The two rules of Personal Kanban: Limit WIP and visualize your work.
The truth about personal work: it’s messy.
So people with messy work have been asking me for:
- ways to create multiple Personal Kanban(s) with unique workflows,
- ways to manage the WIP of multiple projects in one kanban,
- ways to manage projects with different collaborators, and
- better ways to integrate a calendar.
To be sure, these are not easy requests to satisfy.
For all of my projects, I have been using Agile Zen as my primary Personal Kanban tool. I have found it to be the best designed, easiest to use, and most powerful online tool available. It likewise gives me the statistics I need to help me understand the “way” that I work, which ultimately helps me to make better informed decisions.
Unfortunately however, it doesn’t lend itself to the aforementioned demands, because those demands break some pretty fundamental laws of Lean. Such demands ask us to:
- abandon a central workflow (by integrating multiple workflows),
- acknowledge a time-box constraint (by introducing a calendar), and
- decouple WIP from a team and relegate it to the individual.
So in an attempt to manage multiple projects, I’ve begun to use The Big Picture. It isn’t perfect, but with its unique interface this free tool gets us a little closer to handling “the messy” than any other online tool I’ve come across.
Pictured to the right is the main page from my Big Picture. We see that I have four simultaneous projects that are contributing to my WIP: Instant Karma, Modus, Music, and Personal.
Each of these projects has its own workflow, set of collaborators, and type of demands.
In this first example, we see that music can go from:
Tasks might also have subtasks or elements to be satisfied. For example, the song “Presence of Mind” is in review and is awaiting feedback from John, Tonianne, and Chris.
For the Instant Karma workflow, we see something very different – a totally different workflow and totally different types of tasks.
This system is inherently flexible.
Multiple WIP and Calendar Integration
This system manages WIP by actually moving current WIP into the calendar.
In the image to the right, I’m dragging a task from one of the task lists to the calendar in the upper right corner. This brings up the calendar screen where you can begin to manage your day – your messy day filled with multiple tasks from multiple projects with different workflows and different teams.
Color coordinated by the various projects, the day now is filled with tasks. This is your WIP. You can move it from day to day until it is complete. When it is complete, you simply check the tick box.
At the beginning of the next work day, you can revisit each of the projects, pull the appropriate tasks from one stage to the next, and then select the WIP for that day.
The Big Picture allows you to share individual projects with other users. They can add tasks, complete them, and change the workflow.
This means that people see only the tasks you want them to see, and can work tightly with their teams.
What This is Missing (Blessing and Curse)
This is missing performance metrics, detailed backlog tracking, user management, and firm definitions of what is a task, what is a project, and what is a point in your workflow. The Big Picture offers almost no firm definitions, it simply allows you to create an arbitrary container and place things inside it.
What this means is that it won’t give you some of the high-end features you want – but it also means that this simple system can help visualize some of the most complicated workflows. Additionally, it means you need nearly zero time to set up your management system, and that you can be part of a plethora of projects and still manage them coherently with the other people participating.
What This Has
In addition to its flexibility, this system also has a completely unique interface. It’s both colorful and functional, making the user experience enjoyable. I believe this is an excellent launching pad for experimentation and innovation.
Will it replace Agile Zen for me personally? No. I need the metrics, the serious database, and the superlative UI design that Agile Zen gives me.
Can I see myself using The Big Picture for quick projects or projects with weird workflows, like recursive or multi-variant workflows? Absolutely. The utter free-form of The Big Picture makes it too attractive an alternative when the bizarre raises its head.
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