Drunken PM

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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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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

Catching up with Jim Benson on Personal Kanban

Back in December Jim Benson posted an entry to the PersonalKanban blog site called Are You Just Doing Things? In reading through his post, I started to wonder about how I was using Personal Kanban. It had been a year since I started my experiment and while I am not as fervent with it as I once was, I’m still using a board at home. One the road… I’m still looking for a viable option. But more on that later.

In this Projects At Work interview I got a chance to ask Jim some questions about putting items on the board just so you have a record of them and can move them over. At what point does that become a wasteful step. As always, Jim’s feedback led me to thinking about my practice of PK in a completely different way than I had in the past.

You can find the interview here:

Part 1(Listed as Part 3 on the ProjectsAtWork site)

Part 2 (Listed as Part 4 on the ProjectsAtWork site)

I still find that one of the most interesting aspects of using Personal Kanban (which  I have not found with other productivity practices) is that there is the doing of thing and the learning about how you are doing things. The insight provided by the latter continues to prove to be the more valuable part of working this way. For me, putting everything on to the board does mean that I am putting up stuff just to move it over. This does create some waste. But it also helps me become more aware of the fact that I am overloading every day/week all the time and still trying to  plan more in than could be done.  Yes, I need more discipline in how I work. (Who doesn’t?) But the discipline is not needed as much in how I work, as it is in what work I assign myself in the first place. Reducing or limiting what I put in my backlog should make it easier to get more done, but only if I can maintain the discipline to actually stick to my board and not keep including items that are not up there and taking them as items to work on.

The more I work with PK, the more I discover that it isn’t so much about getting things into the done column, or clearing out a backlog as it is about raising my awareness of how I think about and approach my work. It is a more mindful way of planning and managing what I have to do.

… and I guess admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. ;)

* The interviews are listed on the Projects at Work site as Part 3 and Part 4

If you'd like to learn more about Personal Kanban, you can find the book here.

You can find Jim on Twitter here.

 

Posted on: April 01, 2014 01:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Personal Kanban - App Review Update: LeanKit and Kanban Pad

I mentioned before that I was happy enough with LeanKit that after I had adapted to using it, that I was not going to keep testing out different apps for Personal Kanban.

What can I say...

I was pretty happy with LeanKit from a Personal Kanban standpoint. When I checked it against my original criteria a few weeks ago, it only hit 50% of my original requirements:

  • Must be available on laptop, iPhone and iPad (PASS)
  • Must be as close to my physical board as possible (meaning must allow for swim lanes) (PASS)
  • Must have some capacity for dealing with recurring tasks (FAIL)
  • Must be available online and offline with a sync capability or something as easy as capturing notes on a post it or index card (FAIL)

But that was better than none, and it let me do some stuff I felt was really important:

  • Set up my swim lanes just like I had them on the wall.
  • Define the work state columns however I wanted.
  • Establish whatever WIP limits I wanted and warn me when I tried to exceed them.
  • It let me color code the cards based on work type.

I am also part of a volunteer group that had made a decision to use it and we were able to get full access to the tool which opened up some additional functionality. Being able to attach files to card and assign them to multiple individuals is something I found very helpful when using it with a team.

And then.....

 

I went to a meeting. I sat next to someone way smarter to me. I glanced at his screen and saw that he was using a Kanban app. Since he is smarter than me, and had come to a meeting with just an iPad (an obvious indicator of superior intellect and travel skill), and his screen was filled with a lot of really bright colors, it became obvious to me that this was an app worthy of further investigation. And this is how I was introduced to Kanban Pad.

When I compare this Kanban Pad against my original criteria:

  • Must be available on laptop, iPhone and iPad (PASS-ish)
  • Must be as close to my physical board as possible (meaning must allow for swim lanes) (PASS)
  • Must have some capacity for dealing with recurring tasks (FAIL, but)
  • Must be available online and offline with a sync capability or something as easy as capturing notes on a post it or index card (FAIL)

 

http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8011/7356295658_6c8acbc520_o.jpgThe app works great on an iPad or in a web browser. It's easy to drag cards from one column to another. And technically, Kanban Pad works on an iPhone as well. They do have a version sized for the small screen. Unfortunately, in the smaller screen, you can only view one column at a time. Trying to move tasks between columns in this format left me feeling like I was wearing boxing gloves while carrying a small child, a folding chair and trying to eat an ice cream cone at the same time.

 

Kanban Pad does allow for customizable, swim lanes, but not in exactly the same way that you'd set them up on a physical board. It allows you to establish multiple columns and within each column the Type setting allows you to establish Queue, In Progress or Queue and In Progress workflows. By using Queue and In Progress and editing the labels, I found an easy solution to my recurring task issue.

Another great feature is that the Product Backlog and Backlog of work that has moved past Accepted (meaning it no longer needs to be seen), can be maintained off the main task board.

Kanban Pad also allows you to establish WIP limits for your queues and it warns you fairly incessantly about your flagrant violation of them should you choose to venture off the path. (I ended up not using this feature because my frustration over the warnings became more significant than my desire to maintain WIP limits.

