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!

Notes:  Picked up by DZone and viewed over 3,000 times in 3 days.

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!

My Personal Kanban submission for Agile 2014

agile2014_banner

I am happy to announce I submitted a workshop titled  "At home and work, how to get more stuff done. An introduction to Personal Kanban".  After asking people to provide comments, I was informed that the submission wasn't viewable. It looks like you need to be logged in. Go figure.

Submitted: Tue, 2014-01-14 01:40 Updated: Tue, 2014-01-14 01:43
Presenter: Derek Huether
Track: Learning Session Type: Workshop Audience Level: Learning
Room Setup: Rounds Duration: 75 minutes
Keywords: Learning, Process, kanban, flow, personal, WIP, Personal_Agility, process improvement

Abstract:

With a world of constant distraction, it feels like it’s getting harder and harder to get stuff done, regardless if it’s on a personal or organizational level. At some point, we’ve been sold the lie that multitasking is great and maximum utilization is even better. If we all drank the Kool-Aid, why are we doing more and getting less done? If there were a relatively simple way for you to get more stuff done, wouldn’t you want to know what it was? If there were a way for you to measure and improve your processes over time, wouldn’t you want to know how to do that as well? When getting stuff done is a primary measure for success, we need to introduce people to concepts that are simple but can be leveraged at scale.

In this session, participants will be introduced to the principles of Lean and the application of Kanban to visualize their personal work, limit distraction and waste, and get stuff done. I’ll cover the core concepts outlined in Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry's book, Personal Kanban, to get you started. I’ll talk about how Kanban can be applied to everyday work and why you should do it.

Through my years of struggling with ADD/ADHD and my years of management, leadership, and coaching, I have learned and applied Personal Kanban techniques in my everyday life and Lean Kanban at both government and private organizations. This is your opportunity to experience what I am like after a few cups of coffee and for you to learn a few simple strategies that you can start using before you even leave Agile 2014. This workshop can help you map your work and navigate your life.

Information for Review Team:

My first blog post about my Personal Kanban story happened in August of 2009. Since that time, I have evangelized the use of Personal Kanban for people who had tried everything from To-Do lists to Franklin Covey Planners to GTD, with little or no success. It gives me a profound amount of joy sharing this information to people ranging from parents who struggle to get their kids to bed to CEOs trying to make sense of a portfolio backlog. This workshop will begin with me telling me story and my challenges of staying focused and getting stuff done. It will conclude with people realizing how easy it is to grasp the basic concepts behind Personal Kanban, benefit from them, and then tell others.

Logistics:

Each table will have 3 sheets of 25 x 30" easel pad paper with pre-designed Kanban boards, a stack of index cards with different (effort) activities listed and predetermined values. (Writing what teams will be asked to do would spoil the surprise but I promise we’ll have some fun) I will explain to everyone how a Personal Kanban works. Each 10-minute practice session is designed to bring to light the daily struggles we may have in completing our work. After each session I will ask how the room would approach their work differently. The expectation is that more work will get done during practice session two and then even more during practice session three, based on what the attendees will learn in the previous sessions and improving their processes.

Agenda:

• Introduction and Overview [10 minutes] • Core Concepts [10 minutes] [20 minutes elapsed] What is the history of Kanban? What’s the difference between Kanban and Personal Kanban, what makes up a Kanban board, how do we design a Personal Kanban board, what is WIP, what is flow? • Practice [10 minutes] [30 minutes elapsed] Round 1 / Our first board • Retrospective [5 minutes] [35 minutes elapsed] What worked and what didn’t? • Practice [10 minutes] [45 minutes elapsed] Round 2 / Our second board design • Retrospective [5 minutes] [50 minutes elapsed] What worked and what didn’t? • Practice [10 minutes] [60 minutes elapsed] Round 3 / Our third board design • Retrospective [5 minutes] [65 minutes elapsed] What worked and what didn’t? • Conclusion and Questions [10 minutes] [75 minutes elapsed] What did you learn? What were you surprised by? What other questions do you have?

Background Info:

• I have been successfully leveraging Kanban on an organizational level since 2008 and evangelizing Personal Kanban since August 2009. • Jim and Tonniane’s book, which provides the basis of this session, is widely available. Here is a slide deck on the basics of Personal Kanban: http://www.slideshare.net/ourfounder/personal-kanban-101

Prerequisite Knowledge:

None

Learning Outcomes:

  • Understand key definitions and terms of Lean and Kanban
  • Understand how to apply Kanban to your personal and professional life
  • Understand how you can measure and improve your processes

Presentation History:

I have been presenting since 2011, when I appeared at the Great Lakes Software Excellence Conference. I’ve since been a guest at the Work Management Summit in 2011, and then presented at AgileDC in 2011, and 5 Project Management Institute events, including the Project Management Symposium 2012 (Washington DC), PMI Global Congress 2012, PMI Puerto Rico Simposio Anual 2012, Project Management Symposium 2013 (Washington DC), and most recently PMI SoMD Chapter 2013.

A few of my public sessions are available on Slideshare

 

Limit your Holiday WIP with Personal Kanban

I'm asked on a regular basis how Agile or Lean practices can be applied during the holidays.  Let's face it, we have a limited amount of time and todo lists as long as our arms.  Truth be told, people have limited success using the ever-growing todo list.  You either forget your list at home, you take on too much at one time, or you forget why some of the items on your list just aren't getting done.  Several years ago, I found the answer to my "get stuff done" problem and it is known as Personal Kanban.

