Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Kanban for Personal Management

About a month ago I came across a great concept called the Personal Kanban that I wanted to share.  Taiichi Ohno created the first kanban to communicate with workers how much work needed to get done and how much got done.  Kanban is a Japanese term meaning "sign" or "signboard".  A kanban does three main things:

1. Shows us the work we have in progress
2. Shows us all the work we haven't gotten to yet
3. Shows us how efficiently we work

Personal Kanban is a personal productivity tool based on these principles to create a simple way to visualize and control your work. There are only two real rules with Personal Kanban:

1. Visualize your work 
2. Limit your work-in-progress



Personal Kanban is the idea of Jim Benson, owner of Modus Cooperandi, a consultancy that helps businesses achieve business goals through collaborative means. Jim also blogs at Evolving Web on Lean, Agile Management, and Social Media principles.

Limiting your work in progress is important since the human brain simply does not respond well to the stress of juggling multiple priorities.


We feel like if we have “free time” we have “capacity” and therefore can fit more work in. We are not unlike a freeway.

A freeway can operate from 0 to 100 percent capacity. But when a freeway’s capacity gets over about 65%, it starts to slow down. When it reaches 100% capacity – it stops.

So capacity is a horrible measure of throughput. Multitasking is a horrible way to manage your synapses. If your brain is a highway and you are filling yourself with work, after a time you start to slow down.

Your rush hour gets longer and longer. You find yourself struggling to get out simple tasks.

Simply because you think you can handle more work-in-progress does not make it so.

You can build your first Personal Kanban in 4 simple steps.

1) Establish Your Value Stream
 The flow of work from the moment you start to when it is finished. The most simple value stream possible is Backlog (work waiting to be done), Doing (work being done), and Done (yes, that's right, work that's done). 

2)  Two: Establish Your Backlog
All that stuff you need to do that you haven't done – that's your backlog.  Everything you need to do, start writing it down onto Post-its. Big tasks, small tasks, get them all down.

3) Establish Your WIP Limit
The amount of work you can handle at one time.  Part of what makes kanban work is finding the sweet spot, where we are doing the optimal amount of work at the optimal speed.

4) Begin to Pull
Begin working – pull completed work from one stage of the value stream and into the next.

There is a short presentation to help you get started.

Personal Kanban is easily adaptable and scalable to fit anyone's needs.  There a number of great examples and tools on the website to support you on future improvements to your Personal Kanban.  For those iPhone users there is even an app for Personal Kanban called iKan.

In the next few weeks I hope to transform my previous Visual Task Board to a Personal Kanban of my own.  I would like to hear if anyone has experience with a Personal Kanban they would like to share.


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9 comments:

  1. Hi Tim,

    I've been an enthusiastic reader of A Lean Journey via its Face Book page for several weeks now, so you could imagine my excitement when I was greeted by today's thoughtful and spot-on (!) write-up of Personal Kanban. I am delighted to hear you'll be incorporating your existing system into Personal Kanban to track (and learn from) your own workflow.

    Will you be using it to track personal work, professional work or both?

    Have you decided if you will be using a physical board or an online app like Lean Kit Kanban or Agile Zen?

    Jim Benson and I are approximately one month away from completing the first Personal Kanban book, and are always excited to hear from (and learn from) others who are implementing it. We look forward to following your progress and hearing your insights.

    Until then, best of luck!

    Tonianne DeMaria Barry

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  2. I have been actively using Personal Kanban since first reading about it on @ourfounder's site last summer. I have implemented it in almost every area of my life, from using it with my 13 year old for projects she's working on, to using several personal kanban's both in home and for work. I love how Personal Kanban is so adaptable, and constantly changes with you, it's an amazing tool.

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  3. Actually kanban means 'signal card' not sign or signboard. It comes from the manufacturing industry and is used to signal if a worker is running out of parts for building his product. Imagine you have te nboxes of screws to build your product from. When eight of the boxes are empty the kanban card apears in front of the ninth box. You put the card somewhere on top of your workplace, so that the man who delivers the parts to the wokplaces see that you need more boxes of screws. The trick is that until the ninth and tenth box is empty he brings you ten new boxes and you never must stop building your product. This is also knwon as the pull priciple vs. the push principle. Thats kanban. It does not have anything to do with boards. That's an adoption to use it in office.

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  4. Trying this again, as my first attempt didn't take.

    Every personal productivity expert has a similar concept. Focus on what's important. Limit your focus. Get stuff done before starting new things. This will of course appeal to lean thinkers because of the language connection and visual flow. It's great particularly for people that work in a stationary point where the board can be visual most effective.

    Other practice basically setting top 3 priorities for the week, and then again for the day, and you don't work on anything else until you really nail those priorities. The same effect is accomplished.

    One of the hardest parts of this is knowing WHAT to pull from the backlog into WIP. It is easier to pull the easy and fun task instead of the daunting but perhaps more important task. Then I did work, but didn't accomplish the right outcomes. This is a key element to not just be efficient, but being effective as well.

    When we wrote The Hitchhiker's Guide to Lean we included a chapter on applying lean to your personal work. Nothing was written on this at the time. I'm glad to see more and more people picking up on this, as there is so much opportunity to how we can improve.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

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  5. Jon Miller at Gemba Panta Rei has a few posts and examples of applying the personal kanban to his work. He does a good job of showing the development and refinement of his system, too.

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  6. I completely agree with Jamie.

    The goal with visualization is to provide more clarity into what we do, what is causing us stress, and what is hindering us.

    Clarity into these and other insights about our work help us decide what to pull by giving us more information. We begin to see what the true costs of one task over another is.

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  7. Thanks for all the comments.

    Tonianne, I think I will start with physical board but I would prefer a digital version for mobility.

    Topsurf, What I like is similiar. The simplicity and adaptability I thnk will work for me.

    Weltraumschaf, Thanks for sharing your definition. I took mine from the 3rd Edition of Lean Lexicon by LEI. The greatest thing about lean is the problem solving. The so called tools are countermeasures. They are adaptable and not rigid solutions.

    Jamie, I see your point. I will need to figure out a system to pull the right item(s) next. Need to work on the important and urgent quandrant first.

    Dan, I have seen Jon's work. That is where the ideas for my first board came from.

    Jim, Thanks for sharing your concept.

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  8. Hi Tim

    I'm curious to know if you're still using Personal Kanban since you posted this? Like you, I was introduced to Personal Kanban by Jim Benson, and I've been using it for more than two years now with our family, managing a variety of personal and family work, with a big focus on Kidzban.

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  9. Hi Maritza,It is great to hear you are using a personal kanban system and having success. To be honest I have gone back and forth with Personal Kanban and traditional To Do list. I like simplicity and portability so both are digital. Things get stale sometimes so I like to try new things. Currently I am using traditional To Do list and scheduling tasks in my calendar.

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