Where I Work

Where I Work
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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Personal Kanban Week 9


Productivity Hangover

Ten minutes ago I was supposed to be writing this blog post. What I was doing instead was cleaning out the articles I have stored in Instapaper that have been in the queue for so long that they are no longer worth reading. This seemed really important at the time. And, I was actually-really supposed to be writing this blog post 30 minutes ago. But 30 minutes ago I was doing the stuff I meant to do 2 hours ago. And that is because 2 hours ago, I was still asleep because I stayed up until 3 AM trying to finish the things I had planned for the yesterday. This morning is all about the productivity hangover.

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.

When a Problem Comes Along...

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…

A few weeks ago I started working with an Agile Coach who was willing to take on the role of being my Personal Kanban Coach/Sherpa/Confessor. I am very fortunate that he was willing to take this on. The guy is brilliant and I have mad respect for him. I also can’t help but feel a bit bad for the guy. As far as being a coachee goes, I’m definitely having much with the room for optimization.

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.

Sherman! Time for a new Experiment!

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.