Kanban

Obstacle to Visual Management- Aesthetics

When I first saw people using post-its to track their progress on a wall, I thought the idea ignorant or naïve. Come on, I thought. We live in the 21st century. Are we not aware of task tracking applications? Have we really reverted to pieces of paper stuck to the wall? It looks like children are running the place!

I’ve run into this attitude quite a few times since I’ve become a believer in the power of visual management. I sometimes forget I had this attitude at one time.

I’ve often been asked why I just don’t use Excel instead of using a board. One guy yelled across the room at me, “You’ve made a mess!” When consultants for our software department suggested a team use Kanban, management met them with a solid, “No. It doesn’t look professional.” (I guess they thought the same thing about my wall!).

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This is the view of my old Kanban wall from across the floor. Does it look unprofessional?

I once had a part time job at a cafe at a local museum. The cafe just opened and leadership was very proud of it. It was built in an old WWII jeep garage and had brand new granite counters, rustic sheet metal facing, and exhibits on life during WWII. The museum had great plans for it. My first morning, another employee and I were looking all through the cabinets for coffee and other items. We just couldn’t find anything. There were over 50 drawers and cabinets in the cafe—all white.

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After several attempts of rummaging through drawers and cabinets trying to find things, I decided to put labels on them. Something simple and temporary— the top of post it notes. I had a feeling management wouldn’t approve, but hey—it was helping me with my job! At the least, I could show a proof of concept and it could be easily taken down if not approved.

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Sure enough, a manager came in and asked who put up the labels. I said I did. I was told to remove them. I explained it was difficult to find anything. I was told I would soon memorize where things were. Further, I was told it was important that the cafe look nice for visitors (and labels look bad). He related a story on how the last cafe manager had put labels all over the cabinets and it didn’t look good. I asked why he thought the last manager did that. He said she was trying to organize things (but he didn’t like the way it looked). I asked if we could perhaps create labels with WWII style fonts. He said no. At that point, I decided I couldn’t win and because I had just started and didn’t want to get the reputation for being difficult, I removed the labels.

In retrospect, I may have had a better chance of convincing him if I had gotten others to come along with the idea (though I doubt it. Another employee told me they didn’t offer ideas because they wouldn’t be adopted. They just did what they were told to do).

Regardless, between these two jobs, I have greatly underestimated how some will value aesthetics over efficiency. I’m not sure how one bridges this gap, especially when one doesn’t have any position of power and has little influence. For me, I made the transition when someone asked me to make a Kanban board for the team. Once I did it, I was hooked and haven’t looked back. But how does one get someone to even try?

What obstacles have you encountered in trying to get an organization to adopt visual management? Has anyone brought up the issue of aesthetics?

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Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part IX

Team Kanban

Ultimately, Kanban is about people. Its not about me and my cool board. These are the good folks who helped me with the project and used the board. THANK YOU!

This is the last install for the Kanban board. The project has ended. Lessons learned have been gathered. A new project has begun with its own board.

Recent Comments

  • “Have you seen his board? You have GOT to see his board.” ~ One of our PMs to our visiting PMO managers.
  • “I love coming over here. It inspires me.”~ One of our PMs referring to our board.
  • “You must fear the cleaning crew.”~ One of our PMO managers after seeing the board.
  • “This is one of the most innovative things we are doing here.”~ One of our employees showing the board to visiting students.
  • “I was skeptical about using the board and the post-it notes, but it worked out pretty well.” ~ One of our team members during Lessons Learned.

Observations

  • I’ve gotten better at explaining the board to people. My go to explanations:
    • “It allows me to sleep at night.”
    • “It leverages the concept that the project is a system and this is a visual representation of it.”
    • “It allows me to easily identify bottlenecks and recognize areas of concern.”
    • “It leverages psychology in that human beings are visual creatures and we process visuals or patterns quicker than text.”
  • I suspect people know I’m busy because they can see the board. Another project manager made this same observation recently. People don’t have to ask if I’m busy. They can SEE I’m busy.
  • Board discipline can be difficult—especially when you are getting overwhelmed with so many demands. I have to be careful not to let it get behind.
  • We had a situation where the board and a spreadsheet were not in line. While neither were exactly correct, the board was more accurate. In some ways, this didn’t surprise me, I’ve noticed the board is often more accurate than any spreadsheet. I’ve often said, “the board knows all.”
  • Our process can be extremely complex. I would need an entire room to create “In Progress” and “Done” columns. I’ve had to consolidate some of these.
  • The board seems to have become a part of the IT department. It doesn’t get the skepticism it once did. People have come to accept it for what it is and understand that it works. Its not a fad.
  • All in all, I would guess 10% of the people think the board is cool, 10% don’t like it, and the remainder are somewhere in between.

Lessons Learned

  • Sometimes your work can take a different path than the one you have created on the board. This can be frustrating. This is usually due to variation and complexity built into the overall system. You have to learn to roll with these, get creative, and adjust.
  • ALWAYS include the team. When I finished the project, I took a picture of just me with the board. Wrong move. Maybe I worked on it the most. Maybe I championed it the most. Maybe most people didn’t quite get it. But we all used it. I took a picture of all involved later and posted it on our company Yammer page. I was told they appreciated it. I should have had them help me take down the post-its and the board. Opportunity lost.
  • You never know how your work can influence others. The team that assisted me is now using their own visual management board. I was more than happy to help them come up with something. I must keep doing this.
  • Share the wall. I want the team next to me to enjoy the “easier-to-sleep-at-night” feeling when using a visual management tool. That means I will gladly surrender some of the wall (they get half!). I’ve started using OneNote to track things where I don’t have enough wall space. I just put on the wall what management wants to see.
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The team that helped me has started their own visual management system. I love this picture. To see Patty taking so much joy in her work and knowing it helps her better understand her workload might be the project’s biggest accomplishment. I’ll ALWAYS be there for you guys!

