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Getting personal with Kanban...for new ways of working

As more organisations explore agile ways of working and approaches to build organisational agility, it’s time to rethink how we engage with each other, share knowledge and showcase our work. This changing nature of work, where traditional models of power are shifting, there is a demand for greater transparency through practices such as ‘working out loud’.

It’s less about hierarchy and top-down communication and more emphasis on involvement. The communication is two-way, openly inviting discussion and dialogue in real time.

With new ways of working, we are seeing these channels for co-creation becoming more mainstream as we subscribe to the principles of collaboration and transparency.

The Kanban board is one of many great examples of how agile teams ‘work out loud’ with their peers and engage with their stakeholders. As a practice, Kanban can be easily adopted by all teams (not just project teams) to plan, visualise and demonstrate their work, in a way that invites a conversation as well as collaboration.

Making it personal

But what about using Kanban to manage your own to-do list? And to drive a discussion that may not have otherwise taken place?

It’s a great visual way to see your work flow on a page. I use my own Kanban (as a visual to-do list) on an A3-sized sheet with sticky notes to manage and monitor my work progress.

A bit about the Kanban board

For the uninitiated, Kanban is the Japanese word for ‘visual signal’ or ‘card’.

Inspired by the lean manufacturing practices at Toyota, the Kanban board is an effective, visual way for agile teams (and any other team) to display what they are working on and where their work is at. Combine it with the stand-up meeting and you have a visual tool at hand to discuss the progress of your work with your team in a transparent and mutually accountable way.

One of the objectives of Kanban is to bring attention to the volume of work in process - in the ‘doing’ column - in order to reduce it. The idea is to move work along the flow, to the ‘done’ column. The ‘rule of thumb’ for a personal Kanban is to limit your work in progress to no more than three items.

At a glance, you see not only the progress, but also the scope and scale of work in the pipeline, and what’s been completed.

What about the flexi-desk people? I can hear you asking that as I move post-it notes around on my own Kanban sheet. There are online tools to visually manage your work and can share with your team members, such as Trello. However, for the optimal expression of ‘working out loud’ I find the manually managed A3 sheet of paper, with the small post-it notes, works well for me, and makes it visible to all in my location. It’s easy to fold in two at the end of the day and pack it away in your locker.

My personal Kanban experience

Here’s some of the benefits I’ve seen from using an individual Kanban in the workplace:

  • Keeps me on track with a visual workflow for myself - all on one page, instead of hidden away in a notebook across numerous pages

  • Provides a channel to ‘work out loud’ so my team members can see what I’m working on and what’s coming up

  • Helps me limit my work in progress

  • Reduces the temptation to ‘multi-task’ which we know isn’t the way our brains are wired to operate if we want optimal performance

  • Easy to move, remove and add items

  • Keeps you focused on priorities and can help you say ‘no’ to unnecessary, distracting requests

  • A portable and visual ‘to-do’ list to take to team meetings to talk about what I’m working on

  • Ignites conversations with colleagues who come by my desk, opening two-way dialogue about my work

  • Sets an example - people ask me for copies of my Kanban template so they can do the same. Ah, the power of social contagion!

  • Plays to the Progress Principle by promoting a sense of accomplishment when I look at the “Done” column

Yes, I do use it at home too!

You can download your PDF of the Personal Kanban from the Resources page on this website.

Working with a personal Kanban is one of over 50 #changehacks in my recently released book - Hacking for Agile Change. The book defines agile as an organisational capability and features practical and proven approaches to hack your mindset, your behaviours and your practices, with consideration to the human response to change and disruption.

The Hacking for Agile Change workshops are run on-site, at your organisation.

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