Personal Kanban

I Discovered a Productivity Pattern

My Past Experience

Be it get-rich-quick schemes or rapid-weight-loss solutions, the Internet is littered with a million improvement schemes. In my many years of attempting to improve productivity for my clients and myself, I’ve tried just about everything. Regardless if the post, podcast, or book is promising to do twice the work in half the time or that you can cram an entire work week into 4 hours, there is something out there for everyone. My first venture into this productivity-focused world was way back in the early 90s, when I watched this horrible movie titled Taking Care of Business, starring Jim Belushi and Charles Grodin. In the movie, an uptight advertising exec has his entire life in a filofax organizer which mistakenly ends up in the hands of a friendly convict who poses as him. The movie is still horrible but the organizer idea seemed to work for me.

Franklin Covey Planner

From this movie, I discovered the Franklin Covey Planner. Yep, my world was filled with A1, B1, C1’s. Alas, I couldn’t make it work. Much like the guy in the movie, everything was in a little leather book with special pages (that were not cheap). Unfortunately, if I didn’t have the book in my field of view to constantly remind myself, things didn’t get done. I think I lasted a year, until I discovered the cost of refilling the book with new pages.

GTD

I then discovered GTD (Getting Things Done) by David Allen. This was 15–20 years ago. Again, it worked for a little while but I then found myself doing too much organizing and too little doing. Things were going away from paper filing and everything in that system was all about paper filing. Maybe I was doing it wrong. It just wasn’t clear to me. I didn’t see any real progress or productivity improvement so I just stopped doing it.

Personal Kanban + Pomodoro Technique

In mid 2009, in a moment of Internet serendipity, I ventured into the world of Personal Kanban. I think I searched “Zen” and up popped a website for a Kanban tool. I started using it and loved it. Alas, that company got purchased by Rally and they are no longer taking registrations. But, this has become the first system I have been able to stick with. Just to try other tools, I soon switched over to LeanKit Kanban. I’ve been using it ever since. I like that it doesn’t make any promises it can’t keep. “Visualize your work, optimize your process and deliver faster”. Around the same time in 2009, I also began using the Pomodoro Technique to optimize my productivity.

LeadingAgile Transformation Framework

In 2012, I joined LeadingAgile. Though we didn’t have a defined system at the time, a Transformation Framework emerged.  Since that time, when the system is followed, it works really well.  When things don’t work so well, the same failure patterns are present.

Productivity Rosetta Stone

productivity pattern

So, why do some methods work and some do not? Why did I abandon the Planner and GTD systems so long ago but still use Personal Kanban and the Pomodoro Technique? Well, I started by listing common traits on a whiteboard and saw relationships and discovered some patterns. Not only are there three things I believe every productivity system needs to work, I also see three things that are necessary to prevent you from abandoning that system.

I describe it as a Productivity Rosetta Stone. For those unfamiliar, the Rosetta Stone is a rock slab, found in 1799. It was inscribed with a decree that appears in three scripts: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and Ancient Greek. The stone presents essentially the same text in all three scripts and provided the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs. I’ve applied my productivity Rosetta Stone to Scrum, Kanban, Pomodoro Technique, Lean Startup, and even organizational transformation frameworks. All of them check out and it provided me with a key to better understand productivity patterns.

3 Things to Increase Productivity

1. A system is a set of principles or procedures to get something done or accomplished; Anyone can follow a system.

2. A ritual is a series of actions or type of behavior regularly and invariably followed by someone. It’s different from a system. A system might only be followed once, but by many people. A ritual is something someone or some group does again and again, in the hope of arriving at the same or improved outcome.

3. A habit is a regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. If you want to be productive, you have to be habitual with your rituals, as part of your system.

How does it all fit together? Name a system. Next, list your process steps, sequence, and any rules around them. Last, do the steps again and again until it becomes a habit.

Lack of These Kills Productivity

Clarity, Progress, or Commitment

1. Clarity is the quality of being certain or definite. You need clarity in order to know what you need to do. Lack of clarity creates confusion and waste. Each step of a system should be actionable and repeatable. In order to ensure certainty around your steps, write them down; maybe draw a picture or diagram. If your outcomes are not repeatable, you have an experiment but not a system.

2. Progress is forward or onward movement toward a destination or goal. Your goal is productivity. If you lack progress, you lose momentum. If you lose momentum (or should I be so bold to say velocity or throughput), you will lose commitment to the system.

3. Lack of commitment to the system results in you no longer using the system. You move on to something new to get the productivity results you seek.