Experiments

One experiment is posting on the company’s Yammer page. I’ve been inviting people to share in the experience of using Lean and Kanban concepts. I’m going to sneak Deming in there as well. I have one follower so far. Heh.

WIP Limits

Toward the end of the project I was getting more into experimenting with WIP limits.

My biggest experiment was limiting WIP. It got to the point late in the project where I was pretty much the only one working on the project, so I didn’t have to struggle convincing people to limit their WIP. I just did it. I also realized there was much I didn’t realize about why it was important limiting WIP. Things I learned:

  • Dependencies is a huge problem. In one instance, I have a WIP limit of two. Its full. However, I’m waiting on a dependency before I can move both of them forward. This is very common.
  • Because I am waiting, my instinct is to take on more. But what happens is I soon have so much in progress I can’t remember what all I was working on and the problems of context switching sets in. It takes discipline to limit WIP. Fortunately I didn’t have any outside pressure to increase it otherwise I would have.
  • When I find myself waiting, I go work on something else—for instance—that 30 minute side project someone asked me to complete two weeks ago—I can go work on that now.
  • WIP can mysteriously increase. For instance, I had a team member tell me something they were working on needed my help. Suddenly, my WIP increased by one. About an hour later, something we thought was fixed wasn’t fixed at all. It came back. My WIP increased again. This is a challenge and I’m still figuring out how to handle this.
  • I’ve been increasing and decreasing WIP limits. Because of the external dependencies, you have to try to find a balance. Because of variation, these can shrink and expand regularly. I don’t think one should ever set their WIP limits in stone (unless their system has little variation).
  • I now understand the importance of limiting WIP. Its really quite simple and what I was told in the first place—it reduces context switching. If you reduce context switching, you get more speed. This is a hard concept for folks to grasp. Even me.
  • The tendency to start something else without finishing another is very strong. Especially when you have a line of people wanting something from you now. The problem is, you are actually making them wait longer by starting them early. It might make them feel better that you have started them, but ultimately, you will frustrate them because they have to wait a long time and they will begin to wonder, “WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG?” Best tell them to wait. They will be better off for it. This takes tremendous courage and discipline.
The Last Pic

The board just before I took it down. Post its to the right! All done! Pinks are external dependencies. Those still in progress go to the next project.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part VIII

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Our new board! Actually its a wall!!

The board has moved. While it took longer than I thought it would, it still wasn’t too bad. A lot of people in the company were curious as to how I was going to do it. Some were openly skeptical.

This is what I did.

First I had to make sure the board would fit. I measured the length of the current board against how much wall space I would have at the new location. The old boards are actually longer (cumulatively), but the new wall has more height, so I was able to condense. Also, some of the old columns could be condensed. One was even removed. This gave me enough space.

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I measured the columns or rows with post it notes. (example, one column is 5 post its tall and 8  wide). I adjusted the sizes based upon what I thought would be needed for the new wall. I wrote these on the board to help me remember.

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I clipped the post its together with paperclips or binder clips depending on how many post its were in a column and put them in a bag with the name of the column and a number for the sequence of appearance working right to left. In hindsight, I didn’t need so many plastic bags. I could have made due with just a few gallon bags. A post it note on top of the individual piles indicated where they went.

I also took a few pictures of the old boards to help me remember where things were. This helped putting the board back up.

Total time for takedown- 45 minutes.

Starting right to left, I started drawing out the board. I used the post its to determine column width and row height.

I put up the post its. It was important to have poster putty handy. A lot of the post its have lost their sticky, particularly the older ones. This is actually the part that took the longest when putting them up—adding the poster putty.

Total time for putting up- 2 hours.

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All Done. With the height provided by the wall, I could divide the board up into sections (at the top–“TTU”, “Disconnect”, etc.). Charts showing progress are to the right. A quote from one of our satisfied sites is in the top right corner.

Comments once it was up:

“Its like a giant rainbow! . . . but its SO much!”

“I like how you are organized.”

“Dan, people are noticing all the post its on the left side of the board are disappearing.”

“Did Kris (our director) REALLY say you could have the whole wall?” Yes, he did.

One of the remote team members saw a picture of the new space. “What are all those notes doing on the far wall?”

“We’re putting you on another project, but you don’t get any more wall space.” (said in jest, but at the same time I think they were serious also).

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This is the view of the IT production department right outside the director’s office.

Observations once it was up

The board got a lot of stares. I used to be tucked away in a corner, but now the whole IT department is on one floor now and in a big open space. Some had never seen it before, others had seen it, but now it was in their face in a big way (see above). I was glad the board was getting the attention it needs, but at the same time, it also became a target. A couple of people thought I was taking up too much room and taking up white board space (the whole wall is a white board). One manager asked me if I could shrink it so her people would have room to write. I asked her team if they wanted more room, but they said no and thought the board was fine.

I saw people clustering together and looking at the board. I knew they were talking about it. Negative? Positive? I don’t know. I admit for a day or two I was a little paranoid that someone was going to make me remove it or condense it.

The team using the board is now in the same area. Its easier to get to and they can clearly see what needs to be done. There is more interaction with the board.

Challenges

I felt bad that it was taking up so much space. I felt like I was being selfish. What would people think? Why should I get a whole wall just for me?