The app includes a feature where you can customize colored tags which can be applied to each task so that you can tell what type of work you are looking at.

There are a number of additional features that Kanban Pad offers, but those are the ones that have proven to be most valuable to me from a Personal Kanban perspective.

By way of a final verdict/opinion on the app, I offer this... I've been using Kanban Pad for about 6-8 weeks now. It has become my primary tool for managing my work using Personal Kanban. After all my efforts at trying to find a way to use Things as a tool for Personal Kanban, I've all but stopped using Things and only open it (or Reminders) now when I have to capture something that I will add to my task board later.


 

A Tip for Embracing Dysfunction

One thing I have noticed about my use of Kanban Pad is that I've begun using the screen on which I am looking at the work as my way of limiting WIP. If there is so much on the board that I have to scroll up and down to see all the work, then there is too much on the board. This means that some tasks have to be A) Cleared on the right so I can keep moving items over B) That I've got to remove some work from the active columns into the Product Backlog (which is not visible form the main board) or C) I need to consolidate and/or delete some items. This may not be the "right way" to do it, but at the moment, it is working pretty well for me, so I am okay with that.

Posted on: October 07, 2013 12:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Interview with Don Kim on his Personal Kanban Practice

Check out my Projects at Work interview with Don Kim on how he uses Personal Kanban to manage his work.

Posted on: October 02, 2013 11:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Personal Kanban - What Makes You Happy


Track Your Happiness helped me gain a better understand of my unique issues with determining "value", but, in general, I think happiness is not really my bag... or at least, not the driving force behind my understanding of "value". While working on this project I have been talking with a lot of people who do evaluate things that way. They see the things they have an opportunity to do as either "things which make me happy" or "things which do not make me happy". So, the prioritization happens based on the degree of expected happiness or degree of expected unhappiness.

IMHO think the true goal is to find a way to uncover the aspect of whatever you are doing that can make you happy. It sounds simple, but it requires effort and discipline... it is far easier to just give in and wallow. Personal Kanban is supposed to help you understand your work better, and it has, but my increased awareness of how I perceive the work I have to do may be the most valuable thing I've picked up doing this. 

An even though using TrackYourHappiness.org was interesting, it never felt (to me) like it was measuring the right stuff. Happiness seemed close, but not quite close enough.

After some discussion with Boz, I began rating everything I do at 3 different points:

A) How I felt doing it (-3 to +3)
B) How I felt finishing it (-3 to +3)
C) Overall mirth from having it done (-3 to +3)

http://farm1.staticflickr.com/87/263228000_9513c97026_o.jpgOne of the things I realized in tracking the work I was doing was that for some items, the simple act of finishing it off can be as valuable as getting some newer items done.  This is especially true for the ones that have been sitting on the Kanban board smirking at you and taunting you in all their undone glory. The longer they sit the more mental and emotional weight they take on. 

It is probably also important to note that how progress is tracked has a toll as well. Capturing a 3 point ranking as I complete each task was okay on a post it - until I needed to extract the data electronically so I could analyze it. I was still struggling with letting go of Things and since I knew there was a way to extract the data I used that as my excuse to formally legitimize my inability to give up my favorite app. Unfortunately, my Coach asked me to try and see if I could work out how to use it to do Personal Kanban in a manner that was somewhat similar to what I had on my physical board.

It took a few tries, but I did manage to do get set up to do Personal Kanban in Things by grouping items into categories named after backlog columns.  As I completed each task, before I checked the box, I would assign it a 3-digit number based on the rating listed above. But, I don't think I ever moved anything into Doing... they just went from not done, to done.

After a few weeks Boz and I reviewed the results and for the most part, the information they offered were things that were already been apparent. Going through this process did have one very significant  result though. It caused me to pay more attention to how I felt about each thing I was doing while I was doing it and when I was finished doing it. I became more present with what I was doing and more aware of the impact it was having - which may be a significant contributor to the perception of value.

Using Things as a way to track all this also made me keenly aware of two additional points:

1. Trying to use Things to do Personal Kanban is kinda dumb

2. It was time to climb out of the value rabbit hole

My quest to understand the "value" of what I was doing had no clear answer save for the understanding that value can be a very subjective thing. I also had begun to feel like maybe the question was not, am I doing things that are not valuable, or how do I reduce the waste created by non-value adding activities, but how do I balance all the valuable things I want to work on. So, in many ways I was back to where I started.

http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3529/3229050640_ed5393886a_o.jpgI have lots to do.
I want/need to do it all.
I have limited time.
I need a way to decide what to do first - always

One key difference though is that as I continue to work through this, I am becoming more aware of how I am working and why. There are things in the system which are (technically) waste. Maybe those things needs to be there to keep the rest of the system in balance.

{Insert Climactic Ending Here}

If we were machines, perhaps all waste would be bad. Waste dampens productivity. But, we are not machines and maybe those dampeners are part of how we maintain our own productive flow. In examining the waste in my Personal Kanban practice, I have observed that it exists and that the effort required to eliminate that waste may not be worth the squeeze.