Personal Kanban borrows from several Lean principles and practices. With just two simple acts – visualizing work and limiting work in progress – Personal Kanban gives us clarity over our work and our goals, and the unprecedented ability to deal with distractions, manage expectations, make better decisions, and ultimately find a healthy balance between our professional, personal, and social lives. - See more

Using Personal Kanban

I've leveraged Kanban for Agile Teams with great success.  But I used a physical board, complete with sticky notes and painters tape. I also had a small board in my office, for personal stuff.  Unfortunately, the more I traveled for work, the less physical boards worked.  I always seem to have my laptop or phone with me but I didn't always have a wall to apply sticky notes. What is an Agile coach to do!?  Of course, in this digital age, there are several inexpensive solutions.  I use LeanKit.  It works on the web, phones, and tablets. Everything is synced all the time.  There are other solutions out there but this has worked for me (and my family) for quite a while.

Here is the 50,000 foot view of how it works.  On a surface that is in plain view all the time, visualize your workflow.  It could be as simple as ToDo, WIP (work in process), and Done.  Being this is personal, label the columns anything you want. Identify what you need to get done on cards. I like the title to be actionable (Call, Find, Do, Finish, Get...). I then color code the cards so I know if it is for work or not. Let's say you are traveling during the holidays: "Pack clothes, book hotel room, reserve rental car, get boarding pass". Use specific card colors and you'll know at a glance if you forgot to do something.  Limit the stuff you work on at any given time.  If you haven't discovered it yet, multitasking is a big lie.  You don't get more done! You just keep really busy.  Focus on getting stuff done, not starting more stuff. Don't exceed WIP limits in a column.  If there is no room for a card in a column without exceeding a self-imposed WIP limit, you do not pull a card into the column!  This is important. By limiting what we agree to start, we will in turn finish a lot more.

peronsal kanban

Kanban Cards

Here are the cards for my "Holiday" Personal Kanban.  My board doesn't go away after January 1. It just focuses on other stuff. The yellow cards are going to drop off after New Years. I left them on the board so you could see how we can have three groups on a board and it still have clarity.  Colors of cards are optional. I use every visual queue I can, including blocked and high priority indicators.

  • Red cards – Christmas and my birthday
  • Orange cards – LeadingAgile (work)
  • Yellow cards – Chanukah

Ready

I keep a backlog of stuff that isn't "ready" for me to work on so I don't even include those on my board. Even after having the highest priority cards appear at the top of the board, having too many cards on your board can paralyze you with choices.  I only add cards to my ready column, if they have limited dependencies and are ready to complete within the next few weeks.

WIP (Work in Process)

One of the secrets of a pull system is you only work on things you actually have capacity to work on. When you have capacity in the next step of your workflow, you can pull work into that step. Limit the amount of stuff that you're working on at any given time and I can pretty much guarantee you'll get more done.  Personally, I know that I can only deal with three things 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 pull in more work. Add a visual indicator that indicates the item is blocked. and continue pulling working through to done. Once you unblock the work, you can pull it the rest of the way through your system.

Focus

I'm a strange combination of a little OCD, a little ADHD, a lot of grit, and a lot of drive.  I need a focus column.  If I walk away from my desk, read an email, or get a cup of coffee, I can pretty much guaranteed to forget what I was working on.  The focus column is my visual reminder of that one thing I'm trying to focus on right now.  Notice the image of my personal kanban above that I'm trying to wrap up this blog post.  Everything else can wait. I need to get this done!

Done

Ah yes, the done column. It is where all work needs to go.  When I look at it, it makes me feel pretty darn good.  We all feel busy but we commonly ask ourselves if we've actually gotten anything done.  Well, this will show you.  I recommend you reflect on what you've accomplished, feel good about it, and clear the column on a periodic basis. I do it either once a week or every other week.

Summary

I know this is a lot to put into a single blog post.  But if you're wishing for a more productive and balanced 2014, I would recommend you give this a try. It's super simple to start and over time, if you're persistent, you'll see it will bring more clarity to your work and your goals.

If you want to learn more about Personal Kanban, I would recommend you read Personal Kanban by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry.  It's a great read and an awesome gift!

What is Agile, anyway?

The parable

Ever heard the story about the blind men and an elephant?  In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men touch an elephant. Each man feels a different part, but only one part, such as the leg, the tail, or the trunk.  They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement.

Agile, my friends, is an elephant.

The first blind man

I just completed an initial engagement with a client, for LitheSpeed.  Some of the people I interacted with were newly minted Certified ScrumMasters, some experienced developers, and some executive management.  In the mix, I met UX designers, architects, and more functional roles than this blog post should list.  The catalyst of this post happened on the first day of the engagement.  To set the stage, the organization was very clear the team is to "do" Scrum.  Due to user stories not being quite ready, the team pushed back at Sprint Planning and refused to estimate or commit to the work to be done.  I recommended the group visualize the workflow and maturation of user stories by way of a Kanban. I've made this recommendation before and it worked out quite well.  The response from one of the newly minted ScrumMasters was, "That sounds like waterfall!"  When I corrected him, confirming that it was not a waterfall approach,  he came back with an even better response.  "Well, it's not Scrum.  If it's not Scrum, it's not Agile".

If it's not Scrum, it's not Agile

A few days ago, I read a really great post by Joel Bancroft-Connors titled A Gorilla Primer: What the heck is Agile? Maybe this question is more common than I initially thought!  What I liked about Joel's post was it exposed the fact that Agile is different for so many people.  When asked what Agile is, I tend answer the question with a question.  Are you being Agile or doing Agile?  If you are being Agile, then how?  If you are doing Agile, then how?  Before I even attempt to answer the question, I want to know your perspective.  Why?  Because as with the parable and also reality, it's going to depend on your touch points.

Go read Joel's post.  I think you'll enjoy it.  When you're done, I'm sure you'll agree that if it's not Scrum, it can still be Agile.

Image Source: Pictofigo (Go get one. They're free)