Leadership still does not come to the board. I wish they would. We always have good conversations when they do.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part VII

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The latest version of our board. Tip-use dry erase markers. Our board changes regularly as we evolve our processes or try to accommodate management demand.

Here is the latest observations, challenges, lessons learned, triumphs, etc. of the Kanban board experiment in my current project.

Recent Comments

“I love the post-it notes.” ~A visitor for one of the other teams.

“It’s so pretty!” An interviewee for another team.

“Hey, whatever works.” ~ Our newest project manager (this is a common comment and bothers me for some reason).

“Its actually pretty ingenious.” ~ Our IT director to our visiting global PMO (who were visibly skeptical of the board). This is the first positive comment to come from him about the boards. I love it!

“And here we are investing in tools.” Global PMO member.

“Are we trying to save money?” Global PMO member.

“I have to tell our leadership that the greatest risk to the project is wind.” ~ Our IT director referring to the post-it notes.

Observations

  • Bottlenecks become more apparent when the time frame is shortened and the work load increases. Ex. I’m the main one updating the board. If others could do it when they complete their work, that would mean I wouldn’t have to do it all the time. At the same time, if I don’t do it, we lose insight into what is happening on the project.
  • The boards take up a lot of space (and is actually growing). What if every project used a board like this? Would we have any wall space left? Would we be fighting for wall space?
  • As numbers/WIP increased and the pressure to hurry up and finish increased, it became more apparent how much time it takes creating post-it notes. The short-term thinking side of me wanted to stop doing it and just get on with the work, but I reminded myself how the initial time spent creating them paid off in the long term. I was surprised at what feels like my ‘instinct’ telling me not to use the board.
  • A pretty big negative for the board is stats gathering. It takes me up to 2 hours gathering the info from the post-it notes and putting it in a spreadsheet for reporting.

Lessons Learned

  • My supervisor didn’t like our process for shipping and scheduling equipment. He wanted us to change it because he thought it was creating bottlenecks. Our team didn’t like the idea. We thought it complicated matters and created a risk. In the end, everyone decided to try an experiment based on what he wanted. The board was updated and after a few hiccups and adjustments, the new way worked just fine. Lesson Learned—Don’t be too resistant to an outsider’s suggestion for changing your process. They might be on to something and you can always try an experiment to see if it works. If not—just go back to the old way. We are fortunate my supervisor simply did not force us to change our process and allowed the experiment.

Triumphs

  • For a couple of weeks, it appeared I wasn’t going to be able to bring the board to the new location. I had a team member come up and talk about possibilities of where we could put it. And here I was thinking no one cared. That really meant a lot. In the end, it boiled down to the IT director, who is determined to make the project a success. I told him the board was critical to the project’s success. He agreed there would be a spot for it in the new building.

Experiments

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The boards’ first attempts at limiting WIP.

  • I’m attempting to limit WIP (without the team members realizing it). It seems to be working. I’m sure if management knew I was doing it, though, they would get mad.
  • I put up a brief synopsis of what Kanban is near the board. My supervisor read it and it sparked some good conversation. I’m hoping others will read it as well. Perhaps I can alter it so its more readable.
  • I think I need to stop giving logical explanations for using the board. I’m trying to ‘testify’ instead. The idea is to appeal to a person’s heart, not their head. I’m trying to remember to say things like:
    • “Its the best tool I’ve ever used.”
    • “It didn’t make much sense to me when I first saw one.”
    • “It saves my bacon on a daily basis.”
    • “It allows me to sleep at night.” (my favorite)

Challenges

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Post-it notes on top of post-it notes–sign of too much WIP!

  • Because there is so much WIP, we have tons of issues identified on the board (highlighted with blue post-its). There are so many, its now become noise and I need ANOTHER post-it (white) to identify higher priority items we need to discuss as a team. Having no WIP limits suck!
  • Limiting WIP is such a foreign/difficult concept here (though the seeds may have at least been planted). I tried to explain why limiting one of my team mate’s WIP would help her but I was told, “No—just send them all to me.”
  • Global PMO visited our office and saw my board. I was happy to see our IT director talk it up (see his comment above). I gave a brief explanation of how the board worked. There seemed to be some skepticism (their comments are above). Its kind of odd to me that a PMO group doesn’t recognize a Kanban board.

Opportunities

  • Another project manager asked me about the board. He said he’s struggling with the organization of his project and needs something. I let him borrow my Kanban book and Stop Starting, Start Finishing. He quickly discovered Kanban was being used elsewhere (one of his team members said they used one at Hyundai). I’ve seen him walking around with the Kanban book and he said he wants to sit down and talk with me about it. One of his teammates has been wanting to try Kanban for some time. He even took my class. This gives us a champion on the inside.

Wishes

  • I really wished our partner could see and use the board. I think it would help them tremendously (which would help us). They seem to be so overwhelmed. I know they are in spreadsheet hell. I’ve been thinking about looking into Lean Kit (though I am skeptical of electronic Kanban boards over physical ones).  It may be too late to use it for this project, but perhaps we could use it on the next one???

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part VI

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Our board. Note the graphs to the left indicating trends. I’ll post about those soon.

Here are some recent goings-ons with the Kanban board.

I’ve told this to others in my organization and I’ll continue to say it, this board is central to the project’s organization and understanding. It saves my bacon daily–simply because I know what the heck is going on. I highly recommend one.

Just to remind my readers—my organization does not embrace Kanban, Agile, or any type of improvement methodology or philosophy. This series documents the challenges, failures, and triumphs of trying something different.

