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:
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.
“And now we're back
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.
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…
Marcello Scacchetti lives, works and practices Personal Kanban in Italy. After a co-worker of mine posted on Yammer that he was using Marcello's Personal Kanban Google App, I reached out to him and he was kind enough to let me interview him about how he is using PK to manage his work and various projects.
While Marcello's approach towards Personal Kanban is a little different than my own, we have had similar learning experiences while using it. For Marcello, he says during the interview that Personal Kanban saved his life.
During the interview Marcello also talks about his use of Value Stream Mapping and how it has helped him with prioritizing the things he does (both inside and outside work). He also explains how he codes everything he does once it has been completed based on how much joy it brought him. (This is where I got the idea to do this with my own work - see the post here.) These are two of the factors that contribute to Marcello's practice of spending 80% of his time doing things that bring him as much joy as a kid feeding ducks.
I hope you will enjoy the interview. I got a number of ideas from Marcello that I applied to my Personal Kanban testing after we spoke.
From time to time, we all get stuck.
In 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. These 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.
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
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
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:
But that was better than none, and it let me do some stuff I felt was really important:
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.
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:
The 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.