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My Merge of GTD and Kanban

What is the next actionI’m not going sit here an boast of being some kind of expert on Kanban or guru of personal productivity.  I’m just a Project Manager/Leader who is always keeping his eyes and ears open for newer or better ways to manage time or work.  I believe you should always try to eliminate non-value-added processes, resulting in a positive impact of customer satisfaction, while reducing support costs.  How do you do that?  You get it done as effectively and efficiently as possible.

I recently completed Getting Things Done by David Allen.  It was an interesting book.  Though I use paperless processes to “get things done”, David offered one bit of advice that resonated with me.  To advance a task or activity to more of an actionable conclusion, he said to ask “What’s the next action?”

This parallels what I do with my Kanban (task) board.  I currently have 4 columns:  Backlog, Work In Progress (WIP), Blocked, Done.  When a prioritized task can not be worked, I put the task card (user story) in the “blocked” column.  I then ask myself the question.  What’s the next action? Without asking yourself that simple question, your task may be blocked longer than necessary.  You have to understand there may be 3 or 4 steps you need to complete before you can unblock your task and get it back to WIP.  So, ask the question.

As to not ignore the obvious, I recommend you write your tasks in a standard user story format. As a [perspective], I want to [activity], so I can [desired outcome]

It doesn’t matter if you use a physical or virtual Kanban (task) board.  I recommend following 3 simple rules:

  1. Keep your tasks visible
  2. Keep your tasks limited
  3. Keep your tasks actionable

About Derek Huether

I'm Vice President of Enterprise Engagements at LeadingAgile. I'm super focused on results. But I also take the hand waving out of organizational transformations. I come from a traditional PM background but I don't give points for stuff done behind the scenes. The only thing that counts is what you get done and delivered. Author of Zombie Project Management (available on Amazon)

10 Responses to “My Merge of GTD and Kanban”

  1. January 11, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    To be honest for me it looks like overkill. I mean our tasks are often 5-minute long and of course we can throw them in onto our personal Kanban Board but I guess that’s exactly non-value-added process. At the same time we can just do what we have to do and forget about them.

    Another situation is with big tasks which take some time to complete them. But it’s rare situation when I can’t instantly say which state the task is in. And my “in development” list is really my inbox plus some sticky notes at desk.

    • Derek Huether
      January 12, 2010 at 3:43 pm

      I agree this may be overkill, if your tasks are only 5 minutes in length. With GTD, anything under 2 minutes gets done right then and there. The items appearing on my board fall outside that realm. How I diverge from traditional GTD is I add items to my Kanban board in the backlog column, rather than putting the new item in an inbox or file. For me, it’s all about visualizing the work to be done. Because I have a lot of stakeholders to deal with, I use the “Blocked” columns heavily. In my guest post on the Personal Kanban website, I admit that I have both a virtual and a physical Kanban board. With my physical board, I’m a heavy user of sticky notes. Yes, I do love those sticky notes.

  2. January 11, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    To be honest for me it looks like overkill. I mean our tasks are often 5-minute long and of course we can throw them in onto our personal Kanban Board but I guess that’s exactly non-value-added process. At the same time we can just do what we have to do and forget about them.

    Another situation is with big tasks which take some time to complete them. But it’s rare situation when I can’t instantly say which state the task is in. And my “in development” list is really my inbox plus some sticky notes at desk.

    • Derek Huether
      January 12, 2010 at 11:43 am

      I agree this may be overkill, if your tasks are only 5 minutes in length. With GTD, anything under 2 minutes gets done right then and there. The items appearing on my board fall outside that realm. How I diverge from traditional GTD is I add items to my Kanban board in the backlog column, rather than putting the new item in an inbox or file. For me, it’s all about visualizing the work to be done. Because I have a lot of stakeholders to deal with, I use the “Blocked” columns heavily. In my guest post on the Personal Kanban website, I admit that I have both a virtual and a physical Kanban board. With my physical board, I’m a heavy user of sticky notes. Yes, I do love those sticky notes.

  3. January 30, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    I have been mulling this over since you wrote it. And think I’ve finally come to an agreement with myself.

    Personal Kanban for a five minute task – you don’t need to document everything ever, just what you need to remember. if someone calls on the phone, you don’t need to quickly run to the board and do an “answer phone” card. Just do what makes sense. maybe a 5 minute card for a task that will take place next week does make sense. It’s context.

    But second, the User Story idea. I like it for focus. People who are starting to ask themselves “Why am I doing this?” could get a lot of context out of doing quick user stories for larger tasks. Like painting the fence or building something.

    So, I see a lot of value in its judicious application.

    Jim
    .-= Jim Benson´s last blog ..Am I Productive, Efficient, or Effective? =-.

    • Derek Huether
      January 30, 2010 at 7:58 pm

      Jim, thank you for giving me some feedback. I certainly don’t put every little thing on the board. I follow the GTD rule whereby if the task takes less than 2 minutes, do it. I think this post was mostly about when my tasks wind up in the blocked column of my board. I need that visual queue that will give me enough data to unblocked the task and get it moving again. If you think this post was interesting, you should see my New Years Resolution board. If you see some value in it, perhaps I could visit the Personal Kanban blog and write a guest post?

      Best Regards,
      Derek

  4. January 30, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    I have been mulling this over since you wrote it. And think I’ve finally come to an agreement with myself.

    Personal Kanban for a five minute task – you don’t need to document everything ever, just what you need to remember. if someone calls on the phone, you don’t need to quickly run to the board and do an “answer phone” card. Just do what makes sense. maybe a 5 minute card for a task that will take place next week does make sense. It’s context.

    But second, the User Story idea. I like it for focus. People who are starting to ask themselves “Why am I doing this?” could get a lot of context out of doing quick user stories for larger tasks. Like painting the fence or building something.

    So, I see a lot of value in its judicious application.

    Jim
    .-= Jim Benson´s last blog ..Am I Productive, Efficient, or Effective? =-.

    • Derek Huether
      January 30, 2010 at 3:58 pm

      Jim, thank you for giving me some feedback. I certainly don’t put every little thing on the board. I follow the GTD rule whereby if the task takes less than 2 minutes, do it. I think this post was mostly about when my tasks wind up in the blocked column of my board. I need that visual queue that will give me enough data to unblocked the task and get it moving again. If you think this post was interesting, you should see my New Years Resolution board. If you see some value in it, perhaps I could visit the Personal Kanban blog and write a guest post?

      Best Regards,
      Derek

  5. Mark Matten
    August 4, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    Hi Derek,

    How has this progressed since this post?

    Regards,

    Mark

    • August 4, 2014 at 9:58 pm

      Mark, thanks for asking. Actually, I just presented a Personal Kanban session at Agile2014. Did you get to attend? I also participated in an “ask the Lean/Kanban Experts” session.

      My opinions have shifted slightly since writing that post back in 2010. I no longer right my tasks in user story format. I do right them in a “call to action” verb-noun format. I also don’t use a blocked column on my board. I now just use an indicator flag. I switched out the blocked column for a focus column. I have a lot more issues staying focused than unblocking tasks. Those are just a few highlights. Thoughts?

      I think I’m going to start blogging about Kanban more. I feel inspired.

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