  • There are many who still just don’t get it. I still get teased:
    • “Watch out! Don’t knock off any post-it notes!” as a group of people walk by.
    • “What if someone just comes along and . . .”  Person moves post-it note to elsewhere on the board (actually, I can figure out where its supposed to go just by looking at it).
    • “What if there is a fire?” often said with a smirk. (“Everyone grab a post-it note!”
    • Of these comments, I know some of its just good ribbing and some its genuine disbelief. Regardless, this is something I’ve learned just comes with the territory. For the most part, I feel people have come to respect what I do even if they don’t quite get it.
  • The series was featured on the Deming Institute! One of my team members, who had lived in Japan, immediately understood the significance of this. “Everyone has GOT to know about this!” he said. This is about as far as the excitement went, though. I told my supervisor, and he seemed to think it was cool, but didn’t say much about it. When I told our PMO lead, he asked, “Whose Deming?” After I explained, another colleague laughed and said, “It sounds like a cult.” This sucked some of the wind out of my sails.
  • Team members are starting to interact with the board after some encouragement. I’ll be at my desk and here the pop and soft rattle of a post-it note moving on the board from behind me. Its a good sound—the board removes me as a bottle neck. The board is showing the team what needs to be worked on without me telling them!
  • One of our team members, a former navy man, compared the board to boards they use in the navy to monitor ships that are all over the world. He said he likes the board.
  • I’ve said this before and will say it again—it would be better if all those who use the board were right next to it. Those who are at my location work in another room. They have to get up, walk out of their room, down a hall, and in to my area to see what is going on. Up to a hundred feet. I can understand why they might think the board is a pain. I also think this causes the board not to always get updated like it should.
  • Related– it would be better if all our remote partners could see it. I believe one of our partners suffer from cumbersome internal processes and systems and I think our board could give them some clarity. There are things I regularly see that I have to keep bringing to their attention, but if they could see it themselves, they wouldn’t need me to point it out. Ideally, the board would be electronic so all remote team members can see it, but also retain its current size so those in its presence can read it and discuss it.
  • We’ve had new people come on board to help me with the project. I asked them to use the board. There was some resistance to it, including from their manager, at first. This company is used to working in spreadsheets (which I’m seeing more and more of the problems of). One member openly said, “I’m not going to use this.” I think she was intimidated by it, but once I told her why it was important to the project and I showed how it worked and told her not to worry about all the nuances, she chilled.
  • One of the new team members seems to really like the idea. I think he may become a champion of convincing others of the board’s merits. I think a board like this would help them with their own work. I’m wondering if he is starting to see this.
  • The new people have been taking the post-it notes back to their desks. I allowed this because they needed the information on the notes to complete their work. The negative– sometimes I’m looking for a site and can’t find it. I’ve started wondering if this was a good idea. I’m worried the post its will get lost. This again drives home the point that it would be better if we were all in the same location.
  • While everyone knows I’m very aware of what is going on with the project, they are not happy with the results they are seeing (the project has been behind schedule since the first week). This make me concerned that people will conclude that a board like this does not help get a better result. My argument—what type of predicament would we be in without it?
  • Its official. We are moving to a new location and there seems to be some disagreement on if there is room for the board. My supervisor and teammate think so, but others have told me there won’t be any room. I wonder sometimes if I am going to be made to conform. I wonder if anyone has any idea how important this board is to understanding a very complex project and how its central to the project’s organization. Of course, if it can be accommodated–all who currently use the board will be in the same location and that would be very, very good. We’ll see what happens!
  • Someone told me that one of the manager’s admired the fact that I did what I believed to be right despite strong pressure not to. He said we needed more people to do that. I believe they were referring to the board.
  • As I study Lean, I’ve come to the conclusion that the board actually duplicates effort which is wasteful. I have to write information from an e-mail or spreadsheet onto the post-it note. This is the downside. The upside, it puts the information in a form where I am able to synthesize it. I am unable to do this when its in its original form. I wonder if there is a way to get both worlds?
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See the column on the far right? That’s how many we have actually completed! Conclusion- we have plenty of starting and not enough finishing. See those blue notes? Those are things we have to revisit. That’s a lot of rework and only adds to the WIP. I’m not certain how to convince others that this is an issue.

  • This company does not believe in (or understand the importance of) limiting work limits and finishing before you start something else. As a result, the board is getting cluttered with tons of post-its and its getting harder to find specific posts its. There has also been times where I have duplicated a note.
  • During my last post on this series, I wished our partner would start sending over smaller batches at more frequent intervals so we could create flow. I was able to convince them to do that. However, we are still not getting the results we want from them. Because I don’t have a clear insight into our partner’s processes, I’m unable to understand where the bottlenecks are and where to help fix them. Management is getting frustrated. We asked the partner to double their batch size, but because still don’t see good results, leadership has insisted they do them all at once. So much for the concept of flow. . .
  • Because management has asked for everything to be released at once, I predict our board is going to get very crowded and our WIP is going to explode. I wonder sometimes if the board will be any of any use at that point. I might be spending all my time just updating it and that’s not going to help us get any work done. That could just be the fear talking, though. Who knows?

What I wish for

  • I wish management would visit our area more often to understand what is going on and help us solve our issues. The board (and all the charts I display) is just as much for them as it is for our people. They don’t come by, though, and we usually only talk during reporting meetings (which often results in their frustration). Without management being able to ‘see’ what is happening they have to revert to my interpretations. They aren’t getting the results, though, and as discussed, they are very much getting more and more frustrated.
  • I wish there was some way (technologically) for everyone involved in the project to see this board without us losing its size and “physicallness” it currently has. Even if I were to create this board in OneNote (which would be a large undertaking) so everyone could see it, I’m not certain everyone would use it and I would lose the benefits its currently giving the project. This is a risk I’m not willing to take.
  • I wished people at my company would read my blog. Maybe I’ll get ballsy and send my blog to our IT director. Hmmm . . .

