The Reluctant Agilist

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Recent Posts

Descaling the Enterprise w/ James Gifford

Jurgen Appelo - Agility Scales

Head First Agile with Andrew Stellman and Jenny Greene

Making Agile Work at HUGE Inc. w/ Lance Hammond and Robert Sfeir

Reframing Technical Debt as Technical Health - with Declan Whelan

Personal Kanban - Lessons Learned

“And now we're back
Where we started
Here we go round again
Day after day
I get up and I say
I better do it again”

Back Where We Started ~ The Kinks

It’s been seven months since I began using Personal Kanban. Initially I wanted to learn more about Kanban and also come up with a better way to cope with the massive amount of things I had waiting for me to do. I’ve definitely learned more about Kanban and my ability to manage the work I have to do in a much healthier way than I had before. Most of all, there were learnings that caught me by surprise.

  • Personal Kanban helped me get more clarity on what my workflow process actually is. It isn’t easy to be non-judgmental (with yourself) about this, but I believe that doing so is a very important part of understanding and improving.
  • Personal Kanban helped me come to the understanding that despite the pressure and stress I put on myself, there is almost nothing I have on my plate that I don’t actually really want to do. The hard part seems to be to keep that in mind all the time. It is something I still need more work on, but I do feel extremely fortunate in that respect.
  • Personal Kanban has allowed me to become more aware of the “waste” in my “system”. This has allowed me to make a conscious choice about what waste should remain and what should go. Some of the waste is an important part of my workflow and creative process.
  • I learned that one of they keys in my own management of work I have to do is to maintain a physical board with a limited amount of space in which to capture work to be done. I need to be able to see everything at once for it to be workable.

And now, seven months down the road, I am on the road to recreating the same mess in KanbanPad that I used to have in Things. Right now I have:

  • 15 items in my Backlog Queue
  • 16 items in my Someday Queue
  • 17 items in my On Deck Queue
  • 17 items in my Today Queue
  • 4 items in my Doing Queue

The biggest benefit of the last few months by far, is that I have become more aware of how I work and I am more aware of what I need to do to correct it.

When you begin studying certain forms of meditation you learn to count your breath. When thoughts arise you are to observe them, but not engage them. You just let them move on without getting caught up with them. If you do find that you are caught up, once you realize it, you let go and then refocus on your breath and start counting again. Not easy in the beginning, but the more you do it, the less difficult it becomes. My expectation is that working with Personal Kanban (or whatever approach is taken to getting work done) is similar. There are have periods where things go well and, and some, not so much. The trick is just to go back to the starting point and do it all again.

Time to make the donuts…

Posted on: July 25, 2013 10:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Personal Kanban - On the Personal Kanban Couch with Scott and Ray

From time to time, we all get stuck.

Scott BellwareIn the middle of this project I got stuck with Personal Kanban and was not sure how to move forward. I am very fortunate to know people like Brian Bozzuto, and even more fortunate that he was willing to take the time to help coach me through my practice of PK.

And I am equally fortunate to know Scott Bellware and Ray Lewallen. Ray LeallenThese guys are usually my first call when I get stuck with things that are related to Agile. They are both very smart, and they both have a lot of experience. But the main thing for me is that they both see the world, and the work, in a way that is completely different from how I see it. More often than not, our conversations end up with me gaining a perspective I would probably not have found on my own.

I reached out to Scott and Ray with the intent of getting their take on what was happening with my Personal Kanban experiment. I also wanted to get their thoughts on my questions about interpreting value and see how they felt about my complete inability to employ 5S in my workspace.

Both Scott and Ray agreed to allow me to record the call so that I could use it as a podcast of sorts. This is not a typical interview, but more of a conversation/debate. It is broken into two parts in order to make it easier to download and I’ve listed key points in the conversation below, along with the times during the recording when they occur.

Part 1: http://www.projectsatwork.com/content/podCasts/279394.cfm

1:46 - Is Personal Kanban even useful to begin with?

4:20 - Why Scott doesn't use Kanban anymore

5:30 – The spread of Kanban

6:50 - Ray advocates for useful tools over following a specific methodology

8:30 – How Value and Prioritization build momentum

10:47 - Why momentum is so important

12:30 - Measuring value

12:45 - Writing everything down: wasteful, or not?

16:30 - Why Scott and Ray think I should throw everything away

18:30 - Making mindful decisions about your Personal Kanban practices

 

Part 2: http://www.projectsatwork.com/content/podCasts/279395.cfm

0:00 - The importance of WIP and the cognitive burden of the backlog

2:25 - Avoiding "rank, negligent ignorance" when tracking your work

3:17 – The resurgence of things that are important enough to survive

3:48 – Maintenance of information inventory

6:07 – The importance of customizing your own solution

8:00 - Dealing with interrupters

11:40 – Knowing which waste to eliminate

14:20 - You can't have kaizen, you have to be kaizen

15:20  - The value of 5S

18:10 - The importance of a soluble workspace

22:00 – Tracking recurring tasks

23:51 - practice mode vs. practical mode

25:00 - Where to learn more about Scott and Ray

26:22 - Scott's last request

 

Posted on: July 11, 2013 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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: July 05, 2013 12:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Interview with Don Kim on his Personal Kanban Practice

Don Kim is a project leader who with over 15 years of experience in program and project management. His work covers a wide range of industries, but his primary focus is in IT. Don is also an avid blogger who has posted a number of articles over the past few months about incorporating techniques from Scrum and Kanban into the management of his work at a personal level. When I learned he was using PK to manage his own work I asked Don if he would allow me to interview him to hear more about how his has been using Personal Kanban.

A link to the interview and notes on key points in the podcast are below. If you are interested in learning more about Don you can find him through his blog Project@tion (http://www.projectation.com/), or through his work on Projects At Work (http://www.projectsatwork.com/profile/donkim/) and ProjectManagement.com (http://www.projectmanagement.com/profile/donkim).

You can find the interview here: http://www.projectsatwork.com/content/podCasts/279293.cfm

The interview lasts for about 30 minutes. If you’d like to skip ahead to specific points, here are some of the key moments in the interview:

0:00 - Don explains his background and the focus of his writing for Project@tion, ProjectManagement.com and Projects at Work.

1:55  - Don's thoughts on the volume of work PMs are facing today and how it impacts their ability to get things done.

4:45 Don explains how his use of personal productivity tools has evolved and how it resulted in him reaching a point where he was spending more time creating lists of things to do than actually getting anything on those lists done.

7:30  - Don and I discuss the fact that limiting the work in progress doesn't actually alleviate the larger backlog of things that need to be done. We also talk about the psychological impact of maintaining a list of things that do not get done.

10:28 - Don explains how he uses Personal Kanban to limit his ability to do work and how it helps him stay focused on only the most critical things.

11:20 - Don's  shares his thoughts on tools for Personal Kanban and value long term planning.

13:20 - Don explains how he prioritizes his work based on goals for his goals for relationships.

15:29 - Don maintains a separation between work life and personal life. This helps help him stay focused on his goals for his personal life.

16:23 - Don's thoughts on the "reboot" of Kanban.

19:48 – Don explains how the  the "reboot" is impacting the use of Personal Kanban.

21:10 - Don explains how he responds to requests from people who would rather stick with a Gantt chart and traditional planning instead of moving towards a more transparent Agile approach.

25:05 - Don's advice for people who are struggling with managing their own personal project management.

28:57 – Where you can learn more about Don and the work he is doing.

Posted on: June 27, 2013 02:59 PM | 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: June 26, 2013 12:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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