Projects at Work interview with Stephen Denning, author of "The Leaders's Guide to Radical Management" and new board member of the Scrum Alliance.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Just discovered Johanna Rothman's Personal Kanban blog posts from a few weeks ago. There is a lot of great detail on the thought process and practice of using PK over a 5 day period.
Her posts start here:
Her posts start here:
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
The Heart of Darkness
Still only in Kanban. Every time I think I’m gonna wake up back in the GTD…
- Whatever I use, it needs to be completely portable.
- Whatever I use needs to be available to me whether I am online or off.
- Whatever I use needs to be simple enough that the act of using it does not become a time/productivity suck. The tool can’t be in my way.
- I really like working with a physical board and would like something as close to that as possible.
- When I am home, and using the physical board on the wall, the process works quite well for me.
I toyed with the idea of trying to get a piece of plastic that I could use as a physical board and that I could roll up and carry with me. But I’m guessing that the person in seat 21A (who is probably still a bit irked about losing the battle for the armrest) is not going to take kindly to me unrolling my big Kanban board to work on it mid flight.
The Horror, The Horror
I did attempt to use my Kanban journal. This is the book I make notes in each week on how things are going. I carry it with me each time I go on the road, so it seems like a great fit. Exiting Kanban-for -1, I re-created all my post its and created a PK Board in my notebook that was just like the one on my wall. It worked great until I actually placed the post-its in the book. I was right back to the Kanban-for-1 issue.
Disclaimer: I should point out that if you are reading this hoping to get to a point where I realize I’m just carrying way too many tasks… you might want to get a sandwich… it’s gonna be a while.
- Must be available on laptop, iPhone and iPad.
- Must be as close to my physical board as possible (meaning must allow for swim lanes).
- Must have some capacity for dealing with recurring tasks.
- Must be available online and offline with a sync capability or something as easy as capturing notes on a post it or index card.
Basically I’m looking for Things, but Kanban style (cough cough Cultured Code cough cough).
Since I’ve started writing this blog people have been kind enough to send in a number of recommendations. Trello seems to be very popular. I’ve also received suggestions that I use Evernote for Kanban. I’d love to be able to do that, but I’ve not yet found a tool that would allow me to do so in as effortless a manner as I am looking for. Basically, if using the tool is more work than pulling an index card or a post it out of my pocket and capturing the item/updating the item while I am in an elevator, walking down the street, or sitting on a plane, it’s too much work.
Unfortunately, none of the tools I was able to find met all my requirements. However, after looking over the options, I decided o give Leankit a try. My reasons for choosing it were not entirely scientific, but I’m human…
Leankit allowed me to do the following:
- 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.
The last point may seem trivial, but to me, it is very significant and one of the primary reasons that I have so much trouble with personal Kanban applications. The value of my physical board is that I can put everything I had to do up there at once. I can look at it all at once. It is a really big information radiator. For me, it’s a billboard telling me what is going on with the things I feel I need to do. No matter how awesome the software is, or how big my monitor is, there doesn’t seem to be a way to replicate the big thing on the wall + tactile interaction thing.
While my preference for a physical board is clearly established, there is no way that my physical board and my Martin travel guitar are going to fit in the overhead, so I need me some app-age.
"Never get out of the boat... Unless you were goin all the way."
I used Leankit for about a month during this project. As far as Personal Kanban apps go, it is my weapon of choice. I’ve not tested out the paid version, which includes some extra features and more detailed analytics, but I found the free version to be very helpful in tracking my work on the road. My favorite aspect of the application was the customization. I really liked that I could set up my board in Leankit to mirror the one I have at home. In practicing any work habit, I believe the first step should always be the physical practice. If it moves to an electronic tool, then it is important to select a tool that allows you to mirror your physical behavior. Leankit offered me the most freedom there.
It even allowed me to set up multiple backlogs so that I could mirror how Things had worked for me. While I wasn’t able to figure out how to get recurring tasks going, I was able to create a ReUsable backlog so that each night I could move the recurring Daily items back into that backlog if I wanted. I didn’t actually end up doing that, but it somehow eased my mind to know that I could.
It also allows you to set due dates, mark work as blocked and it has an icon system for type of work.
So, Leankit allowed me to replicate my physical board on the web. It also has an iPhone application which took a little time to get the hang of, but which allowed me to update items as long as I could get online. With respect to my 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)
From a mobility standpoint, with the exception of offline sync, the tool works quite well. It allows me to access my work, update it, enter new items, etc. You can even set it up to allow you to access multiple accounts. On my iPhone I have Leankit set up to access my personal account under one email address and another one I use for Scrum Alliance volunteer work.