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

Personal Kanban: Bringing Focus to Chaos- Part 2

As a project manager, I’ve got a ton of things I have to worry about. The devil is often in the details and there are a LOT of details. How do I keep track of them all? How do I know which to tackle first? How do I know how much I can do in a day? Thank the project management gods for the personal Kanban board. This is my go-to tool for personal time, priority, and energy management. In my last post I described the basics of the personal Kanban board and how it works. In this post I’ll describe how I determine what I can do in a day.

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Notice that each of the post-its have a number in the top right corner. This is an idea I got from Scrum. These are velocity points.

In a nutshell—velocity works like this:

Each item I have to do is given a certain number of points. I use the Fibonacci sequence. For me, the numbers are a combination of time, effort, complexity, and uncertainty. They are not precise time estimates, such as “this task will take me 15 minutes.” They are relative. To give you some type of idea of time, though—a 1 point item takes about 5-10 minutes. A 2 point story is about 10-25 minutes. A 3 is about 30-45 minutes. I may assign a higher point for an item if its hard or exhausting or if I’m not certain how long it will take. Like I said—its relative, but if I keep to my rules, I find it to be pretty darn accurate.

Over time, I keep track of how many points I can accomplish in a day. This will tell me how much I can get done in a day. My average is 36.5. So, when I plan my day, I put up @ 37 points worth of work.

 

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38.5 points ready to go. I have one in WIP–ready to go when I walk in to start work in the morning.

IMPORTANT: 37 points is NOT my target. My target is to do as much quality work I can in a day by staying focused. Time and energy is limited. I know with all things being equal, I can produce in the 37 point range. At the end of the day, I don’t fret if I don’t hit 37 points, and I don’t celebrate if I go over. The reason? Variation.

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Here’s a graph of about two months of work on a control chart. You can see this is a stable system with an average of 36.5 points with an upper control limit of @ 50 and a lower limit of around 24. If I go outside those limits, I will look at what went wrong. If I see a downward trend, I will investigate; if I see an upward trend I will investigate. None of these have ever happened.

If you think about it, this is actually a pretty amazing amount of predictability when you consider how crazy work can get. THAT is what brings order to the chaos.

Tips

  • Break down big items. I won’t go beyond an 8 (that’s about an hour and a half worth of work). Anything larger needs to be broken down. Small tasks keep you focused and keeps things progressing. If I have a large item to work on, I write “Epic” in the corner and put it in the “To Do” box. When its time to work on it, I break it down into smaller items.
  • When you complete an item, re-evaluate its points. I find that sometimes I was wrong in my initial estimate. It may be higher or it might be lower. I cross out the old number and write down the new. This gives me a more accurate total when I count up total points.
  • If something unexpected comes up during the day, I create a new post-it, stick it in the “To do” box and remove equivalent points from the “To do” box. Example– My supervisor unexpectedly comes by to get some information about the project. In the end, this was the equivalent of about 2 points of work. To stay within my daily velocity, I add 2 points for my supervisor visit and remove 2 points from my “To do” box (preferably, the lowest priority should be removed).
  • I use different colored post-it notes to represent my different projects. This helps me understand where I’m putting my efforts and helps me to better plan out my days.
  • Related: This is a great way of collecting personal data. For example, I can track how often I am interrupted or how much time I spend on reporting or in e-mail. I’ve also used it to track how much of what I do is adding to customer value. This helps me understand what I’m actually doing and what I can do to improve.
  • Some items have a specific time associated with them. For example—meetings. I put the time associated with this task in the top center and place it approximately where it will fall during the day (not necessarily by its priority). For example, an 8:30 phone call will be toward the top and a 4:00 meeting will be toward the bottom.
  • Related: Some items may be high priority, but take place in another time zone. For example, I may need to schedule a high priority appointment with one of our California sites, but because they are three hours behind my time zone, I won’t be able to reach them until mid day. I place them in the center of the day’s priorities (about the time they will be arriving to work so I can hit them up first thing).
  • Create a post-it for stopping to review what you’ve accomplished, plan for the next day, think about what you can do differently, and review and prioritize what all you have coming up in the “To Do” box (they call this a retrospective and backlog grooming in the Scrum world. This is represented by my “Wrap-Up” post-it). This is VERY important for this process. Its the last item on my list of things to do, but always takes priority over anything if I hit the 3:45 pm range.
  • As the day winds down, I will re-evaluate what all I have left to do in the “Today” box. I may add or remove items depending on how much time is left in the day.
  • I mentioned Jim Benson in my last post and I’m going to mention him again. While I came up with this idea independently, Jim is the trailblazer for Personal Kanban. I look forward to reading his book to get some ideas on what I can do better. I recently discovered a podcast interview he conducted with Mark Graban over at LeanBlog. I highly recommend it.

 

Personal Kanban: Bringing Focus to Chaos- Part 1

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If you walk into my work space, you are going to see post-its all over the damn place. If you didn’t know what it all meant, you’d probably just think I was just messy, but there is actually a sophisticated system to my madness.

Central to my personal organization is my personal Kanban Board. I began fooling around with this at my old job back in the summer of 2015. Our scrum team had experimented with one. It didn’t stick, but I started thinking I might be able to use it myself. Right away, I fell in love with it.

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My first board. Picture taken with my old phone. Sorry for the poor quality.

