficult to use than paper it makes work harder. That would obviously work against my goal for this entire project.
Fitting it All In
When I made the decision to try to include everything I do on the board my board became pretty crowded. I even had to switch to smaller post its in order to be able to fit everything. My goal was to find a tool that would allow me to keep all the work in one place, but it also had to be stored in a way that was big and visible enough for me to be able to see everything all at once.
Off the Grid
This was the biggest challenge for me. I have spent the last two + years teaching myself how to stop letting things slip through the cracks by relying on Things and Evernote. Both of these tools allow me to work on multiple devices and then have changes sync up when I reconnect. Basically, whenever I think of something I need to do, or encounter information I expect to need later, my goal is to get that thing out of my head and into something more responsible than me as quickly as possible. I have too much to do and sometimes I forget stuff. I’m also often easily distracted by the “OH LOOK A SQUIRREL!” factor, and I get ideas and find information in odd places when I am not connected. In working this way I have definitely developed a habit of putting more in Things than I can do, but this has helped me keep things from completely slipping through the cracks. Several times a day I review the list of items I have placed in the Today section of Things to clean it up. I do end up moving deadlines on tasks quite a bit, but having them there at least helps remind me that they are there and probably should be dealt with at some point. I also periodically review the items that have moved out of Today into Someday and do my best to cull the herd.
Evernote is like the junk drawer for my brain. It allows me the freedom to fully engage my inner Bill Blazejowski. All the ideas, notes, pictures of weird things that are momentarily important to me for some unknown reason, the books I want to read, and voice notes from “Chuck to remind Bill to SHUT UP!” go in there. There’s a good chance many of those things will get no further than being stuck in Evernote and left to electronically wither… but I do feel more at ease knowing that I have them... just in case.
The problem is, that Personal Kanban seems to be largely focused on reducing the amount of cultter (stuff I’m trying to work on) and moving to an electronic version may make it tough to continue embracing my inner digital hoarder. Six weeks in, I’ve still not been able to break from using Things every day just to capture stuff that may need to be added to the backlog. It may be dysfunctional, but my addiction to storing everything in a place more reliable than my own head is something I’ve been working on develpoing for a long time. It is definitely more appealing to me than going back to forgetting things I need to do. I was not sure how much of that I’d be able to let go of, or if doing so was even necessary.
So one of my goals for Sprint 6 was to select a tool and start testing. The first tool I decided to try was Kanban For 1. I’ll be posting about that beginning next week.
Working on mysteries without any clues
As I’ve been working though trying to adopt this practice, there are questions that have emerged for me. These are questions I don't have answers for...yet. Some are simple, some, not so much. Some fall outside the bounds of Kanban and may be more relevant to general personal productivity. And some of these questions are probably just me getting my obsessive compulsive on.
[cough] Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? [/cough]
Next week I will begin writing about what happened when I tried moving from a physical Kanban board to an electronic one. Before I start on that, I thought it would be a good idea to create a backlog of all the questions I don’t have answers to so far.
This Dysfunction Goes to Eleven
When this experiment started one of my goals for the first time box/iteration was just to see if I could actually give up my Things task list and follow the practice with a board. I had tried a number of other productivity frameworks and found that only pieces of them stuck. (Someday someone will write on a book on how to finish David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” book and I’ll actually get all the way through it.) And while I know that limiting work in progress is a cornerstone of this type of approach, and I did set WIP limits, I decided to be a little loose with the limits since I was just guessing at what they should be.
Because my larger plan is to test out different approaches to Personal Kanban, I wanted to start as simply as I could manage. I created a task board and began to fill it with post-its. The first lesson I learned was that I had far too much in my to do list to fit on my Kanban board. I decided to limit it to the things that seemed to be the most important at the time.
The Architect of my Own Demise
The most basic way to set up my board would have been to create three columns: On Deck, Doing and Done. I know this. However, when I sat down to work on it, I began struggling with how I would be able to visually understand the different types of things I had to do. My plan was to use this not just for work, but for my whole life. So, I made a decision to start with multiple swim-lanes. This is a choice I can’t say I was entirely comfortable with. It seems to violate (my current understanding of) one of the basic premises under which this system is designed to work. But… (I bargain with myself) baby steps. I decided that this would be an okay thing to try while I am working on coming up with a better solution
I started off by dividing my Backlog up into 5 swim-lanes, each feeding into it’s own On Deck and Doing columns (instead of having just one of each). I was able to limit myself to one column for Done though. The reason for this is that there were/are so many things I felt compelled to work on that I was afraid if I put them all in one box, without some kind of designation, I’d lose sight of something critical. (Yes, I realize this is a broken way to look at it.) There was also a part of me that was curious about how I would work through the prioritized items once they hit the On Deck boxes. The swim-lanes I set up were:
So here is my basic organizational system:
Even with the swim lanes I was still concerned about understanding the tasks on the board. Not so much from a priority standpoint, because I can handle that pretty easily with the On Deck backlogs. The desire for clarity is more about having a visual way to quickly understand that a given task is related to (work, personal, reading, etc.) This should have been easily handled by the swim-lanes, but there were sub groups I felt I needed to identify even within the lanes. So, I began with a variety of different sized and colored post-its, each one loosely designated to belong to some kind of additional detail on a task.
One of my challenges was (and continues to be) defining “value”. I believe the multi-colored, multi-sized post-its are part of trying to define that. There are tasks that obviously provide direct value to customers, like send Client X a demo license. There are items which provide indirect value to my ability to do my job: Read the new book by Diana Larsen book, “Liftoff: Launching Agile Teams and Projects”. There is work I do volunteering for organizations which provides value for others: Review submissions for Scrum Gathering. But there are other things I do which appear to be valuable only from the perspective of their impact on my body, brain or mood. How to capture this value in relationship to other items in the list continues to be a struggle and is one of the reasons for the multiple swim-lanes in my board. (How for example do I quantify and prioritize based on value if what I am comparing is the value of sending a client a demo license, compared to the mental health boost I get from meditating each day, or maybe just sitting back to read a comic book for fun.
It would be easy to argue that the non-work items do not provide value to a client and do not need to go on the board. But that seems to me to be a pretty thin definition of value. My goal was to try to put everything on the board. The problem was, it didn’t all fit. . One of the most important things I learned that week was that if I don’t put it on the board, it isn’t going to happen. So, I needed a kind of backlog nursery, where I could dump ideas and then periodically replenish the backlog on the board from that nursery.
I decided to hold a little personal retrospective at the end of each week to evaluate how things are going. The first week was really difficult for me, not because following the process was hard – that was actually pretty easy. The hard part was that Nigel Tufnel stopped by to crank the volume on my “obsessive tendencies” up to 11. Here are the important (and painful) things I learned about myself during week 1.
At the end of the first week, I know I have a long way to go. I’m nowhere near ready to deal with WIP, the waste I am creating or finding a better way of doing this. But, it’s a start. And, by the end of the week I was able to start talking myself down off the ledge of obsessing about moving the cards....
Here is a snapshot of my board as I got ready to start on the 2nd week.
Over the past few weeks I've been able to give a few presentations about doing project management on the Mac and on the iPad. I had a few requests so I thought I would post them.
The first is the presentation I gave in the Philadelphia Walnut St. Apple Store on how to manage projects using a Mac. Managing Projects on a Mac
The second is the one I gave at the PMI Lehigh Valley Professional Development Day on how to use the iPad as a Project Management tool. The iPad and Project Management