Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Down the rabbit hole

I mentioned in my last post that I'm a list maker. Family will tell you as a child I was a "make lists of lists" person. I'm not quite as bad now. At least I thought I wasn't quite that bad, until I was introduced to the kanban system this past week. Or rather, my introduction to kanban was reinforced. We use a kanban system at work, to keep track of work in progress.

For those who don't know, kanban is basically a glorified To Do list. You make a list of everything you want to accomplish, maybe breaking larger tasks down into smaller, bite-sized chunks. For work, the bite-sized chunks are written out on index cards and stuck on a white board with magnets. This is the backlog, and can have as many items as needed. The backlog is ordered with the highest priority item on top. 

The board is separated by multiple columns in a "What To Do," "Doing," "Done" format. You can define whatever columns you decide you need. Bacon Patrol has Backlog, Hootenanny, Work in Progress, Waiting For Build, On Hold, QA, QA Fail, and PO Accept columns. When a dev finishes a task, they move their card into the Waiting For Build spot and take another card from the top of the backlog. QA picks it up after the build for testing. The object is to move the cards, column by column, to the PO Accept (= Done) column on the right of the board.

Last Friday I took a class on personal kanban systems. This led me to explore, which is a free online version of a work in progress board. Bacon Patrol uses to keep track of mid-year and year-end goal progress. I wanted to know if this would be useful for me to adopt for personal goals. Helpfully, though not as fully functional as the website, there's an app for

Keep in mind, I already manage a current calendar, with tasks I want to remember penciled in when I expect to have time to do them. I set up a personal Trello board, listed out all the things I currently want to get done, moved a few things over to the Doing Today column, and promptly updated my calender with what I wanted to get done that day. This seemed inefficient, but it allowed me to timebox the tasks, schedule them and set reminders for them. 

I realized the kanban backlog held items not on my calendar, because I hadn't yet determined when I would handle them. Also, I wasn't sure how to handle reoccurring tasks in kanban. I did find it nice being able to comment on cards if I've completed bits and pieces of the task (ie: get the phone number you need to call your health insurance company), and the comments sometimes evolve into new cards (ie Download PowerPoint Stacks from Cornerstone Training, and Study/Take Notes on PowerPoint stacks from Cornerstone Training ).

To address items not yet scheduled, I looked at To Do List apps. A To Do list would allow me to document all the items I want to accomplish, without having to know when they will be done. I found one that synchs with Google Tasks, meaning I can enter things on either the phone or computer, which I find useful. The To Do list app allows me to prioritize items, and also to date things with notification times so I get reminders on my phone when they are scheduled to be done.

Do you see where this is going? I now have my calender, my To Do list, and my Trello board. I start with the To Do list, creating backlog items which I put in the Trello backlog. Items then go on my calendar. This is where I determine how many items I have time to handle on any given day, interspersed among classes and meetings and my workout schedule. Actually, my workout schedule is included in my To Dos, along with things like dishes and laundry, etc. I then go back to Trello and pull items from the backlog into my Doing Today column. 

I move items around on my Trello board throughout the day, as I get bits and pieces of things done. One of the best practices for kanban is to limit the number of items you work on at any given time. I currently have 5 items in my Doing Today column, with notes on where I am with that item, what I've done, and maybe what else needs to be done. Remember I've already broken tasks down into bite-sized chunks, so there shouldn't be too many steps per item.

I've set up a work Trello board as well, to track the things I need to complete relating to training.  The To Do app holds all tasks, and items cross between work and personal Trello boards depending on when I plan to complete the tasks. Essentially, I'm now making lists of lists of lists.

I'm not yet certain if this is more effective and efficient than my previous approach, using only the calendar. I run the risk of spending more time playing with all the different programs than I do actually getting things done. I'm in my glory though, like a kid in a candy store (or myself in an office supply store), having fun with the process. It's nice to see what I've actually completed at the end of a day. For someone who tends to focus on the bad and immediately forgets the good, this is very nice positive reinforcement that I'm actually accomplishing things. 

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