Monday, February 25, 2013

Personal Kanban Week 2

Up Jumped the Devil

Robert Johnson
I been studyin' the rain and
I'm 'on drive my blues away

  Robert Johnson "Preachin Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)"

In the second week of this experiment I added a separate post it to the board with specific goals I had for the week. These are things that in some cases included other work elements on the board, but in some cases not. To me, this was bigger picture stuff I wanted to accomplish. Being as I was on vacation, these were 50% work related and 50% personal. I didn’t accomplish all the goals initially, but this was my first step towards that. (And hopefully someday soon I will finish learning to play that Robert Johnson song.)

One of the “benefits” of Agile is not that it makes things go faster, but that it makes things you might otherwise overlook much more obvious that you can’t avoid making a choice about them one way or another. For me, this whole process has involved learning a lot about how I (personally) get things done, what motivates me, and as I’ve already mentioned, some of the dysfunction I have built into my work routines.

I should also mention that, for better or worse, I don’t keep a very strict distinction between work life and personal life. I love what I do, so none of what I do is WORK in the sense that it’s stuff I don’t want to do, but there are things that provide me with greater personal satisfaction than others. And at the same time, there is also a kind of negative weight that gloms on to the work items are inherently pleasure-neutral, but become negative because they sit around too long. (This is something I’ll be coming back to in a few weeks when I start digging more into value.)
So, my top observations I have noted for week 2…

  1. Prioritize the Personal - On the days when I did the things that provided personal satisfaction first, I was much happier. This is something I learned in mid-20s living in NYC. If I got up early enough to practice my guitar and hit the gym before going into work, I was pretty much okay with wherever the day took me. I’d seen to my personal stuff and that was not sitting around competing with work, waiting to be done. Understanding that this is important and actually doing it are very different things. I have found that I have to actually force myself to do (some of ) the personal stuff first. My tendency is to just dive right into the work because I perceive that need as being more important… which is not always the case.
  2. Naps are good – In the grand scheme of things I’m definitely in the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” camp. Generally I average about 4-5 hours a night. It is not a healthy way to live… but it is a choice I make happily each day. I don’t stay up because I have to, I stay up because there is just too much I want to do. There are, however, many negative side effects to living like this and if you make a choice to live functionally sleep deprived, you have to learn how to deal with it. For me, the mid afternoon has always been a dead zone… unless I find a way to sneak in a 20-minute nap in there somewhere. It’s like hitting CTRL-ALT-DELETE on your ability to focus.

    Also, on the sleep topic, I am finding that meditating for 20-30 minutes before going to sleep at night is having a massive impact on the quality of my sleep. The only hitch is I have to do this before I am too tired to meditate without drifting off to sleep.
  3. Down Days – In tracking how I am working, I’m becoming more aware of something I have suspected for quite awhile… I have some days of very high productivity, but they are often followed by days of very low productivity. I’ve not tried to measure this, but I’m noticing, on average, I have about 1 day during the work-week where I am far less productive than the others. Typically, this happens after one of those days where I work into the wee hours and am amazed at my productivity. Since I’m not tracking it, I can’t say for certain, but it does seem like an ebb and flow kind of thing. I’m okay with that for now.

So the most important things I learned in the second week have nothing much to do with Kanban. As far as my practice of using the board, I’m getting better at not obsessing about the cards, but I am maintaining discipline with moving them. I’ve abandoned my attempts to keep them all color coordinated because it doesn’t seem to matter right now – a card is a card.

One issue I do have is that I’m still depending on Things and I’m still working items I enter into Things that I don’t have on my board. This should not be necessary, but I see three main reasons for it:
  1. My Kanban board is not always with me, my iPhone (with Things) is.
  2. Over the past few years, Things has become a deeply ingrained part of how I work. I’m habitually and emotionally invested in it – as much as Evernote.
  3. I’m still afraid things will slip through the cracks. Things is part of how I mitigate that risk.

I’d like to break myself of the Things habit and just do Kanban, but I’m going to have to find a way to do it that is as simple as my use of Things.

I am reprioritizing my board every morning and every afternoon. This is probably overkill, but I am still becoming familiar with the work.

