Transformation Coaching School

Coach Development

Organization Breakthroughs

Just Me and My Kanban Board

by Lyssa on October 28, 2012

You probably don’t remember that song that goes, “Just me and my shadow, walking down the avenue.”  Well, suffice it to say that the song rolled through my head one long weekend, only it was “Just me and my Kanban board, gettin’ all this work pulled through.”  (If you know the tune, sing it in your head.  It works).

The weekend before I was set to go to a production studio to record Coaching Agile Teams LiveLessons, I had a lot of work to do.  I mean, a LOT.  Way too much and the deadline was not going to move.   Luckily, I was doing my work in business-value order so I could just drop the lessons I didn’t get to, but it was too early to throw in the towel.  Plus, I had just been to Agile2012 where I picked up my Kanban-for-1 board and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to experiment with Personal Kanban.

Throughout the weekend, I found myself thinking, “This is what team members must feel like.”  My empathy for being a team member went way up.  This is a pretty long post, so I’ll list the learnings in a bottom-line way:

Team Member Lessons:

  • #1: It may be bad news, but it’s better to see the work and know how much there is to do than live in denial and hopeful ignorance.
  • #2: It’s tiring to work 40 minutes at a time when you’re really focusing.
  • #3: The “to do” column grows.  You can hate it, but that’s not going to change it.
  • #4: Flipping the “I’ll just work harder or longer” bit is way too easy.
  • #5: It’s no one’s fault when the estimates are wrong.  They just are.
  • #6: Constant re-prioritization keeps us from delivering stuff that can be delayed.
  • #7: It’s so difficult to resist that urge to “push through” and not take the breaks you need.
  • #8: Those bits of paper are now magical tokens of real accomplishment. Let the team members do whatever they want to do with them.
If you’re interested in how these lessons came about, read on…
I set up my brand-new Kanban-for-1 board.
Kanban-for-1 at the startMy first thought was, “Man! That’s a lot of stuff. I didn’t know I had *that much* to do.”  My first lesson came fast — Team Member Lesson #1: It may be bad news, but it’s better to see the work and know how much there is to do than live in denial and hopeful ignorance.

I also decided to use the Pomodoro Technique because getting distracted is way too easy, and this method helps keep me focused.  So, I started on my first pomodoro and worked 40 minutes before I realized I forgot to set the timer.  Team Member Lesson #2: It’s tiring to work 40 minutes at a time when you’re really focusing.

So, I started the next pomodoro.  Man, 25 minutes felt like 5 minutes. It flew by. And, now I see I need to add even more things to the “to do” column.  That was not the direction I was hoping to go.  Team Member Lesson #3:  The “to do” column grows.  You can hate it, but that’s not going to change it.

In the next pomodoro, I realized that I was doing more tasks than the ones I originally pulled into the “doing” column.  I rationalized that they go together and I pulled them into the “doing” column to own up to it, but I’m basically busting the pomodoro by bringing in more work than I know I can get done.  At least now the kanban board is more accurate and I don’t feel as “behind” as I did a few minutes ago. I’m just actually doing more.  I decided to ditch the pomodoro even though I know it gives me a more sustainable work pace. I’m feeling the pressure, so I’ll just work through until my massage appointment.   Team Member Lesson #4:  Flipping the “I’ll just work harder or longer” bit is way too easy.

I had a great massage and now I’m back to work.  I notice I haven’t gotten my initial “doing” list done.  I think another pomodoro should do it.  I’m goin’ in…

Finally, two pomodoros later, something moves to the done column!  Hallelujah!Done column is populated!

I realize that this was really straightforward work, simple really, and I couldn’t estimate the effort well. It must be a lot harder with more complex work. Team Member Lesson #5:  It’s no one’s fault when the estimates are wrong.  They just are.

Bonus! I found two tasks I could move down in priority and maybe not even deliver as part of this deadline because they are needed later.  I probably would have spent time on them because I like to do a “complete” job, but in this case that would have taken time I need to get the important work done.  Team Member Lesson #6:  Constant re-prioritization keeps us from delivering stuff that can be delayed.

And, I’m done.  At least for the day.  My husband came in the room and spied the board.  “Finally! Stuff in the done column,” he said.   I’m getting ready for my date with him now.

