Where I Work

Where I Work
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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Personal Kanban Week 5


Working on mysteries without any clues


As I’ve been working though trying to adopt this practice, there are questions that have emerged for me. These are questions I don't have answers for...yet. Some are simple, some, not so much. Some fall outside the bounds of Kanban and may be more relevant to general personal productivity. And some of these questions are probably just me getting my obsessive compulsive on.

[cough] Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? [/cough]


Next week I will begin writing about what happened when I tried moving from a physical Kanban board to an electronic one. Before I start on that, I thought it would be a good idea to create a backlog of all the questions I don’t have answers to so far. 



  1. How do I assess “value” in a way that can be applied across all the items on my board if I am tracking both personal and work related items. For example, generating a proposal for a 10 million dollar project seems to have value from the perspective of revenue, improving skill at writing proposals and most likely other areas as well. Having a recurring task to exercise or meditate each day seems to have some value because these are tasks that result in improved
    mental and physical health – which enables me to be more creative and productive. Sitting on my butt for an hour (re)watching old episodes of Firely and eating an inappropriate amount of potato chips may appear to have no value, but I do believe that the slack time, when we are being unproductive and just zoning out for a bit, is important too. How can I measure/understand value across these three types of activities in a way that is uniform enough to let me  compare them to one another?
  2. I’ve slowly been learning that for me, the value of WIP limits is not just to enable me to focus, but also to keep me from being overwhelmed by all there is to do. When I have loaded up my board with everything I can think of that I need to do, it is too much too look at, very difficult to prioritize and it ends up working against me.

    "The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible." Oscar Wilde

    There is a tax on productivity that comes from the mental overhead of trying to cope with too much at once. In addition to the fatigue of trying to understand it all at once, there is a sense of guilt or shame that crops up when I find things that have been on the board too long. This productivity guilt can have a brutal impact on my ability to get things done. I’m learning that I can only have so many things in play at once, so I limit what I put on my board. This is fine. I understand this practice and I’m working on getting better at it. But this doesn’t solve my problem. My problem is that I just have too much stuff to do. I can limit the amount I let into the board. But there is still an ocean of stuff waiting outside the club on the wrong side of the velvet rope. It’s been standing there a long time, patiently waiting to get in. Some of it may not be important enough to get in, some of it may need to be culled from the herd. But some of that stuff is important. Either way, I’ve got the mental overhead and the productivity guilt from all that stuff that is out there waiting. It leaves me feeling like I’m only creating the illusion of making progress with becoming more productive. So… what do I do about all the stuff outside the board? Do I need a backlog for my backlog?
  3. I am not tracking how long anything spends in queue for any of my work. I do not have any idea what my velocity is. At the moment, this does not seem to matter, but I am afraid I may be missing something here.

  4. Can I swarm? I’m only one man. I can only do one thing at a time, but there are things that crop up that require (or want) immediate and uninterrupted attention. I recently ran into that with the scope of something I thought would take 2 hours exploded into a 4-day project.  It completely crushed the value of this process for 4 days. And this also applies to non-work items. Baseball season is starting and I’d like to spend some time really studying up on the details for the players for some of the teams so that I can have a deeper understanding of what is happening when the actual season begins. This is a time investment that would put other things on hold. Obviously the value question comes into play here, but so does the impact on other work. Do I need to track how other things that are impacted by swarming? If so, does that mean I need to weigh the value of swarming on X against not swarming on X and continuing to make progress on other items? At what point does this become so complicated that it loses value for me as an approach to being productive?
  5. My workspace is still a disaster. Oh wait... that was a wee bit too negative. My workspace is still "organization in flux".  It is in a constant state of “I’m getting ready to go on the road” or “I just got back from being on the road”.  I'm having a very difficult time employing 5S. Does this matter? How is this impacting my productivity?
  6. Does the fact that I am still using Things to quickly capture items that are later added to the board matter? Is this serving as my backlog’s backlog? Is that a bad thing?

  7. Why does all this make me feel like Hal the obsessive-compulsive vampire?