I have accomplished some major work items that were not on the board or in my goals. I would like to become better at making sure everything is on the board.

There is one other major change I have noticed since I began using the board. I added a post it last week to remind myself to spend time playing Dungeons and Dragons with my daughter each day. At first, that seemed horrible to me – what kind of crap father must I be if I have to make a task card to play with my kid. But you know what… since I’ve put that card up there. She and I have played every day for 1-2 hours. And it’s awesome. We spend time together, having creative fun, I’m not working and she’d not lost in some video game. So, while my original goal of taking Personal Kanban on was to get better at managing the things I have to do at work, what I’m finding is that it is helping me get better at managing the things I have to do that are not work. This is resulting in me enjoying my life more, making more time for the things I need to do keep sane and making time for my family. My expectation is that this will also have a much greater positive impact on my life as a knowledge worker than I would get from just having a better way to juggle too much at once.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Individual Capacity Calculator

(This is an update to my 10/28/12 post on How to Avoid Overcommitment During Sprint Planning. )

For awhile now I have been using an excel spreadsheet I put together to work out the calculations I detailed in the post on avoiding overcommitment. I have also been sharing it with the students in my CSM classes. I recently updated it so that the times allocated for the different Scrum meetings is in sync with the current version of the Scrum Guide and I thought it would be a good idea to post here just in case it can be of help to anyone.

In case you missed the earlier post, the intention of this calculator is to help individual team members on a Scrum Team gain a better (more true) understanding of the amount of time the can realistically commit/forecast to be able to contribute to the work the team will do during a Sprint. I have found this to be very helpful for teams who are struggling with understanding their capacity.

An example of how this could be used in s Sprint Planning is...

1. Once a Scrum Team has forecasted the amount of Story Points it can expect to get through during a given Sprint based on average historical velocity.

2. And defined tasks for all the stories.

3. And estimated the ideal engineering hours required to complete each individual task.

4. And totalled up the collective ideal engineering hours required to complete all the work they are forecasting to complete in the Sprint.

5. Each team member can use this calculator to determine how much time he/she can expect to be able to contribute in the Sprint.

6. Once each team member has come up with his/her number, you would total those up to get the total amount of ideal engineering hours the Team expects to be able to working during the Sprint.

7. If the value resulting from Step 4 is greater than the value from Step 6, then you may need to reconsider the amount of work your team is forecasting to complete in the Sprint, or modify the scope (and tasks) for one of the stories.

8. If the value resulting from Step 4 is significantly less than the value resulting from Step 6, you may need to consider adding some additional stories/work into what is being forecasted for the Sprint.

* Some teams I have worked with have taken the additional step of applying this technique by work type within a Sprint, i.e. Development, QA, UX, etc.

Here is the file
(Link updated July 2019)


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Personal Kanban - Week 1

This Dysfunction Goes to Eleven

When this experiment started one of my goals for the first time box/iteration was just to see if I could actually give up my Things task list and follow the practice with a board. I had tried a number of other productivity frameworks and found that only pieces of them stuck. (Someday someone will write on a book on how to finish David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” book and I’ll actually get all the way through it.) And while I know that limiting work in progress is a cornerstone of this type of approach, and I did set WIP limits, I decided to be a little loose with the limits since I was just guessing at what they should be.

Because my larger plan is to test out different approaches to Personal Kanban, I wanted to start as simply as I could manage. I created a task board and began to fill it with post-its. The first lesson I learned was that I had far too much in my to do list to fit on my Kanban board. I decided to limit it to the things that seemed to be the most important at the time.

The Architect of my Own Demise

The most basic way to set up my board would have been to create three columns: On Deck, Doing and Done. I know this. However, when I sat down to work on it, I began struggling with how I would be able to visually understand the different types of things I had to do. My plan was to use this not just for work, but for my whole life. So, I made a decision to start with multiple swim-lanes. This is a choice I can’t say I was entirely comfortable with. It seems to violate (my current understanding of) one of the basic premises under which this system is designed to work.  But… (I bargain with myself) baby steps. I decided that this would be an okay thing to try while I am working on coming up with a better solution.

