Adam Weisbart is back and this time we’re taking on a tragically common problem. Teams who do not have clarity on how the organization defines value. This can happen for a variety of reasons. In some organizations it is simply an oversight… management has achieved clarity and alignment around what is valuable to the organization, but they have not communicated it to the team. In other organizations, there may be an individual or a small group of the leadership team who likes to “go with their gut”, or maybe there are just a lot of assumptions and no one has checked to see if there is agreement across different levels of the org. Whatever the reason, if you have teams that do not have clarity around how leadership defines value for the company, how can they be expected to make choices that align with that definition of value?
In this episode of the podcast Adam Weisbart and I take on the topic of how you can get clarity on value, how can you make sure your backlog reflects that understanding of value and how can you ensure the team has awareness of what “value” means to the organization.
During the interview, Adam also shares some details about his upcoming Agile Virtual Summit (Bite Size) which is taking place on October 14, 2021. The event is free and there are going to be some great speakers, including people like Jim Benson, Richard Cheng, and Melissa Boggs who have all been guests on the podcast. You can learn more about the Agile Virtual Summit (Bite-Size!) and sign up using the link below.
Agile Virtual Summit (Bite-Size)
If you’d like to contact Adam:
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
So 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.?
Personal Kanban Weeks 13-16:
Zen and the Art of Personal Kanban Maintenance
Phaedrus had Quality
The more I examine my approach to getting work done, the more I am aware of the inefficiency I have baked into it. The more I study about Lean, the more I become concerned about "waste". Waste is bad. Waste must be exterminated!
But what about the waste that is in there on purpose? Is that really waste?
When I teach classes, I bring a few extra workbooks for students, just in case. Most of the time, it goes in the trash at the end. So, the waste of creating extra materials for extra money is made worse by discarding it at the end of the class. Massive waste. However, that waste provided me with peace of mind that enabled me to be better focused on teaching the class. So, was it really waste?
To understand what waste is occurring and where it is taking place, I need to understand what I am doing that does not contribute to "value".
Value = ?
In interviewing people about Personal Kanban, several of them said they prioritize work based on what makes them happy and that they only do things with make them happy.
Initially, this sounded great, but,
IF (value = happy)
THEN (who changes cat litter?)
I wasn't doubting the people who told me they prioritize based on what makes them happy, I was just struggling with all the other stuff that still had to get done. When I asked what they did with the work that did not make them happy, they said they would delegate it if it was truly necessary. This was not something I was able to envision applying to my own world though. I have no one to delegate to.
(Minions would be nice.) Even if I did, the thought of just dumping all the not happy work on them does not seem entirely in synch with my understanding of servant leadership.
I am clearly struggling with "value". I need some help.
To mark the halfway point in my 6-month experiment with Personal Kanban here is an update on where I am with it…
Original Goals - 100% achieved
1. I have learned more about how Kanban works and how it is different from Personal Kanban.
2. I have demonstrated to myself that I am capable of actually practicing some version of Personal Kanban
Having reached a point where I have solved my initial questions (above), I realized that to go any further with this I was going to need to solve a different (bigger) question:
What is value?
I also realized that if I wasn't going to go the same route as Phaedrus, I was going to need some assistance.
While I've coached teams in Agile, I've never actually had a coach myself. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. I asked Brian Bozzuto if he would be kind enough to coach me and he was kind/foolish enough to agree to work with me for a few weeks. During our initial calls we talked about a number of topics which I will be posting about in the coming weeks. One of these, however, was "value". After discussing the prioritizing by happiness approach, it seemed that defining happiness first would be key. Boz suggested we both try an experiment. We each signed up for Track Your Happiness http://www.trackyourhappiness.org/. Once you sign up you begin receiving polls from them a few times a day trying to determine your relative level of happiness. After you complete a number of surveys they create a report that is designed to provide you with a better understanding of the things which truly bring you happiness.
In the next post I will explain why the DFW is (sadly) my happy place.