I have a dirty little secret. I have an on-again off-again love affair with the Pomodoro technique. Though I deal with a wicked case of ADD, I seem to keep it in check, thanks in part to my Personal Kanban. The other method I use, though I admit not as commonly, is a pomodoro timer. When things get really bad, I break out the timer. And ya know, things get back on track! You’d think I would learn.
If you find yourself reading this blog, you’ll find that I’m a proponent of using simple techniques to get things done. If you’re looking for me to do a deep dive on policy, process, and procedure, you’re in the wrong place.
So, how do I get some of my work done?  I limit my work in progress (WIP) and  I limit my time (timebox). When I do both, I tend to stay focused and deliver more. The pomodoro technique, like other techniques I like, is pretty darned simple.
So, let’s talk about my Piggy Pomodoro!
- Choose a task to be accomplished
- Set the Pomodoro to 25 minutes (the Pomodoro is the timer)
- Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, annotate the task you were working on
- Take a short break (I take 5 minutes)
- Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break (I take 10 minutes)
As part of this process, I’m moving tasks on my Kanban from Backlog to Work in Progress. If I take a break, I move it to Blocked. When I return, I move it back to Work in Progress. This allows me to visualize what I’m working on and know what I was working on before my break.
Have a Kanban or Pomodoro story? I would love to hear it.
Why do I use a Piggy, you ask? Because tomatoes give me gas and Chickens would just be wrong.
I was over at the AgileScout website and found a humorous post. The title was Agile Products for Sale – What’s Worth Buying.
Eric Laramée from Agile Partnership made a comment and got me thinking. Why aren’t more retailers jumping on the bandwagon to offer “Agile” products?
What got us started was a listing on Amazon for a ($12.50) pack of 50 pack of Story Cards. Now, I’m not going to say anything bad about this product. I actually think it’s clever they are offering a product like this. Those who have been doing Agile for more than one iteration probably have multiple packs of ($1.95) 100 pack 3×5 index cards sitting on their desks.
In no particular order, here is a list of “Agile” products I found on Amazon. Yes, all of these links are going to an Amazon affiliate account. I figured I would give it a try.
Agile Shopping List
Not on Amazon, are Mountain Goat Software planning poker cards. What can I say, I love these cards.
So, what’s on your Agile shopping list? Feel free to add a comment.
Like the image? Find them at Pictofigo
Before you spend the next week, redesigning the TPS report, you need to stop and ask yourself a simple question.
Why are you doing it? If you can not map the task back to a stakeholder or customer objective/requirement (goal) you better stop now. Some people call this gold-plating. Additionally if you can not map the task back to one of your personal goals, you better stop now. I call that flushing time down a toilet.
Do you sometimes feel like you’re rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic? Are you spending all of your time doing stuff that is not getting you any closer the real goal? Well, stop for a minute and pretend you are a 5-year-old.
Whenever you ask a 5-year-old to do something, they never seem to do it without first asking why.
Go sit down
Because it’s dinner time.
Because you need to eat your dinner.
Because I don’t want child protective services saying we don’t feed you.
Because we’re trying to get you to adulthood without scarring you too much.
What’s our main personal goal as it relates to our son?
Goal 1: Get him to adulthood without scarring him too much
Now, as project managers and leaders, what are your primary goals? Is it keep the project on schedule? Is it keep the project from going over budget? Or, is it one of the 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto? Whatever your answer(s), when asked to do something, keep asking why until you reach your main goal(s).
We want to add this change to the next deployed version
Because it is now a priority
Because it will either save time, money, or both
What’s one of our documented goals related to our project?
Goal 1: Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
Like the image? Find it at Pictofigo
GuyKawasaki tweeted about a really cool infographic on Alltop titled Why freeways come to a stop. I checked it out and what most interested me was the graphic The funnel effect (I circled it in red).
The funnel effect is a really good analogy of why you should limit your work in progress, like I do on my Personal Kanban. In the analogy, just the right amount of water can go through as fast as it’s put into the funnel. But add extra water to the funnel, and the whole thing backs up.