By far, this is the best tool I have EVER used for time, priority, and energy management. The benefits blow me away sometimes: it keeps me sharply focused, allows me to understand how much work I have to do and if I’m getting overwhelmed or too far behind, gives me data on my own performance, allows me to understand how much work I can complete on any given day so I can plan better, and gives me the feeling of accomplishment. It also allows me to sleep better because I’ve emptied my head of all the things I need to do by writing them down and keeping them in an organized fashion. Perhaps best of all– it allows me to be creative and as a result, work becomes fun. I always brighten when I see it and it makes coming to work more enjoyable (even on Mondays!!).

Materials:

  • For the board, all you really need is a flat area and something to divide sections off with. I used the front of my cabinet and masking tape for the board at my old job. For my current board, I use poster board (I use two or three so I can expand it in any different directions as need be) and cut up post-its to create the lines.
  • Post-its
  • Thumb tacks (or command strips)
  • Sharpie

The Board Set Up

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At its basic, the board is divided into four areas. Working from left to right:

  • “To Do” (far left): This is everything I need to do. If I need to do something, I write it on a post it note, and place it in this area. The higher it is on the board, the higher the priority.
  • “Today” (the middle): This is the stuff I plan to work on . . . well . . . today. I work from top to bottom, right to left.
  • “WIP” (Work in Progress): The most important area. This is what I’m working on at the moment. I don’t work on anything else outside this box. Notice it has room for only two post-it notes. This makes me limit my work in progress, reduces multi-tasking, and increases focus.
  • “Done” (far right): This is what I have completed for the day.

Extra Areas.

These are areas I have experimented with. I wouldn’t call them necessary, but they have helped me.

  • “Waiting” (bottom): These are items where I have solicited others to help me complete a task and I’m waiting for compliance. For instance– if I sent an e-mail to someone and I’m waiting for a response or I’ve called someone on the phone and left a VM. Lately I’ve taken the rule that if this area fills up, I won’t work on anymore tasks relating to needing someone else to help me complete something. The reason– it increases my overall WIP, i.e. too many things started and not enough finishing. If I don’t get a response from the person after a few days, I put the post-it back in the “To Do” area and start over again.
  • “Help Boxes” (Top): This is my latest experiment. I often have needed conversations for my supervisor, our tech lead, or our partner. I put these on post-its and place them in the appropriate box . When I get the chance to talk to them, I address the box. Often, these conversations turn into action items and go into the “To Do” box afterwards. If it was just something I needed to know, I just toss the post-it.

It works like this

  1. Things I have to do are accumulated over time. These go in the “To Do” box.
  2. Once a day, I pull items out of the “To Do” box into the “Today” box. I’ll discuss how I determine how much I know I can do in another post (hint—it has to do with those numbers in the top right corner).
  3. Starting from the top right and working my way down right to left and top to bottom, I work my way through the day, pulling post-its into the WIP.
  4. When completed, I put them in “Done” or they go into “Waiting.”
  5. By the end of the day, my “To Do” and “WIP” box should be empty. The “Done” box will be full. There may or may not be post-its “Waiting.”
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This is my board at the end of the day. My “”Today” area is empty, my “WIP” is wrapping things up. My “Done” area is full.

Tips

  • The “WIP” box is the most important box. This is your focus. Set a work limit for it. I do this by making the WIP box the same size as my WIP limit. In this case—two post-its sized. Don’t work on anything else until what is in the box is finished. You will decrease multi-tasking and get more work done.
  • Keep the board within arm’s length from where you work. In my case, its right next to my computer. I think I might be less likely to use it if I had to keep getting up to move post-its all the time.
  • Keep post-its and a sharpie close by. Things come up all the time. If I think of something I need to do, I quickly write it on the post-it and pop it on the “To Do” area.
  • Keep poster board putty nearby for when the post-its begin to lose their stickiness.
  • Keep the WIP box near eye level. When I lose my train of thought or am interrupted, the box snaps me back into focus.
  • Make it bright and colorful. Post-its have a World of Colors collection. I like the Rio di Janeiro. It makes the board look more fun and as a result makes work fun. I personally like having a black backboard. It makes the colors pop.
  • In the beginning, you may change your board a lot as you get used to what works for you, so don’t be afraid to try something or fret if your board keeps changing. Heck, I still change mine to accommodate my needs. You should do the same for your board. Its meant to evolve. If it doesn’t, there might be something wrong.
  • You are going to go through a lot of post-it notes (and sharpies). Make a budget for it. Staples has a sale @ October/November when they get rid of all their back to school supplies. You can get some good deals then.
  • Jim Benson is an expert with Personal Kanban, but I’ve yet to read his book. I’ve kind of grown this idea on my own. Jim has been doing this a lot longer than I have and I’ve seen a couple of his presentations. He’s a smart dude. I’m sure I would get some good ideas from reading his book. Its certainly on my list. You may want to check it out.

In my next post, I will talk about how I determine what all I can do in a day.

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part V

The previous post in this series is here.

Here’s some of the latest events with our experiment with the Kanban board. I think what amazes me the most is how it continues to evolve–in how it looks, how we use it, and how we are starting to view our work.

  • I added another board to the left of the original. I call this board “Provisioning.” This represents all the sites that are in progress with our partner. There are no process columns. Its because I don’t have a clear understanding of their process. However, I know what sites they have, and I started writing a post-it note for each. It became time consuming to write each and once its on the board, I have a hard time finding it again because there are so many. I decided I would just make the post-it when the partner sent the site. If something needed to be addressed before it was sent over, I would create the post-it and label it with the block or action item. I must say, though, having so many post-its on the board gives us a better visual of how many sites are coming over and the enormity of the work involved.