The fact that Leankit did not meet all my requirements is not significant for me. None of the applications I looked at were able to meet all of them. From a customization, portability and usability standpoint, I am a big fan of Leankit.
|You can't go out into space with fractions.|
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Yesterday, like most days, I planned too much into the day. There was no realistic way I’d be able to get it done given the fact that time is not quite as flexible as I’d like it to be and that I don’t have one of those boxes from Primer.
In working through this Personal Kanban project there is a question thing that has remained kind of an open issue for me the entire time. What about WIP? If you aren’t familiar with it, WIP stands for Work in Progress. In Kanban, the goal is to limit your work in progress in order to help maximize your throughput. Or, to put it more simply, you need to understand how much you can do at once before you start mucking things up. Once you understand that, you need to prevent yourself from taking on too much at once (and mucking things up). This also helps you understand how long it takes to get items through the system.
For the most part, the practitioners of Personal Kanban that I have spoken with have admitted that WIP is not something they pay much attention to. In speaking with them I did not dig too deeply on that topic at the time because it seemed to be non-critical. I was looking at WIP as a holdover from a more traditional approach to Kanban that had less relevance in Personal Kanban. Also, whether or not it is right or wrong, the items on my board are not sized in any way. Everything is the same, whether it is a writing a new Statement of Work, doing a load of laundry, finishing Clive Davis’s biography, or going through the legal steps of closing down a company. It is all just stuff I am trying to prioritize and do.
If you can dodge a wrench…
When I told him I told him I wasn’t really tracking my WIP I am pretty sure I heard him fall off his chair. The productivity guilt monster reared up and shamed me… so I recanted. I explained that I was tracking WIP …-ish. Which meant I had listed a number for WIP at the top of each of my columns and then I just wildly ignored that whenever the hell it seemed convenient…. Which was/is most of the time.
Putting the “fun” back in dysfunction
Shockingly, there are days when I can’t get everything done. Many times the reason is that I have other activities scheduled during time I would otherwise be working. I feel safe in the assumption that I am not alone in this. And yet for many of us, we somehow manage a level of delusion that permits us to plan to do work during the time we know we will be otherwise engaged. When this happens, we have these items, which we unrealistically planned, which cannot be completed on the schedule we put together. I have a master’s degree in project management and I’m deep with the Agile. I know how I am supposed to do this. I also know that how I am doing this is not healthy. I know it is not realistic. And yet it happens, over and over. I’m slowly becoming even more aware of how sharply fundamental an issue this is and how deeply and negatively it impacts my productivity. Because I do not have a clear and present awareness of my capacity and how to plan for that without exceeding it, I am always overfilling my bucket. When I am teaching people in a work setting about how to keep from doing this, it’s easy to explain. I even have a calculator I’ve made for folks to use to help prevent them from overcommitting themselves each Sprint. But on an individual level am I really supposed to size every single thing I do and plan for doing just that and no more? That’s just not realistic.
And suddenly, just like that, I’m one of “those” students. The ones who like the ideas behind Agile, but who really need to spend some time at the Wall of Won’t.
(The teacher in me would now like to take the student in me out back now for a quick kneecapping… just for good measure.)
Sadly, I do not have a card for that on my board.
I hate when that happens.
I believe that understanding my capacity at a daily level, and planning to meet, but not exceed that capacity will allow me to complete more work each day. I believe that getting more items to a done state each day, and not leaving a lot of unfinished work on the board will have a positive impact on my ability to get work done that will further improve my productivity. I also believe that if I do not plan to do more than is possible in a day I will be better enabled to get the rest I need to be as productive as possible in future day. This is all common sense. It’s been proven over and over. We all have that voice in our heads telling us that we are special, that we can do more, that we are not bound by the normal laws of time and physics.
Yeah… not so much.
To experiment with this I am going to run two tests. First, I’m going to try the easy one … estimating ideal time for the items in my list and then also estimate my capacity. It will involve some overhead because I am going to have to do this every day, but I will try it for a week to see what happens.
The second part, which will be more challenging for me will be to try breaking my work up into pieces that are small enough to track progress on a daily basis. I’m going to run this for two weeks and then report on it.
Next week I’ll be back to the topic of software for Personal Kanban.