Monday, July 29, 2013

Personal Kanban - Lessons Learned

“And now we're back
Where we started
Here we go round again
Day after day
I get up and I say
I better do it again”
Back Where We Started ~ The Kinks

It’s been seven months since I began using Personal Kanban. Initially I wanted to learn more about Kanban and also come up with a better way to cope with the massive amount of things I had waiting for me to do. I’ve definitely learned more about Kanban and my ability to manage the work I have to do in a much healthier way than I had before. Most of all, there were learnings that caught me by surprise.

  • Personal Kanban helped me get more clarity on what my workflow process actually is. It isn’t easy to be non-judgmental (with yourself) about this, but I believe that doing so is a very important part of understanding and improving.
  • Personal Kanban helped me come to the understanding that despite the pressure and stress I put on myself, there is almost nothing I have on my plate that I don’t actually really want to do. The hard part seems to be to keep that in mind all the time. It is something I still need more work on, but I do feel extremely fortunate in that respect.
  • Personal Kanban has allowed me to become more aware of the “waste” in my “system”. This has allowed me to make a conscious choice about what waste should remain and what should go. Some of the waste is an important part of my workflow and creative process.
  • I learned that one of they keys in my own management of work I have to do is to maintain a physical board with a limited amount of space in which to capture work to be done. I need to be able to see everything at once for it to be workable.

And now, seven months down the road, I am on the road to recreating the same mess in KanbanPad that I used to have in Things. Right now I have:

  • 15 items in my Backlog Queue
  • 16 items in my Someday Queue
  • 17 items in my On Deck Queue
  • 17 items in my Today Queue
  • 4 items in my Doing Queue

The biggest benefit of the last few months by far, is that I have become more aware of how I work and I am more aware of what I need to do to correct it.

When you begin studying certain forms of meditation you learn to count your breath. When thoughts arise you are to observe them, but not engage them. You just let them move on without getting caught up with them. If you do find that you are caught up, once you realize it, you let go and then refocus on your breath and start counting again. Not easy in the beginning, but the more you do it, the less difficult it becomes. My expectation is that working with Personal Kanban (or whatever approach is taken to getting work done) is similar. There are have periods where things go well and, and some, not so much. The trick is just to go back to the starting point and do it all again.

Time to make the donuts…

Friday, July 26, 2013

Personal Kanban Interview with Marcello Scacchetti from

Marcello Scacchetti lives, works and practices Personal Kanban in Italy. After a co-worker of mine posted on Yammer that he was using Marcello's Personal Kanban Google App, I reached out to him and he was kind enough to let me interview him about how he is using PK to manage his work and various projects.

While Marcello's approach towards Personal Kanban is a little different than my own, we have had similar learning experiences while using it. For Marcello, he says during the interview that Personal Kanban saved his life.

During the interview Marcello also talks about his use of Value Stream Mapping and how it has helped him with prioritizing the things he does (both inside and outside work). He also explains how he codes everything he does once it has been completed based on how much joy it brought him. (This is where I got the idea to do this with my own work - see the post here.) These are two of the factors that contribute to Marcello's practice of spending 80% of his time doing things that bring him as much joy as a kid feeding ducks.

I hope you will enjoy the interview. I got a number of ideas from Marcello that I applied to my Personal Kanban testing after we spoke.

If you'd like to learn more about Marcello, you can find him on twitter at @marcellonextrem on the website.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Personal Kanban - On the Personal Kanban Couch with Scott and Ray

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.

Part 1:
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

Part 2:
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

Monday, July 08, 2013

Personal Kanban - App Review Update: LeanKit and Kanban Pad

I mentioned before that I was happy enough with LeanKit that after I had adapted to using it, that I was not going to keep testing out different apps for Personal Kanban.

What can I say...

I was pretty happy with LeanKit from a Personal Kanban standpoint. When I checked it against my original criteria a few weeks ago, it only hit 50% of my original requirements:

  1. Must be available on laptop, iPhone and iPad (PASS)
  2. Must be as close to my physical board as possible (meaning must allow for swim lanes) (PASS)
  3. Must have some capacity for dealing with recurring tasks (FAIL)
  4. 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)
But that was better than none, and it let me do some stuff I felt was really important:
  1. Set up my swim lanes just like I had them on the wall.
  2. Define the work state columns however I wanted.
  3. Establish whatever WIP limits I wanted and warn me when I tried to exceed them.
  4. It let me color code the cards based on work type.
I am also part of a volunteer group that had made a decision to use it and we were able to get full access to the tool which opened up some additional functionality. Being able to attach files to card and assign them to multiple individuals is something I found very helpful when using it with a team.

And then.....

I went to a meeting. I sat next to someone way smarter to me. I glanced at his screen and saw that he was using a Kanban app. Since he is smarter than me, and had come to a meeting with just an iPad (an obvious indicator of superior intellect and travel skill), and his screen was filled with a lot of really bright colors, it became obvious to me that this was an app worthy of further investigation. And this is how I was introduced to Kanban Pad.

When I compare this Kanban Pad against my original criteria:
  1. Must be available on laptop, iPhone and iPad (PASS-ish)
  2. Must be as close to my physical board as possible (meaning must allow for swim lanes) (PASS)
  3. Must have some capacity for dealing with recurring tasks (FAIL, but)
  4. 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)
The app works great on an iPad or in a web browser. It's easy to drag cards from one column to another.  And technically, Kanban Pad works on an iPhone as well. They do have a version sized for the small screen. Unfortunately, in the smaller screen, you can only view one column at a time. Trying to move tasks between columns in this format  left me feeling like I was wearing boxing gloves while carrying a small child, a folding chair and trying to eat an ice cream cone at the same time.

Kanban Pad does allow for customizable, swim lanes, but not in exactly the same way that you'd set them up on a physical board. It allows you to establish multiple columns and within each column the Type setting allows you to establish Queue, In Progress or Queue and In Progress workflows. By using Queue and In Progress and editing the labels, I found an easy solution to my recurring task issue. 

Another great feature is that the Product Backlog and Backlog of work that has moved past Accepted (meaning it no longer needs to be seen), can be maintained off the main task board. 

Kanban Pad also allows you to establish WIP limits for your queues and it warns you fairly incessantly about your flagrant violation of them should you choose to venture off the path. (I ended up not using this feature because my frustration over the warnings became more significant than my desire to maintain WIP limits.  

The app includes a feature where you can customize colored tags which can be applied to each task so that you can tell what type of work you are looking at.

There are a number of additional features that Kanban Pad offers, but those are the ones that have proven to be most valuable to me from a Personal Kanban perspective. 

By way of a final verdict/opinion on the app, I offer this... I've been using Kanban Pad for about 6-8 weeks now. It has become my primary tool for managing my  work using Personal Kanban. After all my efforts at trying to find a way to use Things as a tool for Personal Kanban, I've all but stopped using Things and only open it (or Reminders) now when I have to capture something that I will add to my task board later. 

A Tip for Embracing Dysfunction

One thing I have noticed about my use of Kanban Pad is that I've begun using the screen on which I am looking at the work as my way of limiting WIP. If there is so much on the board that I have to scroll up and down to see all the work, then there is too much on the board. This means that some tasks have to be A) Cleared on the right so I can keep moving items over B) That I've got to remove some work from the active columns into the Product Backlog (which is not visible form the main board) or C) I need to consolidate and/or delete some items. This may not be the "right way" to do it, but at the moment, it is working pretty well for me, so I am okay with that.