(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.Â Joeâ€™s an influential guy in the tech community (particularly the #SQLFamily), so Iâ€™ve been excited about the flurry of emails and comments regarding the adoption of Kanban techniques.Â Iâ€™ve been using Kanban boards for a while now at work, and itâ€™s interesting to see the differences between Personal Kanban and â€śindustrialâ€ť Kanban.Â Â The significant distinction between the two appears to be the impetus to â€śget things doneâ€ť in Personal Kanban by using a very simple abstraction; in other words, start with a simple board of â€śTo Doâ€ť, â€śDoingâ€ť, and â€śDoneâ€ť and attack your task list.
I think this is a great way to get started with Kanban, but I also think that itâ€™s easy to forget about some critical components of Lean thinking.Â After observing a couple of email chains from friends (and comments on Joeâ€™s Facebook thread), I thought Iâ€™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.Â The simplicity of Kanban is so appealing; just throw up a board and start moving cards left to right. Â Getting things done; Kanban helps you do that, right?
Sort of.Â Kanban is not a process; itâ€™s a visualization of your process.Â The distinction may appear to be subtle, but itâ€™s important.Â A simple board showing three columns (i.e., â€śTo Doâ€ť, â€śDoingâ€ť, and â€śDone) assumes that your method of handling tasks is equally simple.Â Your process should drive your board, not the other way around. Â While the act of defining tasks will yield some immediate benefits, oversimplifying the visualization has some costs.
As a concrete example, letâ€™s assume that one of your tasks is to call and make an appointment with your doctor.Â You move the card to the Doing pile, call your doctor, and then get informed that theyâ€™ll have to call you back.Â Can you move the card to Done?Â You havenâ€™t made the appointment.Â Do you leave the card in Doing?Â Are you doing anything with it besides waiting?Â Do you move it back to To Do?Â Youâ€™ve already started working.Â Â If your board is driving your process, the temptation is to leave the board alone and struggle with task movement.Â If your process is driving your board, you change the board.Â Add a column for waiting tasks, move the card, and then revisit that pile as needed.
Donâ€™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 donâ€™t know what your process is yet.Â However, as you discover more about the way you work, donâ€™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.Â Improvement will come later.