Kanban

3 things you need to increase productivity

What I Believe

If you want to increase productivity, I believe you need 3 key things. In a previous post,  I wrote you needed ritual and motivation.  After some reflection, I decided to update that.  First, create a system to ensure you are always getting stuff done, regardless if you're motivated (though it helps). Second, create rituals to follow within the system.  Last, repeat those rituals until they become habits.

System

My system of choice, for my own work, is Kanban.  It's a method I use to manage everything I do.  In short, Kanban is a visualization of value flowing through a system. I use sticky notes on a wall as signals of outcomes I'm working toward. I have columns on the wall; To Do, Work In Process (WIP), and Done.  I also have the WIP column split into two rows. One row is for active work in process. The second row is for outcomes or work that is blocked.  I believe one of the keys to a successful system is having clarity around its design but also to have low overhead (effort to maintain the system).  It doesn't matter if I use a physical wall or a virtual one, the importance is either are in my field of view.  When on the road, I use a virtual Kanban. When at home, I prefer a physical one.

My supporting system is a Pomodoro.  A Pomodoro is simply a kitchen timer.  Like it or not, I respond really well to deadlines. One of my favorite quotes is:

A goal without a deadline is merely a dream.

Give me a goal with a deadline and I may not get it all done, but I'll make progress and get you something.  If I have a goal without a deadline, I can think something to death.  Like with my Kanban, I prefer to go with physical but I'm happy to use a virtual one as well. The important thing is the timebox. It's like personal sprints. (yep, like Scrum).  Make a commitment; get it done.

Ritual

  • Every morning, I review my (virtual) LeanKit board
  • I then review my physical Kanban board next

I review my Kanban board in a very specific order:  Done, Work in Process, Blocked, To Do.  [1] I do this to remind myself what I recently got done.  [2] It allows me to verify if I finished something the day before but forgot to pull it to done. [3] It gives me a chance to pull something off the to-do column and put it back in my backlog, allowing space for something of higher value.

  • I pull a card from To Do to WIP
  • When I'm ready, I set the Pomodoro timer for 25 minutes and begin work
  • When the timer goes off, I take a 5 minute break
  • Reset the timer for another 25 minutes, review what my next highest priority is, and begin
    • If I'm coming back from an extended break like lunch or dinner with the family, I still reset to 25 minutes
    • I continue this process until I finished work for the day

Habit

It's true if you get something done, regardless of the size and complexity, it makes you feel good (thanks to dopamine).  If something makes you feel good, it physically reinforces your behaviour to do it again.  You need a few quick wins (getting things to Done), to start releasing dopamine and establish the ritual for the longer term.  If you don't get outcomes, you're not going to keep doing something.  If you can create the habit of getting several smaller things done per day, you on your way. Habits are like safety nets. They are not for optimum productivity. They are there to ensure minimum productivity.  I recommend breaking work into small enough chunks that you can get something done every hour.

Summary

By doing these three things, you'll achieve increased productivity. If you can get inspired and motivated, your increase will be even higher.  Alas, inspiration and motivation are a different topic.  Until then, capitalize on the system, rituals and habits, until the next time you get inspired.

If you are looking for a system to work beyond personal productivity, the same rules apply.  Visualize your group or organization's continuous flow of value on a wall or board (physical or virtual Kanban).  Define timeboxes, like in Scrum, for teams to focus on work.  Take a short break at the end of each timebox.  Keep reflecting on the things you've accomplished.  Get that dopamine flowing!

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Work in Process - WIP

What is 'Work In Process - WIP'

Work in process, also known as WIP, refers to activities that have entered the completion process but are not yet outcomes. Work in progress (WIP) refers to all materials and partly finished products that are at various stages of the production process. WIP excludes inventory of time or materials at the start of the completion cycle and finished products inventory at the end of the production cycle.  That means you don't count the things you have not started or have not finished.

Work in Process vs Progress

I see the difference between process and progress as being very small but I want to make a distinction.  I see progress being anchored to physical goods at different stages of completeness on an assembly line and process being completion of any activity as part of a goal or outcome.  Your process could be as simple as To-do and Done.  If you are multi-tasking and have 5 things started all at the same time, you have a WIP of 5.

Personal Agility Tip

One of the secrets of managing your work in process is to only start work on things you actually have capacity to work on. When you have capacity, you can pull work into your "queue". Rather than accepting and starting every task that comes your way, limit the amount of stuff that you’re working on at any given time.  Focus less on starting things in your queue and more on finishing them, and I can pretty much guarantee you’ll get more done.

Personally, I know that I can only deal with three activities at a time before things start to get dropped. Know your personal limits and set them accordingly. If you’re working on something and you get blocked, don’t just pull in more work. Add a visual indicator that shows the item is blocked and continue pulling working to done. Once you unblock work, you can pull it the rest of the way through your system to done.

Have questions?  Ask me how I do it!

Lean Metrics in the Real World

Today, I was faced with the unfortunate task of renewing my driver's license. It's been 10 years since the last renewal and I remember the last time I was at the Maryland MVA (Motor Vehicle Administration) office, I waited for what seemed to be an hour.  We all know how painful the experience is.  You stand in line, you get to the front of the line, they tell you to go fill out some paperwork and then to get back in line. I will use the opportunity to teach others about lean metrics.

Lead Time

Lead time is the time between the initiation and completion of a production process.  In my case, I left the office at 09:00 and arrived back at the office at 10:00.  The lead time to get a renewed driver's license was 60 minutes.  Given my goal, the shorter the lead time the better.

Cycle Time

Cycle time is the total time from the beginning to the end of a process, as defined by you and your customer. Cycle time includes process time, during which a unit is acted upon to bring it closer to an output, and delay time, during which a unit of work is spent waiting to take the next action.  The shorter your cycle times (including delays) the shorter your lead time.

My cycle times included:

  • 15 minutes - driving to MVA office
  • 5 minutes - standing in initial line to be added to the proper queue
  • 16 minutes - wait time to get the front of the line
  • 5 minutes - actual renewal processing
  • 4 minutes - wait time to be given the new driver's license
  • 15 minutes - driving back from the MVA office

Cycle time is one of the key lean metrics

My hat comes off to Maryland MVA.  On their website, they provide current wait times at the different locations.  I took a screen grab before I headed to the local MVA branch.  This feedback was very valuable.  Given the service I needed, it allowed me to provide an estimate of my time away to others I was going to be working with today.

Throughput

Throughput is the the amount of material or items (people in this case) passing through a system or process per time unit. With an average cycle time of 5 minutes for the renewal process, the throughput in 60 minutes would be 12 people.  At first glance, I didn't see any real bottlenecks or delays in their system.  Given what I saw, I believe 10 people an hour is a reasonable throughput.

Understanding Lean Metrics

I hope this brief real world example of lean metrics is valuable to you.  When I was at a session for value stream mapping at Agile 2015, the poor guy leading the session kept getting lead time and cycle time mixed up.  The people in the room heckled the hell out of him. After reading this, that should never happen to you.

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