(Personal) Kanban Myths: The Myth of The Process

Recently, my friend Joe Webb has posted some great resources on Personal Kanban on his Facebook timeline.  Joe’s an influential guy in the tech community (particularly the #SQLFamily), so I’ve been excited about the flurry of emails and comments regarding the adoption of Kanban techniques.  I’ve been using Kanban boards for a while now at work, and it’s interesting to see the differences between Personal Kanban and “industrial” Kanban.   The significant distinction between the two appears to be the impetus to “get things done” in Personal Kanban by using a very simple abstraction; in other words, start with a simple board of “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done” and attack your task list.

I think this is a great way to get started with Kanban, but I also think that it’s easy to forget about some critical components of Lean thinking.  After observing a couple of email chains from friends (and comments on Joe’s Facebook thread), I thought I’d blog about some common misconceptions of Kanban, starting with:

Myth 1: Kanban is a process to manage my task list.

This is probably the biggest trap that most people fall into when they decide to get started.  The simplicity of Kanban is so appealing; just throw up a board and start moving cards left to right.  Getting things done; Kanban helps you do that, right?

Sort of.  Kanban is not a process; it’s a visualization of your process.  The distinction may appear to be subtle, but it’s important.  A simple board showing three columns (i.e., “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done) assumes that your method of handling tasks is equally simple.  Your process should drive your board, not the other way around.  While the act of defining tasks will yield some immediate benefits, oversimplifying the visualization has some costs.

As a concrete example, let’s assume that one of your tasks is to call and make an appointment with your doctor.  You move the card to the Doing pile, call your doctor, and then get informed that they’ll have to call you back.  Can you move the card to Done?  You haven’t made the appointment.  Do you leave the card in Doing?  Are you doing anything with it besides waiting?  Do you move it back to To Do?  You’ve already started working.   If your board is driving your process, the temptation is to leave the board alone and struggle with task movement.  If your process is driving your board, you change the board.  Add a column for waiting tasks, move the card, and then revisit that pile as needed.

Don’t get me wrong; starting with a simple board is a GREAT way to get started with the fundamentals of visualizing workflow, especially if you don’t know what your process is yet.  However, as you discover more about the way you work, don’t try to change the process (at first); make sure that you spend some time developing your board so that it matches the way you do work.  Improvement will come later.

March 4, 2015 · stuart · 3 Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Professional Development, SQLServerPedia Syndication

3 Responses

  1. John Sterrett - March 4, 2015

    I love this post. It helps explain why GTD doesn’t really work to well for me personally. I would be curious to hear more about your process and how you keep on top of all your boards.

  2. Marlon Ribunal - March 5, 2015

    I simplified GTD into to simple steps..I didn’t realized I made a simplified version of Kanban. See here: http://www.productivitybits.com/upcoming-and-inwork-productivity-system

  3. Joe Webb - March 6, 2015

    Great write up, Stuart. Thanks for the kind words.

    You make a great point here. After spending some time trying to shoehorn my GTD process into Personal Kanbab, I finally came to the conclusion you’ve discussed here – the tool should support the process, not the other way around.

    My current boards actually have 6 columns:

    Backlog – long list of things to do.

    Sprint – things I want to accomplish this week. I drag things from backlog to sprint each Monday morning.

    Today – each morning a do a quick review of the sprint and drag a subset of those that I plan to work on today.

    Doing – things in process.. These can live here more than one, if needed.

    Waiting – as you’ve described above,

    Done – nirvana for a task oriented person like me.

    Sprint and today aren’t technically necessary but they help me to plan my week/day from a holistic perspective rather than having to dig through backlog throughout the day,

    Good write up and I look forward to reading more myths.



    I look forward to reading your other myths

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