Planning and prioritizing is a wicked problem that has plagued humankind since time immemorial. – Corey Ladas
There appears to be a logical and linear three-stage process of better prioritization as you become familiar with kanban. The process follows the three main characteristics of the cardwall and how they insidiously work their way into your psyche.
Stage One: The Visual
Simply viewing the tasks on the kanban cardwall makes them conspicuous. The tasks on the card wall have a shape or a volume. They consume space on your board and you can only fit so many on at a time. Your brain sees this and suddenly, perhaps for the first time, your workload has a coherent form. It may be overwhelming, but you can now see it.
A necessary drive for prioritization stems from this physical form. You want to only fit tasks in that finite space that are going to do the most for you. At this point, you’re most likely to do this by sight, as you complete one task you’ll grab the next one that “looks best”. Let’s call this immediate gratification prioritization. It’s better than letting fate guide you and an excellent start.
Stage Two: The Permanent
The cardwall is on the wall and it is permanent. You don’t put it in a box at night. You don’t hide it when the boss stops by. The cardwall is your professional superego. It is reminding you of what you are doing, why it benefits society, and what will happen to you if you don’t finish. If you have colleagues, they can see what you are doing. if your personal kanban is shared they may even have a stake in your task completion. In this case, you may want to start having some logical prioritization that might resemble Corey’s Priority Filter. Corey’s Priority Filter creates “buckets” with limited capacity that show tasks trickling down from your backlog into your ready-queue. Here, you are starting to plan for future prioritization. At any time, you can rearrange things, but the priority filter lets you set up a prioritization that shares the same permanence as the kanban itself. Each part of the ready-queue Let’s call this progressive filtration.
Stage Three: The Tactile
The cardwall is tactile. You have to reach up and grab something and move it around. As it moves, it has a flow. You begin to see how you collect, collaborate on, and complete different kinds of tasks. Even in the most chaotic of situations, there are rhythms to types of work. What is happening now? You are constantly doing work and therefore constantly physically interacting with the board. At this point, prioritization itself begins to get a flow. You recognize that as tasks enter your backlog, some will seem more important on some days that others. Some have higher value to the team than others.
Corey and Eric Willeke asynchronously put their heads together and came up with Perpetual Multivote. This process recognizes that good decision making has both temporal and social components. As context changes over time for people, what seems important also changes. Perpetual multivote places backlog items on a visual board. Voters get a certain number of tokens and can vote any time and as much they want for the upcoming backlog items until they run out of tokens. They can reallocate their tokens whenever they want as well. They see how their peers vote and can make their decisions based on that context. In the picture above each line is a backlog item and each dot is a vote from a team member.
Perpetual multivote clearly represents the tactile nature of the cardwall. It might be called contextual prioritization.
Do You See What’s Happening Here?
Right now some of the most popular games for portable platforms like the Nintendo DS are games like Brain Age that help you train your brain. They’re like the antidote for cage fighting. These games work not so much by teaching you math or algebra, but by getting your brain to react to certain stimuli that promote attentiveness, appropriate response and retention.
Your brain can learn to think “better” simply by being sensitized to the actions of better thinking.
Kanban does this as well by creating a physical space (the cardwall) in which these concepts (tasks) can live – where the human brain can grasp and manipulate them better. As people, we learn in different ways. Some of us are visual learners, others are auditory, some contextual, some literal…. Vive la différence, sure – but for those who have tried to manage la différence … history is filled with managerial pain and anguish.
Cardwalls tend to equalize varying learning styles by presenting information with a logical flow and cadence. Everyone from your scattered ADHDer to your hyperfocused Asperberger can grasp a kanban – because it does have elements of context for all learning styles.
Like Brain Age, kanban starts to train our brains to see work in a new way. Not as an unfocused pile of tasks and subtasks and subsubtasks, but as a set of tasks with very real impacts on our lives. As we begin to see the form and flow of these tasks, our abilities to prioritize can improve.
This is post four in my personal kanban series.
Kanban examples built in AgileZen, review coming soon.
Multivote image from Corey’s Multivote blog post. (why mess with perfection?)
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