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Applying Kanban both inside and outside work
on 2 September 2013
I work in a software development environment where we use both Scrum and Kanban at different times. Outside work, I've made do with an electronic diary/to-do list, managed using an application that I developed that does various useful things, including keeping the diary/to-do data on my PC synchronised with mobile devices, so that myself and my wife have access to our shared diary from our smart-phones etc. Having used Kanban at work, and having already read one book about Kanban (by Henrik Kniberg), I thought I'd read "Personal Kanban: Mapping Work, Navigating Life" to see if it offered any good ideas about how to organise my outside-work stuff even better than it already was.
"Personal Kanban" is an easy read, stretched over 194 pages (including index etc). I say stretched, as there are very wide margins on every page, and the text feels padded. A number of books that I have read about Lean/Agile techniques have been to-the-point, with no padding, and hence very short. I quite like that, and certainly found myself for the first third of this book wondering where the really useful content would be. If you are new to Kanban and Lean techniques in general, you may find the first bit more useful than I did as it is building up understanding of why techniques are useful as opposed to how to use them.
The latter part of this book felt much more useful, bringing together the Kanban idea of Work-in-Progress limits, the Time Management Matrix (which has been stuck to my whiteboard as a reminder for a few years already), metrics (possibly more useful in a work environment), Maslow's hierarchy of needs (anybody who has studied even introductory management will have seen that before), Subjective Well-Being, the Agile "retrospective" etc. The book does not prescribe one system for organising yourself based on all of those ideas, but shows some cases, and gives the reader things to experiment with. For me, the key thing I have taken away from this book is the difference between push and pull. That has been the big problem with the diary management software that I wrote a couple of years ago - it resulted in a lot of work being pushed into my queue for today, rather than me pulling things into today. I'll definitely be making a change to that functionality based on ideas from this book, limiting how many work items are automatically pushed into today. I think that will make managing the diary that myself and my wife use much more satisfying. I've also put together a project board in Excel, based on material from this book, to help visualise the work-in-progress and future work for my team at work.
So, possibly not the first Kanban book that I would recommend people to read, but definitely one that adds useful ideas to how people might use Kanban. So, even if you have read Kniberg's book, you might want to still read this one. Even with the feeling of padding, I still read it in one day, which has been a day well spent, both for personal and work use.