PMI and Kanban

How are you? My name is [author] and I'm a writer for PM Network magazine, the official publication of PMI. I'm doing a piece about e-kanban systems and their role in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Would you be interested in doing a quick interview?

So begins my hope of spreading the positive impacts of Kanban in a PMI publication, only to feel betrayed.

Let's go back a few years

Back in 2009, when I was first learning about Kanban, I saw both David Anderson and Jim Benson write about AgileZen on their blogs.  That's when, in addition to using a physical Kanban, I started using AgileZen to manage my personal work.

Fast forward to June 2010

After reading David Bland's blog post about creating virtual story boards with Google Docs, it inspired me to create a DIY virtual Kanban. What I discovered was, yes, you can do it.  But, why would you do it when a physical Kanban works so much better?  For me, it's all about visualization and simplicity.  If you're dealing with distributed teams, in addition to a physical Kanban at each location, I would recommend using AgileZen to bridge the 2 physical boards.  AgileZen is my personal preference.  It's clean, it's easy to use, and it's free if you only have 1 project.  I never used my Google Docs hack because it was too easy to use a physical Kanban and AgileZen.

Now fast forward to just 2 months ago

A writer for PM Network magazine writes me, asking to interview me.  I agree and we spoke at length by telephone two times.  During the first interview, I got the impression that he had not used Kanban before.  He didn't get visualizing workflow. He didn't get limiting your work in progress.  So, I threw out my L.A. Freeway analogy and related it to activities at work.  The author had done research about JIT lean manufacturing but I got the impression he was unable to bridge the gap on how he could apply it to his world.  I couldn't understand why he kept pushing the virtual Kanban.  Because I wanted to answer his questions, I said he could go so far as to do it in Google Docs.

A few weeks passed and I was contacted by a research editor.  She said she was fact checking and also wanted a high resolution headshot and introduction to include in the article.  Her "facts" surprised me.  What the author had written was sending the wrong message!  He was pushing the Google Docs (hack) and not AgileZen.  He clearly had not even tried the Google Docs hack, based on what he wrote.  The last sentence made me cringe.

...but you have to see if this will work with your culture before you try implementing it, even for yourself.

No, what I said was, you can leverage Kanban on an enterprise level, like for portfolio management, but you need to verify if this approach will be accepted by the organizational culture.  It doesn't even make sense to say "...even for yourself".

I sent back edits to what she provided.  The following is my additional responses to them.

Is there a way I can proof the entire article?  I've been leveraging Kanban for several years now.  Based on a few of the edits I made, I have a few concerns.  Though I don't want to take anything away from [Author], I want to ensure your readers get the highest quality and most accurate information possible.   To be clear, I recommended AgileZen, hands down as the virtual Kanban of choice.  But, IF you wanted a (very limited) DIY virtual Kanban, then you could do it with Google Docs.

I finally picked up the phone and called them.  I stated, if I could not proof the entire article or could not be assured my changes would be incorporated in full, I did not want to be associated with the piece.


I received my March copy of the magazine.  On the front cover, I read "Kanban goes digital".  On page 66 and 67, I find that I am quoted but with no introduction as a technical contributor or headshot.  To set the record straight, I didn't choose the images used in their article nor did I write it.  I am merely quoted.

...and this is why I write my own blog and tweet.

Zombie Tug of War

This week I'm in an all-out tug of war with the zombies.  Just short of getting hostile with the lot, I figured writing a blog post would be more cathartic.  I'm going to rant about enterprise tools and how I see them fit into the world of business.  Zombie Tug of WarI've been asked many times what products I would suggest to satisfy different needs.  I'll admit, I'm pretty passionate about some of the tools I use.  I love Evernote.  Why?  My memory sucks!   If I can get my thoughts into Evernote, I know I'll be good.  I also love using AgileZen.  I know, you've heard me talk about them before.  I keep a physical Kanban and a virtual one.  It's what I describe as both lightweight and elegant. It just works!  One more little app you may of heard of that I love is Google docs.  I like the fact that I can edit my documents anywhere and then share or collaborate on them with other team members. There are 3 primary commonalities that I can note about these 3 applications.  [1] They are super easy to use,  [2] either free or very affordable, [3] they help me save time.