In the event your system lacks clarity, progress, or commitment, performance will go down or you’ll stop using it all together.

Scrum

Enough with the  scrum productivity patternnebulous ideas. Let's apply the patterns against the Scrum Framework.

Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber did a pretty darned good job providing clarity around the system in The Scrum Guide.  Being the Guide is only 16 pages long, there it's a whole lot to it. It includes a definition of Scrum, the theory behind it, and then provides details behind teams, events, and artifacts.  That's it!  Rituals (events) include sprint planning, a daily (15-minute) Scrum, a sprint review, and a retrospective.  Each of these rituals helps provide both feedback and progress within the sprint.  To ensure we see the progress, we timebox sprints, commit to deliver product increments regularly, and use information radiators like burndown charts to visualize the completion of work.  Like any system, if you are not habitual about each of the items within the Scrum Guide, Scrum falls apart.  That means commit to the system and be consistent, sprint after sprint.

Summary

Though I have only provided a conceptual model, try applying it to your personal system. Like in any productivity strategy, once your defined system becomes habitual, you can start to focus on improvements. Maybe you want to do more in less time. Maybe you want to do the same with higher quality. You be the judge. It’s your system. Remember, you’ll still need clarity, progress, and commitment or your productivity will be short lived.

Listen to Dave Prior and me in an episode of LeadingAgile Sound Notes, as we talk about the Productivity Triangle.

If you want an editable copy of the triangle, download it here: productivity triangle template

One final note. It would mean a lot to me if you could leave a comment and tell me which design you like more. Do you like the colorful Venn diagram look or the black and white triangle?  Please tell me in the comments.  Thanks!   ~Derek

Podcast Interview on Personal Kanban

I recently spoke with Dave Prior to discuss Personal Kanban, the ways in which we've each used it to manage the work we have to do, and what it has taught us about ourselves and how we get things done professionally and personally.

Here are some links to people and things I mention in the podcast.

Personal Kanban - Book by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Berry Jim Benson - Super insightful and nice guy LeanKit - The digital tool to help manage my analog work and life Pomodoro Time 1.1 - Keeps me focused 25 minutes at a time

Vote for my AgileDC Personal Kanban Workshop

Submitting my Personal Kanban workshop to AgileDC

This year, AgileDC will be held October 21 at the Kellogg Conference Center at Gallaudet University.  Coming off the popularity and success of my Personal Kanban workshop at Agile2014, I decided to submit an encore workshop to the AgileDC conference

agileDC

I need your help!

Unlike in prior years where the conference organizers picked who would make the cut and who would not, this year it appears they are using Conference Engine and crowd sourcing it.

 How does it work?

1. Click on the link that takes you to my session

http://confengine.com/agiledc/proposal/515/at-home-and-work-how-to-get-more-stuff-done-an-introduction-to-personal-kanban  You and read about my proposed session. If you weren't at Agile2014, this will be an encore workshop.

2. Click on the heart to "vote up" my workshop

3. Go to the Login page.  Login with one of your favorite social networks. (see image)

Log in

 

 

 

4. You may get routed back to the main Confengine website. If that's the case, click on my link again.

5. Click on the heart to "vote up" my workshop

 

Your vote is much appreciated!


Feedback from Agile2014 Personal Kanban workshop

wowThe votes and comments are in! A little over a week ago, I led a Personal Kanban workshop at Agile2014.  It was to be both informative and interactive. Below is what Agile Alliance sent me.

Dear Derek Huether,

Thank you for presenting at the Agile Alliance Agile2014 Conference; your session helped make the conference a real success!

Please find attached the raw feedback data (including comments) for your session entitled "At home and work, how to get more stuff done. An introduction to Personal Kanban", in which 14 attendees left feedback.

The feedback questions are based on a 5 rating scale, with 5 being the highest score.

Your average ratings are shown below:

  • Session Meets Expectations: 4.57
  • Recommend To Colleague: 4.71
  • Presentation Skills: 4.71
  • Command Of Topic: 4.86
  • Description Matches Content: 4.79
  • Overall Rating: 4.79

Screenshot 2014-08-09 09.26.34

My Personal Kanban deck at Agile2014

Here is the deck from my Agile2014 workshop on Personal Kanban. Participants were introduced to the principles of Lean and the application of Kanban to visualize their work, limit distraction and waste, and get stuff done. I covered the core concepts outlined in Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry’s book, Personal Kanban, to get attendees of my workshop started.

Click here for Agile 2014 Workshop Tasks.pdf, referenced in my workshop