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    This is a new board–it represents the work we are waiting for from our partner. In hindsight, I’m not so sure we really needed it. We just need to know how many the partner has and if there are any areas that need our attention (i.e. items that are blocked or needs some sort of action).

  • I also added another wall for our clean up. I didn’t create a white wall for this one. I just use pins and the post its and move them over column by column (there are only three). This represents disconnecting the old circuits portion of the project. Once these are completed, the site is considered done. What disturbs me, and I have been pointing this out to our team, is that there are only about 6 sites absolutely done. Why aren’t we finishing? I believe the problem is because of the emphasis on getting the sites to the TTU portion of the project. Once that is done, the interest in the site begins to wane. Management wants us to put our effort into completing more TTUs. As a result, the sites are stacking and not finishing the whole process. I believe the board is highlighting this problem and management is beginning to see the issue. They are giving us another resource to help us finish these up.
  • I believe the importance of working upstream vs. downstream has dawned on us. (is this pull vs. push?) When we work, we read the boards from right to left. I believe this is helping us understand the concept of finishing what we have started. I believe this is a big jump for us. I have spoken to my manager about this concept and he agrees that it is the smartest way to work. That is a relief.
  • Bottlenecks are much more apparent. I really hate seeing them. For one, I quickly run out of space in my columns. See below.

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    See the two long columns of green and yellow? This is a result of working in large batches. The greens will sit there for several days before work begins on them. If I get any more that need to go into this column, the post its are going to get piled on top of each other (which has actually already started). These areas are called “queues.” These items are waiting for us to have time to work on them

  • Bottlenecks are exacerbated because we are working in large batches. Our partner is working in batches of 25. We get nothing then all of the sudden we get a whole lot. One of my team mates is following a similar pattern. He started setting one time a day in the week to work on all the sites that have been sent to him. I understand why he is doing it. He has conflicting priorities, and if he can schedule a couple of hours where he isn’t disturbed he can get it done. The problem is the sites are sitting there anywhere from a day up to a week and it increases lag time. We’ve been talking about batches lately and the trouble of working with large ones. I even showed my manager the concept of single-piece flow. At first he was skeptical, but I think he began to see its merits.

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    Notice how items are piling up in columns–the result of working in large batches. These items come in all at once and then wait. There is also an emphasis on a certain point on the board to be completed. As a result the items to the right of that point are not getting completed. See how all the post-its are clogging on the right hand side of the board? We have a lot of starting and not enough finishing.

  • We are starting to talk about the concept of flow vs. large chunks come through and how it would be better if items were coming over more frequently but in smaller batches. We aren’t sure exactly how to make it happen. My feeling is we will have to change how our partner does their work.
  • Some of the best conversations I’ve had with my supervisor and the head of the IT department is when we are at the board. I can explain and show things to them. It also helps that I keep charts and statistical data nearby so they can se the data. I think they appreciate the transparency.
  • I did a training on Kanban boards. One manager experimented with it some, but so far no one has started using one. I’m told I’m still an inspiration to them though and they love coming into my area. I wish I could help more. I think I just need to work with them more often. Its tough because all our time is limited.
  • I’ve gotten more concrete with our additional post-its. Blue is for action items. Pink is for blocks. Blocks mean the item can not move forward. Blue means the item can move, but there is something we need to do with it. Also, I put the date in the bottom right, the company owner in the bottom center, and the site the problem is associated with in the bottom left. Admittedly, it can get tiring doing this, but it really helps us keep track of so many things we need to work on and the visual lets us see any patterns where these items are becoming a problem. For instance, we see a lot of blue after our TTU. This is because that many issues are encountered during TTU that we have to address. Its made us think more about putting the quality in the first time around and trying to be more proactive instead of fixing it afterward.
  • I use the post-its to hold data (usually in the form of dates) which I then transfer to excel and create graphs. The charts that seem to matter the most to management is the burndown and the run chart showing rate of circuit completions per week (which needs to be at 15 a week in order to meet our target deadline). I keep up-to-date charts near the board so everyone can see it. I believe the charts reinforces the idea that my project management philosophy doesn’t end at colorful post-it notes on a white board—I have a lot of hard data.
  • I’m still getting mixed reactions from different people on the boards themselves. Folks who have never seen them before will often snap their heads with a double take when they enter the room. Sometimes I find people just staring at them.  I did have someone say I had made a mess creating them. Others have told me they think they are really cool. An agile coach told me to talk them up. I’ve been doing that.
  • There is still talk of moving to another location. I’d be fine packing the boards up. It would be pretty easy actually. My concern is having wall space near my future work area. I hope I will be accommodated.

Things I wish we could change to make it better:

  • Have our partner work in smaller and more frequent batches. I think this would even out our overall workload and create flow.
  • Have my supervisor and our IT head see the boards more often. We usually have some good conversations when they come over. I can tell they “get it” and they are getting used to looking at the boards to help them understand what is going on (even if they still don’t understand the nuances).
  • I wish all those who work with the Kanban board were near it. I think it would make it easier for them to identify what needs to be worked on.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part IV

Here’s some latest happenings on my wall charts. The last post is here.