In reality, keeping focus on just the right amount of work can allow you to finish more than if you didn’t. Personally, I limit my work in progress to 3 items. I never thought it would have such a positive impact. So, what do you have to lose? Do you have a long list of to-do’s, doing a little here and doing a little there? Do you ever feel like you’re not actually getting anything done? Today, rather than trying to multitask, focus on just a few tasks until they are DONE. If you complete one task, you can add another to your focus list. Remember, 99% done is still not done. At the end of the day, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, preventing a traffic jam of work and actually getting stuff done.
I commonly get asked what I personally use to manage my work. The answer is almost too simple. I use a Personal Kanban. Now, I’m no efficiency guru. I’m no expert on Kanban. I just need a simple system that satisfies a few requirements and makes sense to me.
- I need something visual to combat my ADD.
- I need something that visually captures all of my Backlog of work.
- I need something that helps me visualize what Work is In Progress.
- I need something that allows me (and others) to see what got Done this week.
Now, I’ve been using task boards for probably half a decade now. When you have that one stakeholder who cruises by your office or cube (constantly) and asks what you’re working on, you can point at the wall and not even look up from you monitor. The board proves its worth just by cutting down on those people interrupting your day. After a while, people get used to knowing what’s going on and appreciate the transparency. It’s strange that I need to point that out. Who benefits by not embracing transparency? That may be a question left to the comments.
The key difference between a Kanban board and a regular task board is a column limiting your work in progress. My first exposure to this was from a Scrum Master training session being led by Sanjiv Augustine. Sanjiv displayed a PowerPoint slide of what appeared to be a Los Angeles freeway. During rush-hour, the amount of vehicles coming onto the freeway are limited (by on-ramp lights). This attempt to control the volume of traffic flow onto the freeway allows vehicles already on the freeway to move at a faster pace and in turn exit the freeway. This visual freeway analogy was like a light bulb moment for me. When I got back to the office and began limiting my Work In Progress (WIP), I did indeed increase my delivery rate. The days of multitasking are now in my past!
Soon after I started using a Kanban, I met Jim Benson of Modus Cooperandi. I would describe Jim as a Kanban Sensei. If you ever want to know more about Kanbans, Jim’s your man. Go check out the Personal Kanban website. Though Kanban is kind of a background business process to me, I still check out the site from time to time to see how others are using Kanban.
To wrap this up, there’s only one “tech” tool I use to bridge the gap between my home and office. It’s call AgileZen. AgileZen is a Kanban web application. Though I have all of my work work on my Kanban board at the office, my wife would frown on seeing a wall of post-it notes next to my desk at home. So, I use AgileZen to manage both my personal and work tasks while away from the office. Some people may choose to just use the electronic version. I just can’t let go of the satisfaction of moving a post-it note from WIP to Done.
I met Jim Benson about a year or so ago. He was in Washington DC and I met him for lunch down in Chinatown. Jim’s a pretty smart cookie. I like what he does. I sometimes wish I could do what he does but it requires a little more of a balanced mind than I possess. In the Star Wars universe, Jim would be a Kanban Jedi and I would be a mere Padawan.
I used kanban and limited my work-in-progress (WIP) at a previous job but don’t have the buyin from my current client to implement the practice here. I still have a Kanban board hanging on my wall but it’s there for me to manage my own work.
Today I read an article on the Personal Kanban website titled “Would You, Could You on a Plane?” It was about a quick offline kanban for in-flight work. It was informative, as always. But, the mere title inspired me to write a bit of a ridiculous comment. Perhaps I read too much Dr. Seuss during my off-time.
I like Kanban!
I do! I like it, Sam-I-am!
And I would limit WIP in a boat.
And I would limit WIP with a goat.
And I will limit WIP in the rain.
And in the dark. And on a train.
And in a car. And in a tree.
Limiting WIP is so good so good you see!
So I will limit WIP in a box.
And I will limit WIP with a fox.
And I will limit WIP in a house.
And I will limit WIP with a mouse.
And I will limit WIP here and there.
Say! I will limit WIP ANYWHERE!
I do so like
Limiting WIP and Kanban!
Strange how a simple title can get me started. Thank you Jim for doing what you do, even if that means reading ridiculousness comments that I write.