Friday, November 16, 2012

Manage your time using the Agile Technique of Kanban

I have read two blogs recently that I found very informative and caused me to change the way I work.
Jim Riviello’s blog titled Less is more discusses the importance of identifying what you should work on next is critical to being productive. He says in his blog
         “Don’t confuse activity with productivity”
Jim also discusses the power of three and recommends maintaining three lists to manage your work. As I read this, my agile mind kicked in and I thought this sounded familiar.
Later that week, I read Lyssa Adkins blog titled Just me and my kanban board. Then it clicked, Jim’s idea of three lists sounded a lot like the Agile technique of Kanban.  I never even considered using Kanban to manage my to do list until I read Lyssa’s blog.


Kanban is a process scheduling technique developed by Toyota and later modified to be part of the lean and agile software development methodologies.
In Kanban we use a set of swim lanes to divide up our work. Everything that we plan to do resides in one of these swim lanes. What makes Kanban powerful is these lanes are gaited with the maximum of items allowed in a given lane. This make us focus on completing the work in a gated swim lane before adding another item.

In Lyssa’s blog, she mentions using a mini white board and post it notes to manage her swim lanes and tasks. Agile is all about simplicity and this is an excellent and simple technique. Lyssa uses Kanban For 1 for this purpose.

My Personal Kanban

I decided to use a software solution for my Personal Kanban. I found a free Kanban tool at .

My Personal Kanban board is shown below. I have four swim lanes in my board.

  • ToDo – this is something I know I need to do some day. As I think of things during my busy day, I add it here. At regular intervals I prioritize my ToDos by dragging them to the proper position in the swim lane.
  • Planning to do – These are items I plan to do soon. I have gated this to 5 items.
  • Doing – these are items I am actively working on. Since I decided I could only be working on 2 items at a time I gated this to 2 Items.
  • Done – these are items I have completed.
I have established the following rules for myself:
  • I can add items in ToDo any time in the day.
  • At least one a day I spend 5 minutes reviewing and prioritizing the items in ToDo.
  • I spend time each day deciding what I will do soon by moving items into Planning to do. Again, no more than 5 minutes.
  • When I start a new task, I always move it onto Doing. This is gated to 2 items. I do not exceed the 2-item gate.
  • When I have completed an item, I move it to done.
All of this is very easy to do by dragging and dropping with a mouse.  In my Kanban board shown below, please note the Yellow 5. This tells me I am have reached my gated limit.

Look what happened when I exceed a limit, I get warning and have to enter a reason.

When I decide to proceed anyway and enter a reason, my swim lane looks like this.

I have been using this technique for about a month and I have caught myself many times going down a rabbit hole into things I should not be working on. My personal Kanban board has kept me honest, maybe it will work for you too.

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