Posted on: October 02, 2013 11:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Personal Kanban - Track Your Happiness

When my efforts to employ Personal Kanban reached a point where I felt I had gone as far as I could on my own, I decided it would be a good idea to find a coach who could hopefully help me see things more objectively, challenge me on the assumptions I was not conscious of and, in general, find a way to become more disciplined in my approach. (The expectation was that more discipline would result in greater productivity.)

Brian Bozzuto, an Agile Coach from BigVisible was kind enough to agree to act as my coach. We worked together for several weeks on a number of different aspects of my approach to Personal Kanban.  I’m going to try and take these on at a time in different postings.

When we started out discussions about my approach to Personal Kanban, one of my biggest questions was how to understand value. I was operating under the idea that anything that does not add value is waste and should be eliminated. There are things with clear value (doing work you get paid for) and things which present no obvious value (sitting on the couch watching a movie), but which have value in terms of a longer game because they are restorative in some way.  Still, I was having a hard time in my internal argument for some of the latter.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrf/179339094/sizes/l/in/photostream/In interviewing people about their use of Personal Kanban, I encountered many who said they prioritized work solely by what makes them “happy”. A few of these people said they only do things that bring them as much joy as a child feeding ducks.

Which left me wondering… who changes the cat litter?

Boz and I talked for a while about happiness and he suggested we both sign up for Track Your Happiness. This was something he had not done before either so he also agreed to sign up for the experiment. The service is free. For a period of time the service will send you an invite (via SMS or email) to log on to their site and take a quick survey of what you are doing, and how you are feeling about it. It also provides some basic reporting so you can see what information the data has to offer about how “happy” you are.

You can adjust the frequency of the surveys. They continue until the report has enough data for it to be able to offer you some insights. After that it is supposed to begin polling you again at some point in the future.

When you take the surveys, some of them have questions which clearly make sense and some which can start to seem rather tiresome because you get asked them again and again. And there are some that are quite amusing. I often received a question asking what I was doing at that moment. The options included things like:

Working

Watching Television

Meditating

Praying

Making love to another person

… If you decide to try out Track Your Happiness and you feel compelled to stop and answer a survey while you are making love… I really don’t think Personal Kanban is going to solve your problems.

During the first few days I got a report that showed this:

What the service was telling me was that, based on my responses up to that point, the place where I was happiest was at the airport. Initially, this seemed horribly wrong on many levels. At the very least it seemed comedically pathetic. But, on second thought, the airport is one of the places I am usually the least stressed. I always arrive extra early, I book my flights with lots of in between time, and in the aiport I’m generally just spending time in my bubble, headphones on, working or reading. Other than my borderline obsessive fear of germs from other passengers, it’s a pretty chill place for me. (I should also point out that by this point in time I had only been using Track Your Happiness while I was on the road. So no surveys had been completed while I was at home.

As I used the service and kept reviewing the reports, I started to wonder if happiness was really a good way to frame value within the context of Personal Kanban. The “happy as a kid feeding ducks” thing weighed quite heavily into that. (I should mention that this explanation of the kid feeding a duck thing is slightly incorrect. This will be revisited in a separate post in the future.)

In the end, I have come to the conclusion that there are people who try to prioritize their work so that they only do what makes them happy. From speaking with these people, they tend to delegate or refuse to do things that do not make them happy. For me, and the way I look at the things I do, there are things that I do which clearly bring me happiness, like taking my wife out to dinner or playing a game with my daughter. And there are things I do that, initially, do not seem to have happiness to offer me.  I believe that when faced with those types of things to do, regardless of what it is, it is the frame with which we look at the thing which helps us see value in it, or not. For example, I may have a very difficult client to deal with. This may be someone I had a history of trouble communicating with. Rather than approaching it with a “this will not bring me happiness mindset”, I try to remember to approach it with “what positive thing can I derive from this encounter”. If it is a difficult client, maybe it is as simple as trying to improve my ability at being present and actively listening to them, or being diplomatic, or understanding their body language and trying to use my own to see if it can impact the situation in a favorable way.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/caveman_92223/3347745000/Going through this exercise of spending a few weeks completing the surveys was incredibly helpful in developing my understanding of how I see value. The biggest epiphany for me was realizing that I actually like pretty much everything I do, in one way or another. Before going through this survey I had no awareness of that and would never have agreed with this statement. Going through the process of being questioned over and over about whether or not I would prefer to be doing something else made me keenly aware of the fact that my issue is not that I have things which make me happy and things which make me unhappy. I just have things that, in one way or another, make me happy. I enjoy doing all of them either because of the action of doing them, or the benefits they provide.

Realizing this was a significant discovery for me. Unfortunately, it brought me right back to where I started. I have many things to do. My challenge with prioritization is that I want to do them all. To one extent or another, they all provide value for me. 

http://pixabay.com/p-37541/?no_redirectSo at this point, the question is not “does it provide value”, but “does something else provide more value”, or how to I balance the “valuable” things I am doing so that there is enough work, enough personal, etc.?

Posted on: October 02, 2013 11:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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