I started off by dividing my Backlog up into 5 swim-lanes, each feeding into it’s own On Deck and Doing columns (instead of having just one of each). I was able to limit myself to one column for Done though. The reason for this is that there were/are so many things I felt compelled to work on that I was afraid if I put them all in one box, without some kind of designation, I’d lose sight of something critical. (Yes, I realize this is a broken way to look at it.) There was also a part of me that was curious about how I would work through the prioritized items once they hit the On Deck boxes. The swim-lanes I set up were:

  • Work-ish: Obviously for things somewhat related to work
  • Reading (later changed to Reading and Research): self explanatory
  • SA/IT2: for work/volunteering I do for the Scrum Alliance and IT2
  • Personal Daily: These are things I do every day that I track
  • Personal: Personal projects and tasks I need to take care of

So here is my basic organizational system:

Even with the swim lanes I was still concerned about understanding the tasks on the board. Not so much from a priority standpoint, because I can handle that pretty easily with the On Deck backlogs. The desire for clarity is more about having a visual way to quickly understand that a given task is related to (work, personal, reading, etc.) This should have been easily handled by the swim-lanes, but there were sub groups I felt I needed to identify even within the lanes. So, I began with a variety of different sized and colored post-its, each one loosely designated to belong to some kind of additional detail on a task.

One of my challenges was (and continues to be) defining “value”. I believe the multi-colored, multi-sized post-its are part of trying to define that. There are tasks that obviously provide direct value to customers, like send Client X a demo license. There are items which provide indirect value to my ability to do my job: Read the new book by Diana Larsen book, “Liftoff: Launching Agile Teams and Projects”. There is work I do volunteering for organizations which provides value for others: Review submissions for Scrum Gathering. But there are other things I do which appear to be valuable only from the perspective of their impact on my body, brain or mood. How to capture this value in relationship to other items in the list continues to be a struggle and is one of the reasons for the multiple swim-lanes in my board. (How for example do I quantify and prioritize based on value if what I am comparing is the value of sending a client a demo license, compared to the mental health boost I get from meditating each day, or maybe just sitting back to read a comic book for fun.

It would be easy to argue that the non-work items do not provide value to a client and do not need to go on the board. But that seems to me to be a pretty thin definition of value. My goal was to try to put everything on the board. The problem was, it didn’t all fit. . One of the most important things I learned that week was that if I don’t put it on the board, it isn’t going to happen. So, I needed a kind of backlog nursery, where I could dump ideas and then periodically replenish the backlog on the board from that nursery.
I decided to hold a little personal retrospective at the end of each week to evaluate how things are going. The first week was really difficult for me, not because following the process was hard – that was actually pretty easy. The hard part was that Nigel Tufnel stopped by to crank the volume on my “obsessive tendencies” up to 11. Here are the important (and painful) things I learned about myself during week 1.
  • While some of the PK books will tell you to plan to do the unpleasant work first and then work your way towards the stuff you want to do, I found that if I don’t force myself to do the things I want to do, that I cram every possible minute full of the not-fun work and never get around to the enjoyable, recharge-oriented items on my list. (Remember, this is my vacation too.) I actually had to block out time to stop being productive and just sit around and read a book or play my guitar for fun.
  • I was so focused on getting the items across my board as efficiently and quickly as possible that I actually spent a few nights tossing and turning in a restless series of dreams about the board, the tasks and how to move them. (The last time I had dreams like this was during my brief, but disturbing addiction to playing Doom and Quake. Unfortunately, this time I didn’t get to wake up and grab the BFG to kill off some monsters.)
  • In my crowning moment of idiocy that week, I climbed off the treadmill halfway through a long workout because I realized I had not moved the card into the doing column. I was unable to continue the workout until I had the car in the right column. (Yes, I have issues.)
  • Throughout the week I found I was still using Things. As eager as I was to embrace the new system, I was still afraid to let go of the method I had developed in order to keep things from slipping through the cracks.

At the end of the first week, I know I have a long way to go. I’m nowhere near ready to deal with WIP, the waste I am creating or finding a better way of doing this. But, it’s a start. And, by the end of the week I was able to start talking myself down off the ledge of obsessing about moving the cards....

But, they say admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

Here is a snapshot of my board as I got ready to start on the 2nd week.