Leverage Personal Kanban to Introduce Lean and Agile to Your Organization

October 10, 2012

In my last post I described how I’ve recently implemented Personal Kanban to help me be more productive. I created my personal backlog, identified recurring tasks, and mapped out my value stream (the flow of work from beginning to completion) on my Personal Kanban board, following the advice I found through some quick research.

I find the term Value Stream to be particularly important; if you are undertaking some task, the underlying assumption is that there is value in your doing it. The question is: What provides you with the greatest value?

Personal Kanban helps you to assess your actual work, to visualize your own investment of time to help you determine where you are wasting energy, such as expending too much time and effort on urgent needs while those important, high-value tasks remain starved for attention.

There is another way that Personal Kanban can help you. Long-term goals take time to achieve. And because they are long-term in nature, we need to break them down into a series of small tasks – small wins – to keep up moving and motivated. As Peter Sims relates in his book Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, cofounder and the former chief creative officer of Electronic Arts Bing Gordon calls this smallifying.

Smallifying is the technique used in agile development (although the term isn’t used in agile development) of taking a larger project or goal and breaking it down into a series of smaller problems to be solved. You work each smaller, key problem to completion, moving yourself forward and keeping yourself motivated through accomplishment. It also eliminates waste.

Gordon determined that when software teams worked on longer-term projects at Electronic Arts, they became more inefficient, walking down some unnecessary paths. However, when specific problems were identified and constrained to something that could be accomplished in one or two week’s time, developers were more creative and effective.

Performing work in small increments also improves your understanding of what it will take to accomplish your long-term goal. The reason for this is that we never have complete information to plan everything in detail at the outset. We may think that we do, but conditions change and new information is revealed to us as we progress.

To be truly successful we need the ability to adapt to the actual conditions as we encounter them. It is entirely possible – if we remain open-minded – that indicators will reveal themselves along the way that inform us of a better path, of a different way of proceeding. Personal Kanban is a great way for us to visualize our work so that we can assess the factors that affect our work in conjunction with the decisions we are making about our short-term and long-term needs and objectives.

I believe that Personal Kanban would be a great way to introduce change to your organization. Personal Kanban allows everyone to experience the concepts of lean and agile thinking for themselves. With Personal Kanban, everyone can become acquainted with the concepts of throughput versus capacity, the perils of planning for 100 percent utilization, and backlog management and how to be adaptive and responsive to emerging needs and new information, for example.

This is something I wish we had done several years ago when we started down the agile development path. People – particularly those in management – need to understand the underlying concepts, and what is more powerful than applying new concepts and principles in a personal context?