  • The head of our IT department came by my cubicle the other week. My boards attract his attention whenever he’s in the area. We started discussing what was going on with the project. He could see from the board that sites were starting to move through the process which made him glad. He could plainly see the blocks. He was able to help me get rid of six. He seemed a little perturbed we hadn’t figured out how to get rid of them ourselves, though. He then looked at the burn down chart next to the board, pointed at the WIP which was still way above the sloping diagonal line and said he wanted the WIP on the line the next time I gave my report. That was unnerving. All I could say was I wanted it on the line too. Maybe he isn’t pleased how things are progressing, but I hope he appreciates the transparency I am trying to show. Its something he once said he wanted from the project managers. I actually wished he would come by more often so we could have more discussions. At the same time, if he did, I can’t help wonder if he will only blame me for not getting more work done.
  • My other team member gave input on how the board could be better changed– showing the sites that have been queued the longest from top to bottom. He also has becoming by more frequently to look what needs to be done. I wish he sat closer to me so he could have more easy access to it. I think it would help. The problem is, my project is just one of three or four others he has to work on and my supervisor who sits in the next room over, prefers my team member to be closer to him, also, I don’t sit with the rest of my department (which is sort of good, because there is no wall space there).

 

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My teammate’s contribution to improving the board. He wanted to identify how long our sites had been in provisioning.  Note the burn down to the left.

 

  • One day, this same team member came by to look at the board. I heard one of the other employees chiding him about getting into the whole post-it note thing. My team member replied that the board actually had its merits.
  • I had someone ask me how to make a Kanban board so they could use it for their own purposes.  I had to cram what I could in a 30 minute session because his time was limited. He’s used similar boards in the past but hadn’t thought of putting in ‘Done’ columns. I also explained to him the importance of limiting WIP but I’m not certain he understood. Since I went over with him how to make the board (a few weeks now), I’ve seen his board still lying on the ground next to his cubicle. He said he’s been busy. Whenever he comes by he still marvels at my board. Wish I could do more to help him.
  • This same person I helped said that one of these board would help one of the other teams. I had the same thought because what they do is similar to what I do. I know their manager has seen my boards, but she is one of the folks who doesn’t understand why I just don’t use a spreadsheet. Her team would have to want a board like this, and they haven’t shown much interest, and I’m not certain how supportive she would be.
  • There’s some talk of moving the department and there is a concern there won’t be any wall space for my board. I’m not sure what I’ll do in that situation. I could go electronic, but the board will lose a lot if its power if I do that. Its size and location is much of its strength. It will be more difficult to have conversations about it if its tucked away on my computer. It will also make it more difficult to read. Of course, since I’ve been here, there has been talk of moving and it hasn’t happened.
  • I had another project manager come by to view my boards. She really liked them and I could see the wheels turning on how she could create her own. It reinforces the idea that I need to make time to teach how these work. This same project manager said my ideas would find more acceptance and traction in her department than in mine. Maybe.
  • The board is getting more and more crowded with work. Its starting to look like a parking lot. My company does not understand or appreciate the concept of limiting WIP or flow. I’m thinking of ways to rearrange the board that will highlight where items are queuing. My concern is this will only cause people to get upset that we aren’t doing our work. We’ll see. Perhaps it will start more conversations about how having too much WIP is slowing us down.

The next post in this series is here.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

Implementing Change Using Kanban- Part III

For those who know me, you know I like boards. Some know I’ve used Kanban boards. Here’s my latest.

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As cool as this one is, the board is actually not a true Kanban board. In order for it to be, we would have to be limiting our work in progress (WIP). This is actually one of the reasons why I struggled with moving to a Kanban board–because I couldn’t figure out how to limit the WIP.

Why couldn’t I limit the WIP? My company takes the traditional approach that the best results are achieved if everyone is at capacity and believes push is more effective than pull. Also, we rely on a partner who have their own methodology for completion. That’s a battle we’ll have to fight another day. Hopefully the board will help highlight the problems of this strategy and one day it can grow up to be a real Kanban board and the company will benefit from it.

One of the benefits Anderson touts about Kanban boards is that they create change by showing the flaws in a system and sparking conversation. Admittedly, I’m a little disappointed this hasn’t happened. Folks haven’t said a whole lot about it (where as the old boards did). Perhaps this is because, to them, it’s just a dry erase board with some post-its, which is rather common place. Or they have just gotten used to me making boards all the time and figure this is just another one of the odd things I do to stay organized. A friend of mine pointed out the board might get more attention if I was more centrally located (I’m kind of tucked away in a corner).

Despite the board not catching on like I’d like yet, it’s still the best tool I have. It’s helped us become better organized, helped highlight troubled areas and streamline our processes, and it continues to keep us hyper aware. Also, personally, the board has helped me understand the concept of push vs. pull and has certainly made me think more about the problem with queues. Also, a couple of project managers in the development department have asked me to do a training session on Kanban. Maybe it won’t catch on in my area but perhaps it will in others.

The board is fairly new and the project is just getting off the ground. There is still plenty of time for it to generate discussion and evolve. I’ll be posting from time to time on how this is going.

I’m ending this post with a couple of close-up shots of the board and stickies.

It’s evolved over time. Glad its dry erase!

Each site gets two post it-colors. One for circuits and one for equipment. These are going on in tandem so go to different areas of the board. Dates indicate when equipment is sent or a circuit installed. Big black checkmark indicates it actually happened. The smiley face means we received an IP from the internet provider.

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Blocks are pink, describe what the problem is, and gives a date on when it became an issue.

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Here’s an example of how the board highlights potential bottle necks. This area got filled really quick one morning. Our tech lead is responsible for completing these. My supervisor saw this cluster and when I explained what it was, he gave kind of a sheepish grin and said, “Oh, I guess I shouldn’t have asked him (the tech lead) to go take care of something at the other building then.”

Fortunately, it was quickly relieved and perhaps the board helped highlight this issue, but this shows the problem of a push vs pull mentality and not understanding limiting WIP.

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The next post of this series is here.

Links to the rest of this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V