Personal Kanban

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My software development team at work recently decided to dispense with our Kanban board and move back to Scrum (long story). The result is that we are now working from a ‘vanilla’ Scrum board and I can no longer measure cycle time, see all the work in progress, easily see impediments/bottle-necks, and all the usual benefits that come with a visual mapped value stream.

Wanting to continue on my path to deepening my understanding of Kanban as well as trying it out in different scenarios, I thought I’d give Personal Kanban a try. Jim Benson wrote the book, which I would be tempted to describe as possibly the GTD of the Lean world. Jim’s advice includes that the usual to-do list lacks context and does not do a good job of providing feedback and communicating progress as well as a Personal Kanban (PK) board.

So I’ve created a PK board and put it up in my home office (aka the bedroom):

It’s decidedly low-tech. I have four columns: Backlog, Next Up, In Progress and Done. That’s the value stream mapped. I have four corresponding boxes at the bottom of every work item card, in which I will note the dates that the card moved into a particular column. That’s cycle time sorted. I’ve divided work items into categories like ‘Presentation’, ‘Book’, ‘Blog-post’, etc. That’s the similar-sizing of work sorted (albeit using the hack of categorizing the work, much like t-shirts sizing does for Kanban software teams). Natural space on the board is limited to around 3-4 cards, so that’s the first stab at limiting work-in-progress sorted. I plan to retrospect every 6 weeks or so and record the data (eg. average time to read a book), so that’s the continuous improvement trigger sorted.

I can already report that it helps to focus by forcing me to decide what is important to work on and limiting those options. The power here is as much as selecting what you WON’T spend time on as what you will. With strict WIP limits, you know that the only way you can start reading that next book you’re excited about getting into is by finishing the previous one – a potentially powerful hack. Anything that makes me START less and FINISH more is definitely a good thing.

I hope to report back a lot more in a few more weeks. I’m especially interested to discover the drawbacks of a system like this. So stay tuned!

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