It’s been one week since I finished up my second run of my personal kanban workshop at the WeBBT internal conference organised by IBBT. Two groups of about 45 people showed up and were definitely looking for a new and better way to organize their own work. Most people were researchers although I heard some of the internal marketing, communication and administrative people also registered for my workshops. I tried to keep away from the software development world as much as possible since research is a totally different area of expertise. Most people felt that there were juggling around too many things, trying to stay on top of all the work but not doing so in a sustainable matter. So the story went a little like this.
I’ve discovered this a couple of years ago and since I started to really use personal kanban I’m totally convinced that the only way you can manage anything is by visualizing it. The first step is making things more tangible and having some focus on the work at hand. A typical visual we tend to use is a to do list. I used to be mister To do list. I had several of them laying around the house and in my car. And to be honest, it was a mess. There was no overview, no clear options, no real way of prioritizing all the work that had to be done. Most of the time I just started working on the first item on the first to do list I could find. Although a simple linear list can be perfectly fit for purpose when it comes to vacation packing lists, it’s not a good fit for your work in general. Mostly because your work has more that two states. Your work goes through more than one chapter in the work story line.
Everyone created a first part of their backlog, a combination of professional, household and hobby items. I think this is important because these are all things we want/need to spend time on. So why create separate systems to visualize them? Combining them into one backlog actually helps you to make better choices when it comes to prioritization and it might even help you detect some patterns in your actions. One tool I offered to structure your backlog is the personal kanban matrix. Using the four quadrants to determine urgency and importance of tasks really helps you to realize when you are just doing reactive prioritization and how you can move towards a more proactive way of choosing options. If we combine everything we end up with something like my transformer personal kanban. Incorporating the personal kanban matrix, the storyline of my work and even a possibility to collect things for a retrospective. This was something I explained at the end of the workshop at WeBBT. So far we have the first rule of personal kanban covered: visualize your work.
Now it was time to move on to the second rule: limit your work in progress. So I ran a modified version of the agile game called the name game. Here we let people experience the cost of context switching when multi-tasking using a simple writing exercise. We talked about different cognitive biases. I’ll talk about those in more detail in a future post. So when we have visualized our work and have our WIP limits in place, it’s time to start executing and learning. So from time to time we need to take a step back and look at the past. What can we learn from the work that has been flowing through our system? Can we detect some new patterns emerging from our actions? Can we see things that we can improve, tweak, adapt, expand? I have a weekly personal retrospective to see if I can learn something from the past week and adapt.
Sometimes you realize that things are not going the way you want them to. Next phase would be to be angry about it but in the end the only thing we need to do is learn from those things and see how we can improve. I would like to thank my daughter to help me visualize the point I’m trying to make here. This was an introductory workshop on agile development and what it could mean for the researchers at IBBT. We will be running a short learning track there soon, to help teams and sites to actually implement these kanban ideas and scale them on team and organisation level. We will also be using some gamestorming techniques to help them improve their meeting and collaboration culture. I closed off with one of my personal favorite movie pieces which nicely explains the concept of self-organisation: