Drunken PM

Drunken Boxing for Project Managers “The main feature of the drunkard boxing is to hide combative hits in drunkard-like, unsteady movements and actions so as to confuse the opponent. The secret of this style of boxing is maintaining a clear mind while giving a drunken appearance.” Yeah... just like that… but with network diagrams and burndown charts… and a wee bit less vodka.
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About this Blog


Recent Posts

Certified Agile Leadership Training with Olaf

Don Kim - I Think, Therefore I Plan

Agile Coach to Agile Gamer - Peter Saddington

Scrum in School - A Case Study of Grandview Prep's Transformation

Forecasting Tools Based on Team Performance with Troy Magennis

Podcast Interview - Factory of One author Dan Markovitz

A few weeks ago I had the chance to interview Dan Markovitz. Dan is the author of "A Factory of One", a great book on Personal Kanban. The podcast is hosted on the Projects at Work site here.

Posted on: April 11, 2013 09:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Personal Kanban - Week 6

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:

  1. Could I maintain the working habits I had established using an electronic board?
  2. Could I find a tool that was as easy for me to use as a physical board?
  3. Could I fit all the work I was carrying on to the physical board?
  4. Could I find a tool that would allow me to work in an offline mode and have any changes I made sync up when I went back online?

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.

Posted on: April 11, 2013 09:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Peronal Kanban - Week 5


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.

  1. How do I assess “value” in a way that can be applied across all the items on my board if I am tracking both personal and work related items. For example, generating a proposal for a 10 million dollar project seems to have value from the perspective of revenue, improving skill at writing proposals and most likely other areas as well. Having a recurring task to exercise or meditate each day seems to have some value because these are tasks that result in improved mental and physical health – which enables me to be more creative and productive. Sitting on my butt for an hour (re)watching old episodes of Firely and eating an inappropriate amount of potato chips may appear to have no value, but I do believe that the slack time, when we are being unproductive and just zoning out for a bit, is important too. How can I measure/understand value across these three types of activities in a way that is uniform enough to let me  compare them to one another?
  2. I’ve slowly been learning that for me, the value of WIP limits is not just to enable me to focus, but also to keep me from being overwhelmed by all there is to do. When I have loaded up my board with everything I can think of that I need to do, it is too much too look at, very difficult to prioritize and it ends up working against me.

    "The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible." Oscar Wilde

    There is a tax on productivity that comes from the mental overhead of trying to cope with too much at once. In addition to the fatigue of trying to understand it all at once, there is a sense of guilt or shame that crops up when I find things that have been on the board too long. This productivity guilt can have a brutal impact on my ability to get things done. I’m learning that I can only have so many things in play at once, so I limit what I put on my board. This is fine. I understand this practice and I’m working on getting better at it. But this doesn’t solve my problem. My problem is that I just have too much stuff to do. I can limit the amount I let into the board. But there is still an ocean of stuff waiting outside the club on the wrong side of the velvet rope. It’s been standing there a long time, patiently waiting to get in. Some of it may not be important enough to get in, some of it may need to be culled from the herd. But some of that stuff is important. Either way, I’ve got the mental overhead and the productivity guilt from all that stuff that is out there waiting. It leaves me feeling like I’m only creating the illusion of making progress with becoming more productive. So… what do I do about all the stuff outside the board? Do I need a backlog for my backlog?
  3. I am not tracking how long anything spends in queue for any of my work. I do not have any idea what my velocity is. At the moment, this does not seem to matter, but I am afraid I may be missing something here.
  4. Can I swarm? I’m only one man. I can only do one thing at a time, but there are things that crop up that require (or want) immediate and uninterrupted attention. I recently ran into that with the scope of something I thought would take 2 hours exploded into a 4-day project.  It completely crushed the value this board for 4 days. And this also applies to non-work items. Baseball season is starting and I’d like to spend some time really studying up on the details for the players for some of the teams so that I can have a deeper understanding of what is happening when the actual season begins. This is a time investment that would put other things on hold. Obviously the value question comes into play here, but so does the impact on other work. Do I need to track how other things that are impacted by swarming? If so, does that mean I need to weigh the value of swarming on X against not swarming on X and continuing to make progress on other items? At what point does this become so complicated that it loses value for me as an approach to being productive?
  5. My workspace is still a disaster. Oh wait... that was a wee bit too negative. My workspace is still "organization in flux".   It is in a constant state of “I’m getting ready to go on the road” or “I just got back from being on the road”.  I'm having a very difficult time employing 5S. Does this matter? How is this impacting my productivity?
  6. Does the fact that I am still using Things to quickly capture items that are later added to the board matter? Is this serving as my backlog’s backlog? Is that a bad thing?
  7. Why does all this make me feel like Hal the obsessive-compulsive vampire?
Posted on: April 11, 2013 09:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Personal Kanban Week 1

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:

  • Work-ish: Obviously for things somewhat related to work
  • Reading (later changed to Reading and Research): self explanatory
  • SA/IT2: for work/volunteering I do for the Scrum Alliance and IT2
  • Personal Daily: These are things I do every day that I track
  • Personal: Personal projects and tasks I need to take care of

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.

  • While some of the PK books will tell you to plan to do the unpleasant work first and then work your way towards the stuff you want to do, I found that if I don’t force myself to do the things I want to do, that I cram every possible minute full of the not-fun work and never get around to the enjoyable, recharge-oriented items on my list. (Remember, this is my vacation too.) I actually had to block out time to stop being productive and just sit around and read a book or play my guitar for fun.
  • I was so focused on getting the items across my board as efficiently and quickly as possible that I actually spent a few nights tossing and turning in a restless series of dreams about the board, the tasks and how to move them. (The last time I had dreams like this was during my brief, but disturbing addiction to playing Doom and Quake. Unfortunately, this time I didn’t get to wake up and grab the BFG to kill off some monsters.)
  • In my crowning moment of idiocy that week, I climbed off the treadmill halfway through a long workout because I realized I had not moved the card into the doing column. I was unable to continue the workout until I had the car in the right column. (Yes, I have issues.)
  • Throughout the week I found I was still using Things. As eager as I was to embrace the new system, I was still afraid to let go of the method I had developed in order to keep things from slipping through the cracks.

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....But, they say admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

Here is a snapshot of my board as I got ready to start on the 2nd week.

Posted on: February 12, 2013 03:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Project Management on the Mac and the iPad

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

Posted on: May 11, 2011 11:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

- Mark Twain