So, what are the zombies taunting me with?

I'm working with a customer who is on a Novell network, uses Groupwise email, and has the poorest implementation of Microsoft SharePoint I've seen since I was introduced to SharePoint 5+ years ago.  None of these applications are necessarily bad.  But, when it comes to this bastardized configuration I'm currently dealing with, I get the feeling the only reasons these apps are being used is because really good salespeople sold a few zombies on these half-baked solutions.

Before you spend tens of thousands of hard earned dollars on the next "silver bullet", ask yourself why you need the product.  Are you trying to fix a process?  If so, I think you'll end up with an expensive crappy process.  Let me be very blunt.  Enterprise software will not fix a crappy process! Enterprise software is for making a refined process more efficient.  When I started advising this customer over two years ago, a vendor had just sold them on a deployment of MS SharePoint with Project Server.   Why?  So the customer could internally track time being billed to different work packages.  That's it!  What I found odd was the customer didn't have an existing way of internally tracking the time.  So, instead of having people fill out Excel spreadsheets to get them started, they just went for a solution that would solve all of their problems.  Have you read that promise before?

The result?  A solution nobody uses.

Score: Zombies 1 / Humanity -$50,000

My apologies for the negative nature of this post.  Happier posts are on the way!

[VIA: Oxford Dictionaries]

Like the image? Find it at Pictofigo

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

Kanban for Lean Project Management

Zen Logo For those out there using Kanban for Lean Project Management, let me sing the praises of Zen.  Zen is a tool that applies the ideas of the Toyota Production System (commonly known as "lean" principles) to project management. Whether you already practice lean in your organization, you want to set up a lean process, or you just want an easy and effective way to manage your process, Zen will work for you.

Since I started using Zen back in July, my productivity increases has been astounding.  I used to think multi-tasking was the best way to deliver value.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  Instead, I now limit my Work In Progress to only 3 and only focus on 1 at a time.

Though I wrote about this product back in August, I wanted to give a formal product endorsement.  Getting started is free of charge. Once you begin using it on your projects, the cost is reasonable and scalable.  The Zen creators focused on what really matters, and designed an open-ended and easy to customize product.  They don't overwhelm you with metrics and force you to try to figure out what matters.  Instead, they track just a few high-value indicators such as cycle time and lead time.

My Personal Kanban

If you've already implemented lean ideas in your organization, Zen can easily be used to replace a manual kanban board and spreadsheets, and has all the features you would expect to find in a lean project management tool.  If you think I'm a fanboy, you'd be right!  I love this product.  Check out

My Personal Kanban Story

A little over a month ago, Agile Zen started following me on Twitter.  They are creators of a very clean web-based kanban solution.  Around the same time, I connected with Jim Benson.  Jim is a collaborative management consultant.  He is the CEO of Modus Cooperandi, a consultancy which combines Lean, Agile Management and Social Media principles to develop sustainable teams. Personal Kanban

Though I've used information radiators like kanbans in the past, I've been working in a non-Agile PMO for the last six months and it's all very foreign to them.  Thanks to reading the works of David Anderson, Jim Benson, and AgileZen, I'm back in the game.  I'm using AgileZen on a daily basis for everything from business deliverables, to an entrepreneurial project, to my wife's honey-do list.

My actual task completion velocity has noticeably increased in the last month.  I attribute that to AgileZen having a very easy to use product, Jim musing on a daily basis on the topic, and most importantly limiting what I'm working or focused on.

You can read one of Jim's recent postings [here] You can check out AgileZen [here]

I wish I could thank all of the kanban supporters out there that I follow on a daily basis.  These 3 really have to be mentioned.  If you're interested in Kanban, look them up.