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Adopting Personal KanBan

  • Updated 24, Sept, 2013

When I was working as a full time employee, my days were both busy and highly structured. I used the regular array of task/time management tools, anchored by Microsoft Outlook email and calendars, (Outlook and Exchange were “standard issue” where I worked). For our projects we used Scrum, and Atlassian Jira, especially “Jira Agile” and the RapidBoards. I use Things for my To-Do lists (Which I still think is a great tool, BTW). While my colleagues thought I was highly organized and productive, I generally felt overwhelmed and stressed, drowning in the “busy-ness” of meetings and to-do lists, and that I could have been getting a lot more value for my time spent. I’m sure you know the feeling.

Now that I’m on my own, my time is much less structured… A lot of my time goes into professional and business development and networking. I’m naturally inquisitive, and I love to learn. If I am not careful, the notes, ideas, and half-read books, pile up. In KanBan terms I let my Work In Progress (WIP) get way too high.

So I decided to “practice what I preach”, and adopt Personal KanBan. While I have many years experience with Scrum and various forms of incremental and iterative development, my experience with KanBan is very limited, so its also an opportunity to learn.

I got a copy of the Personal KanBan Book by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry. Its an excellent introduction to KanBan and Personal KanBan. Its a fast, fun read, very engaging, with clear explanations of why so much of our traditional thinking about time, task, and project management for any kind of knowledge work is deeply flawed.

Then I set up my initial Personal KanBan Board. I share a small home office with my wife, who flatly refused to have a big white-board cluttering up the space, so I went with KanBan Flow, an one-line Board. Its working great for me… So far it has all the features I need. I’m using the free version, but I plan to upgrade to the $5/month premium version, just to support them. I think the most popular tool is Trello. I’ve tried Trello and like it a lot. The free version has more features than KanbanFlow, and Trello is stronger on the social/multi-person side. However there are some features in KanbanFlow, like full coloring of the cards, that I prefer over Trello. But the two products are quite similar, and you should try both before you make a decision. KanBan Tool also looks good, and has a free version, but I have not tried it.

Read on for more details….

Then I:

  • Went though all my half-read books and projects, and put a bunch them into Backlog, cleaning things off my plate.
  • Designed my Personal KanBan Board:
    • Different colours of cards denote different “Areas of Responsibility” - Home, Work, Personal/Professional Development, and General Tasks. They match up to categories I use in Things, and in my Note-Taking Tool nvAlt. Card colours can be used to note small projects, without creating a whole separate KanBan Board for them. But large projects go on a separate board, with a summary task (or tasks), on my main Personal KanBan Board.
    • I have columns for:
      • Backlog
      • Ready to Pull
      • Do Today - for special urgent items
      • In-Progress
      • The Pen (or “Waiting-For” - tasks that are waiting on someone or something, or delegated)
      • Done
    • I have tags in nvAlt and Things that match the columns on my KanBan Board
  • Populated my KanBan Board with items from my Things to-do lists.
  • Created a one page list of “Goals”, along with a “Daily Routine CheckList”. These are posted on my bulletin board in front of me, and help me to keep my discipline.
  • Printed out the “Put it to the T.E.S.S.T.” chart from the book Personal Productivity Secrets, by Maura Thomas and posted it as well. Even when using Personal KanBan, you still need to manage the deluge of inputs that assault you, especially by email. I find using a Getting Things Done (GTD) approach to managing inputs is very useful in combination with Personal KanBan.
    • T.E.S.S.T. - is a process for dealing with inputs (like email) quickly. Only process at certain times, maybe a couple of times a day. Go through all your inputs and:
      • Take immediate action on it (if its less than 2 minutes and needs to be done)
      • Empower Yourself and Others - delegate it, if that’s the right thing to do, and make a note that you delegated it. In my case I create a task in the “Pen” (Waiting-For) column of my KanBan board.
      • Suspend it to your “Next Actions” - In my case this means creating a backlog task for it
      • Store it for future reference.
      • Trash It! (I need to keep working on getting better at doing this… keep your mind, space, and life uncluttered!)

A couple of other good resources are:

  • KanBan Tool Libraryy has a good set of links to articles, books, and other resources on KanBan and Personal KanBan.
  • The Twitter hashtag @PKFlow

So far things are working out really well. Personal KanBan is making a big difference in keeping me focused on value, and flow, and my mind clear. And its pretty simple to follow, especially when coupled with T.E.S.S.T/GTD techniques for managing inputs. But like so many things in life, it does require a good deal of discipline.

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