It’s Day 2.  I moved three tasks into “doing” and I’m off to work again!  I love the feeling of moving tasks to “done” as I work.  It’s a natural high.   Although, really, two of them are the same task for each video lesson I’m creating so I keep moving them back and forth from doing to done to doing to done.  Oh, well.  You can’t be perfect.

I’m on to the next pomodoro.  It seems like I just set it and then it’s going off 25 minutes later and the mechanical voice says, “Well done.”  It’s not well done.  The time flew and I have not done enough.  I’m taking the 5 minute break.  I need it.  Team Member Lesson #7: It’s so difficult to resist that urge to “push through” and not take the breaks you need.

I had a good afternoon of work. I’m still amazed by how many new tasks I add as I go.  I realize they were always there, just buried.  I hate adding them, but know it’s better to live in reality.

It looks like the tide is finally *starting* to turn.The tide is turning!

It’s almost dinner time and my husband came to check on me.  I tell him, “Look! The tide has turned!”  To which he replied, “Yes, but are you being swept out to sea?”  Gotta love the humor.

After dinner, I worked some more and I headed to bed with only three tasks left.  That looks a LOT better.  I find myself not able to not do those few tasks I moved to a lower priority.   They are calling me in a haunting voice, “Lyssa, don’t forget about us!”  “If not now, when?” I ask myself.  Then I decide that I’m too tired and tomorrow is another day.

Day 3.  Finally, after just one pomodoro…done! Done done!

I find myself not wanting to take the stickies out of the done column.  It’s such a great reminder of the work I have really done.  Done done.  I have a sense of pride about those stickies.  Team Member Lesson #8: Those bits of paper are now magical tokens of real accomplishment. Let the team members do whatever they want to do with them.

Thanks to my Kanban-for-1 board, the Personal Kanban book, the Pomodoro Technique and a dash of discipline, I was able to complete a bunch of work to a standard that I am happy with.  Without the “in your face” visualization and the decisions it forces you to make, I am quite sure this work would have not been done as well — or, I would have had to drop lessons when I “ran out of time.”  Working this way, I have a healthier relationship with time…and with reality.  The result is that the production time to create the video lessons was less than the studio anticipated and we came out with a much better product.  Lyssa in front of the green screen

Here’s a picture of me in front of the famous “green screen.”  It was so amazingly cool to record these video lessons. They comprise 4+ hours of video instruction NOT in the Coaching Agile Teams class. I wanted a different way for you to access some of the ideas in the book, and I’m happy with the outcome. I hope you will be, too. The lessons are available now and, just for you, 40% off when you use the code INSPIRED.  Good through 11/9.  Learn more.

 

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Gerry Kirk September 21, 2013 at 1:57 am

Hi Lyssa, great in depth post on the first days of using Personal Kanban. It’s intriguing how much PK shows us about our priorities, our ways of working, our desire to ignore reality and pretend something else!

I think the kanbanfor1 board is a great place to start. My only caution is a healthy PK system ought to change to reflect changes in learning and context. I’ve been delivering PK workshops and working with hundreds of individuals, very few boards look the same, or look as simple as kanbanfor1. The reality is, our lives are more complicated and we benefit from greater visibility into what is going on.

Anyone who is interested in a deeper dive, without having to figure it all out is invited to check out an online course How to Stop Doing Busy Work, Start Doing Your Best Work I put together to reach people I can’t guide in person.

https://www.udemy.com/visual-time-management/

Reply

Todd Cantalupo October 30, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Hi Lyssa -
Great post highlighting the tools you’ve used to accomplish a goal.
I’ve used Pomodoros for a while but consistently find that the tangent/new items ( indicated with a tick ‘ ) become a giant list pretty quickly. What are the questions you ask yourself when assessing what to do with those tasks (assuming you have any)?
-Todd

Reply

Benny October 30, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Great post! I have been using a personal kanban for several months. After talking to Jim Benson at Agile2012, I was tempted to try pomodoro, but haven’t yet. Your personal experience has inspired me to give it a shot.

Reply

Stephen October 30, 2012 at 5:00 am

Thanks Lyssa for that, and I will be taking you list of 8 to heart as I coach my teams from this point forward. I was inspired so much I went and ordered your vids, and am just about to watch the first one.

See you around…
Stephen.

Reply

Nathan October 29, 2012 at 12:50 am

Hey Lyssa,

Great post! Inspired me to order a kanbanfor1 board for myself – I have already bought 3 for friends and one for my wife :-)

Nathan

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: