Personal Kanban 101

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How to create your first Personal Kanban and visualize your work. Entry level for the book "Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life". More at


Modus Cooperandi InfoPak 2 series Personal Kanban 101: Achieving Focus & Clarity with Your First Personal Kanban Despite our best intentions, life has a way of becoming complicated. People, tasks, responsibilities, deadlines, and even recreation all compete for ourattention. The human brain however, simply does not respond well to the stress of juggling multiple priorities. Thats where Personal Kanbancan help.Adaptable to all ages andsituations, and accessible to alllearning styles, Personal Kanbanallows us to visualize the amountof work we have and the way inwhich that work is carried out.Unlike other personalproductivity tools, PersonalKanban is a pattern, not an edict.Users can mold it into whatevershape or form is most suited forthe situation at hand. Once youunderstand the pattern andprinciples behind it, you canapply those concepts in waysthat respond precisely to yoursituation.Additionally, Personal Kanban isscalable, meaning it works justas well for families andworkgroups, as it does with theindividual. There are only two real rules with Personal Kanban:1. Visualize your work2. Limit your work-in-progress (WIP)It’s that simple. With time, your understanding of the nature of your work will evolve. As itdoes, your kanban will likewise evolve. Why Visualize? Just as the images in this InfoPak lend to the story of Personal Kanban, the Personal Kanban lends to the story of our work. With Personal Kanban, work is no longer an amorphous concept - it has a definite shape, a form, a storyline, and a flow. This gives work coherence, which is powerful. The brain can then take this new coherence and based upon it make decisions. Prioritization becomes easier, tasks becomes less daunting. With Personal Kanban, we gain power over our work. Why Limit WIP?You have two hands.You can only juggle somany things at onetime.The more you add, themore likely it is that youwill fumble and dropsomething. All too often we equate “free time” with “capacity,” and assume we have the ability to fit in more work. In this case, we are not unlike a freeway. A freeway can support 0-100% capacity.But I Still Fit! But when its capacity extends beyond 65%, it begins to slow down.Why Dont I Move? When it reaches 100% capacity, it stops. Capacity is a horrible measure of throughput. Similarly, multitasking is a horrible way to manage your synapses, (and as a recent Stanford study shows, it is likewise ineffective.) If your brain is a highway and you are filling yourself with work, after a while you start to slow down. Your mental rush hour gets longer and longer. You find yourself struggling to accomplish even the simplest tasks. That motorcyclist in the picture is that last little 5 minute task you agreed to do. "Its just five minutes! How could I say no?" Simply because you think you can handle more work-in-progress does not make itso. Simply because we can fit a few more SUVs on the freeway does not mean it’sa good idea. Idle time is vital for a healthy brain. Time when you aren’t forcing yourbrain to pump something out is when it’s doing background processing on thingsyou “aren’t” doing. We must limit WIP. BUT WHAT IS A "KANBAN" ALREADY?A kanban is a tool to visualize, organize, andcomplete work. The first recognizedbusiness use of a kanban can be traced toTaiichi Ohno’s work at Toyota. Ohno neededa way to quickly communicate to all workershow much work was being done, in whatstate that work was in, and how it was beingcarried out. His intent was to make workprocesses transparent, ensuring that at anygiven time everyone - not just managers -knew what was “really” going on. The goalwas to empower line workers to improvehow Toyota worked, to make sure everyonehad a hand in making Toyota better.As it applied to Toyota, this is what is called"Industrial Kanban." So lets get started. Here we see a simple Personal Kanban. The top part of the board shows three states: Backlog, Doing, andDone. Tasks move across this simple workflow.In a subtle way, this is accomplishing three main things: 1. Showing us the work we have in progress (WIP) 2. Showing us all the work we haven’t gotten to yet (Backlog) 3. Showing us how efficiently we work (Throughput)That’s it! That’s all there is physically to creating a Personal Kanban.Then, the simplicity of this system helps us understand how we do what we do, and how long it takes to do it. Simply havingclarity around our workload is a tremendous psychological gift. Step One: Establish Your Value StreamValue Stream: The flow of work from the moment you start to when it isfinished. The most simple value stream possible is: Backlog Doing Done (yes, that’s (work waiting to (work being done) right, work that’s be done) done)While you can set this up on a piece of paper or a white board, a whiteboard is preferable. Why? Because as you come to understand your valuestream, you will want to change your Personal Kanban to reflect thatunderstanding. You might add steps, or refine how you think about work. Awhite board provides permanence, yet allows ultimate flexibility: you can alwayserase and draw something new. Step Two: Establish Your BacklogBacklog: The work you haven’t done yet. All that stuff that youve let pileup is your backlog. Consider everything you need to do, then beginitemizing your task on Post-its. Big tasks, small tasks, get them all inwriting. Then start populating your backlog with those Post-its. Don’tsweep things under the rug. Don’t lie to yourself. Your first backlog-festshould be a painful experience.You should, at some point say,“Zounds! Ive way too much to do!” Step Three: EstablishYour WIP Limit Work in Progress (WIP) Limit: The amount of work you can handle at one time. We have a tendency to leave many things half-done. Our brains hate this. Part of what makes Personal Kanban so effective is its ability to help us find the sweet spot where we are doing the optimal amount of work at the optimal speed. To establish your WIP limit, start with an arbitrary number - lets say no more than 5 things to begin with - and you can tweak it from there. Step Four: Begin to Pull Pull: To take completed work from one stage of the value stream and pull it into the next. You’re ready to go! That’s right – step four is Begin Working. In Lean management, inventory is considered waste - it causes companies to over-invest in items they dont need. For individuals, backlog is comparable toBeyond Step Four: inventory. You need to manage the number of obligations you have, so they dont weighPrioritize, Refine, you down psychologically, preventing you from being productive and enjoying life.and Reduce With your Personal Kanban you will begin to see work mount up and take different forms. You may assign colored or shaped Post-its to different types of work or different projects. As your work progresses, you will see types of tasks or tasks for certain projects that take longer to complete. Youll begin to discern patterns in the flow of work. Observing these patterns leads to better prioritization of work, refinement of your value stream, and reduction of waste. Well dive deeper into these concepts in future InfoPaks. Personal KanbanLean Thinking for Individuals and Small TeamsRead the Personal Kanban bookThis Slideshare is the Tip of the IcebergConsulting / Training / Classes Contact UsWe offer public and private training classes We are at: moduscooperandi.comWe regularly consult with organizations as small personalkanban.comas one person to the largest companies on earth. Twitter: ourfounder, sprezzaturaWe bring lean thinking to knowledge workers. email: jim@moduscooperandi.comSee the Modus Cooperandi Web Sitefor More Details Images in this document by Creative Commonslicense or permission of the artist:Cover: 2: 4: 5: 6: 7: 8: 9: 15: