Fuel and Motivation

Sometimes we plod.

We get ourselves into projects or situations where the only way out is through. We find ourselves on the treadmill. Maybe being productive, but feeling our passion waning or perhaps even gone.

I awoke each day over the last week feeling very much this way. I could not find motivation for action. I could still act, of course. I wasn’t in a coma or unable to move or think. I just didn’t feel the spark of motivation.

One morning, at about five am, I was staring at the ceiling thinking about this. “Mister Personal Kanban isn’t allowed to be unmotivated,” I thought. But I was.

Mulling over motivation, I came to the thought of a car. What motivates a car? Fuel. Gasoline or electricity, certainly. But it’s part of a system. A bucket of gasoline or a fully charged battery does no good without tires, steering, and place to go.

Fuel therefore is only useful in a system that allows motivation.

I ran all over the Seattle area the last few days brooding about this.

What is the fuel of my motivational system? How can I get more fuel? How can I fine-tune the system?

Here is what I’ve created:

I believe we are motivated by negative and positive pressures, projects, ideals and short term goals. These are our real fuel. How we combine them is the system.

My Negative Fuel: Money

Filthy Lucre

Filthy Lucre

Like most people, I find myself thinking about money. I spend way too much of my time concerned with it. Retirement, bills, unexpected expenses, the lot of it.

I am starting with it because our negative fuel tends to become preoccupation. Negative fuel is important because our fears can guide us away from harm. When it becomes preoccupation, however, it is a distraction at best and a derailleur at worst.



My Positive Fuel: Shared Epiphanies

This is Beth

This is Beth

So this person here is Beth Wibbles Howell and she’s a truly wonderful person. She works in Milwaukee and has been working at the same place for 14 years – nearly unheard of in IT. I haven’t worked with her for two years, but her dedication and interest in making her workplace better for her and her teams is inspiring. I get to meet a lot of people in my work. There is no better moment than when I’m working with a person or with a team and everyone involved has an epiphany at the same time. Something enduring is born at moments like that. With Beth and others I’ve watched people change how their teams worked for the better. When they change their teams, they change their lives…and mine as well.


Project: Modus Institute

My Project: MI

My Project: MI

My current major project is launching Modus Institute, an online school that focuses on cutting edge management techniques. The nature of personal, team, and organizational work is in a state of upheaval, yet we are still engaging in management techniques that are proven to fail. (See, I’m so into it that I’m talking about the project and not what a project is…)

I believe we all need an active project as part of our motivational fuel system. The project is a container for hopes, desires, and potential – which encapsulate a view of our future. In the project, we set a desired attainable future state. The project is not a wish, it is implementable. Without a project, it is unlikely we have direction.

Ideals: Understanding the Whys of Our World

Finding the Whys

Finding the Whys

Tonianne and I have traveled the world working with clients, putting on Kaizen Camps, and speaking at conferences. We’ve seen mundane, beautiful, terrifying, and joyous things. Sometimes all at the same time.

The picture to the left was taken in November 2014 in Bangalore, India, by Tonianne. It is of a woman hanging up her laundry. The pile to the left of her is literally a pile of smoldering garbage. The small bucket near her left leg is what the clothes were washed in.

Out of the picture is the tent in which she lived with her little daughter, who was a painfully beautiful little girl with deep bright eyes that conveyed a sharp little mind that had seen more than her few years should have allowed. She was nowhere near as clean as the laundry.

I could write a hundred pages about the few moments we were there. But suffice it to say, there are times where I am with people like Beth, where I can make a difference. And times like on the streets of Bangalore where I am utterly powerless.

There are things in this world that have no “why”, but I’m drawn to try to understand them nonetheless. Maybe as I do, I can find the nooks and crannies where I can make a difference and not simply be overwhelmed. Ideals drive us to places we don’t want to go and urge us to attain the unattainable. We need our Don Quixotes and our Sancho Panzas.

Short Term Goal: Finish Something!

Value Lies in Completion

Value Lies in Completion

Every day you don’t finish something, you didn’t finish something. That has a direct impact on your psyche. We need to set goals and finish them. I find each day (this shouldn’t be too shocking) that I need to select a few things from my Personal Kanban’s backlog that I must finish today. Then I get them done.

I try to have a few other rules for me personally.

  1. Make it sharable: Get the short term goal into someone else’s hands. For me it might be a blog post to the world or it could be some preliminary writing I show Tonianne.
  2. Make it valuable: Try to finish at least one thing per day that you conceive to be and end product. This doesn’t always happen, but I find that if I try to do this I will do it often. Creating value creates momentum.
  3. Admire your work: For many, our first temptation when looking at something we’ve done is to see what could be improved. Things can always be improved. But that thing you’ve just created didn’t exist before you did it. Take some time to be proud of your work and let it surprise you. There will be time for editing later. For now, admire your own work.


Motivational Fuel Board

My Current Fuel Board

So I made this visual control, to keep me focused on what’s important and what is driving me. This shows my personal motivational system and the elements that fuel it. The short term I’ll update daily, the project I’ll update every so often. And we’ll see how the others change.


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Methoden für Lean Change: Lean Coffee

Lean Change verwendet Lean Coffee als Experiment, um heraus zu finden, wer sich für eine Veränderung interessiert und diese ggf. unterstützt. Der Change Agent lädt zum Lean Coffee ein und unterstützt dieses als Koordinator. Meist verselbständigt sich das Format und Teilnehmer, die einmal dabei waren, initiieren eigene weitere Lean Coffees.

Ursprünglich ist Lean Coffee ist ein 2009 von den beiden Agile Coaches Jim Benson und Jeremy Lightsmith entworfenes Format für ein Treffen ohne vorab definierte Agenda, zu dem jeder einfach mit einem Aushang einladen kann und bei dem die Teilnehmer zu Beginn die Themen selbst bestimmen. Um möglichst viele Themen besprechen zu können, wird die Zeit pro Thema limitiert.

Lean Coffee ist ein strukturiertes Format für unstrukturierte Meetings:

  • Lean, weil es den Prinzipien des Lean Thinking (u.a. Verschwendung vermeiden, Lernen verstärken, Eigenverantwortung, das Ganze sehen [Pop 03]) verpflichtet ist, und
  • Coffee, weil eine lockere, informelle Atmosphäre wie in einem Coffee-Shop erreicht werden soll. Daher werden die Teilnehmer auch eingeladen, ihren Kaffee mitzubringen.

Bei einem Lean Coffee wird immer davon ausgegangen, dass die richtigen Leute anwesend sind, da nur diejenigen kommen, denen der angekündigte Gesprächsgegenstand wirklich wichtig ist.
Für Lean Coffee gibt es keine Zeitvorgaben oder -empfehlungen, üblich ist eine Dauer von 1 bis 1,5h.

Einladung per Aushang

Invitation to Lean CoffeeWer ein Lean Coffee veranstalten will, hängt dazu einfach Einladungen aus. Diese geben Ort und Zeit sowie grob den zu besprechenden Themenkomplex an (s. Abbildung). Durch die Einladung wird auch deutlich, dass es keine Agenda gibt, anhand der vorab definierte Themen besprochen werden. Da die Einladungen von möglichst vielen gelesen werden sollen, hängt man diese am besten an stark frequentierten Orten aus, z.B. am Schwarzen Brett, in der Kaffeeküche bei der Kaffeemaschine oder an Durchgangstüren in den Fluren. Im Gegensatz zu formellen Meetings erfolgen keine direkten persönlichen Einladungen per Email o.ä.

Abbildung 2: Ausgehängte Einladung zum Lean Coffee

Abbildung 2: Ausgehängte Einladung zum Lean Coffee

Abbildung 1 zeigt eine Einladung zu einem Lean Coffee, Abbildung 2 eine ausgehängte Einladung.

Ablauf eines Lean Coffees
Üblicherweise eröffnet der Einladende das Lean Coffee.

Als erstes ist unter den Teilnehmern ein Koordinator zu finden. Dieser koordiniert das Sammeln der Themen, führt das für alle einsehbare Themen-Board und sorgt dafür, dass die festgelegte Diskussionszeit eingehalten wird. Der Einladende fragt die Anwesenden, ob jemand die Koordination übernehmen möchte, andernfalls übernimmt er dies.

Zu Beginn des Lean Coffees sammeln die Teilnehmer die zu besprechenden Themen und priorisieren diese. Anschließend wird mit dem für alle Teilnehmer wichtigsten Thema begonnen und dieses eine festgelegte Zeit diskutiert. Nach Ablauf der Zeit entscheiden die Teilnehmer per einfachem Handzeichen, ob sie dieses Thema weiter diskutieren oder mit dem nächsten starten wollen.

Koordination der Themen mit einem Themenboard
Zunächst ist unter den Teilnehmern ein Koordinator zu finden. Dieser behält die Zeit pro Thema im Blick, koordiniert das Sammeln der Themen und führt das für alle einsehbare Themen-Board.Spalte

Das Themen-Board hat drei Spalten mit den Überschriften “zu diskutieren”, “in Diskussion” und “diskutiert” und kann auf einem Flipchart oder Whiteboard geführt werden. Die einzelnen Spalten bedeuten dabei:

  • zu diskutieren“: Hier werden alle Themen gesammelt, die besprochen werden sollen,
  • in Diskussion“: Hier wird das aktuell besprochene Thema angezeigt,
  • diskutiert“: Hier werden die Themen gesammelt, die bereits besprochen wurden.

Auf Haftnotizen werden die einzelnen Themen angezeigt und „wandern“ auf dem Themen-Board von der Spalte „zu diskutieren“ über die Spalte „in Diskussion“ in die Spalte „diskutiert“.

Jeder bringt seine Themen ein
Wer ein Thema besprechen möchte, schreibt dieses auf eine Haftnotiz und hängt diese an das Board in die Spalte “zu diskutieren”. Es muss nicht jeder Teilnehmer ein Thema vorschlagen. Das Themensammeln ist abgeschlossen, wenn kein Teilnehmer mehr ein Thema anbietet. Üblicherweise dauert das Sammeln nur einige Minuten. Wenn sich während der Diskussionen neue Themen ergeben, werden diese ebenfalls am Themen-Board gesammelt. Diese können besprochen werden, wenn nach Abschluss aller Diskussionen noch Zeit verbleibt.

Im Anschluss an das Sammeln bittet der Moderator jeden Themen-Anbieter sein Thema mit 1-2 Sätzen kurz vorzustellen.
Ein Beispiel: Ein Mitarbeiter möchte agiles Projektmanagement ausprobieren und sucht Unterstützer dafür. Dazu lädt er zu einem Lean Coffee ein. Von den Teilnehmern kamen u.a. als Unterthemen dazu „Was wird dann anders sein?“, „Wie bekommen wir Management-Unterstützung?“, „Welche agile Methode sollen wir anwenden?“ u.ä.

Priorisieren der Themen
Da die Zeit des Lean Coffees begrenzt ist, können nur die wichtigsten eingebrachten Themen besprochen werden. Daher müssen die Teilnehmer die vorgeschlagenen Themen priorisieren, um diese nach absteigender Wichtigkeit zu besprechen. Je nach Dauer der Diskussionen zu den Themen kann es passieren, dass Themen mit geringer Priorität, also wenig Interesse, aus Zeitgründen nicht mehr diskutiert werden können.

Das Priorisieren kann z.B. durch das sog. „Dot-Voting“ erfolgen: Dabei erhält jeder Teilnehmer drei kleine runde Aufkleber, die er auf die Themen, die ihn interessieren, kleben kann. Er verteilt die Punkte entsprechend der Wichtigkeit der Themen für ihn: Wenn ihn z.B. drei Themen gleich stark interessieren, dann erhalten alle drei Themen je einen Punkt; wenn ihn ein Thema besonders stark interessiert, dann vergibt er alle drei Punkte für dieses. Alternativ zu den Aufklebern können auch drei Striche mit Stiften gemacht werden. Die Themen werden anschließend nach absteigender Punktanzahl sortiert. Es wird mit dem Thema begonnen, das die meisten Punkte und damit das höchste Interesse hat.
Damit möglichst viele Themen bearbeitet werden können und die Zeitverteilung gerecht ist, bestimmt die Gruppe ein festen Zeitvorgabe pro Thema. Nach dieser, z.B. 5 oder 10 Minuten, wird das nächste Thema gestartet. Wer mit seinem Thema schneller fertig wird, kann dieses vorzeitig beenden und so Themen mit niedriger Priorität Zeit schenken.

Diskussion und Verlängerung der Diskussionszeit
Wenn die Diskussion beginnt, hängt der Koordinator die Haftnotiz mit diesem Thema aus der Spalte “zu diskutieren” in die Spalte “in Diskussion”. Zu Beginn der Diskussion stellt der Teilnehmer, der dieses Thema einbrachte, dieses in wenigen Sätzen noch einmal kurz vor. Er ist auch für den Umgang mit den Ergebnissen verantwortlich.

Nach Ablauf der festgelegten Diskussionszeit lässt der Moderator die Gruppe abstimmen, ob sie dieses Thema weiter diskutieren möchte oder das nächste Thema an die Reihe kommen soll. Dazu ruft der Moderator jeden Teilnehmer dazu auf, per einfachem Handzeichen seine Meinung dazu kund zu tun:

  • Daumen hoch“: Ich will dieses Thema weiter diskutieren
  • Daumen nach unten“: Für mich ist das Thema ausdiskutiert, ich will ein neues Thema diskutieren.

Die Gruppe sollte sich vorher einigen, wie sie mit dem Abstimmungsergebnis umgeht:

  • entweder Mehrheitsentscheid: Die einfache Mehrheit der Handzeichen entscheidet.
  • oder Veto-Entscheid: Sobald auch nur ein „Daumen nach unten“ gezeigt wird, wird dies als Veto interpretiert und das nächste Thema gestartet. (Der Koordinator darauf, dass die anderen Teilnehmer sich nicht beim Veto-Geber wegen dessen Entscheidung beschweren.)

Wird das Thema weiter diskutiert, sollte eine kürzere Zeitspanne (z.B. nur 3 Minuten) dafür zur Verfügung stehen. Nach Ablauf der Verlängerung wird wieder abgestimmt. Besteht dann immer noch Diskussionsbedarf, ist dieses Thema den Teilnehmern offenbar so wichtig, dass sich ein extra Meeting lohnt, in dem es komplett ausdiskutiert wird. Der Teilnehmer, der dieses Thema einbrachte, wird ein extra Meeting dazu ansetzen.
Ist die Diskussion zu diesem Thema beendet, wird seine Haftnotiz in die Spalte „diskutiert“ gehängt und das nächste Thema startet, indem seine Haftnotiz in die Spalte „in Diskussion“ gehängt wird.
Sollten nach Ablauf der Zeit noch hoch priorisierte Themen übrig sein, kann dies eine gute Motivation für weitere Lean Coffees sein. Allerdings ist dann darauf zu achten, dass nicht einfach mit der Themen-Liste weiter gemacht wird, sondern das Format komplett wieder durchlaufen wird, also mit Themensammeln begonnen wird.

Mit dem Lean Coffee-Format kann auch experimentiert werden, um die für sich passende Variante zu finden. So kann bei Lean Coffees, die nur dem Austausch von Informationen dienen sollen („Informationsaustausch-Lean Coffee“), die Priorisierung weggelassen werden und die Diskussionszeit auf z.B. 3 oder 5 Minuten verkürzt werden.

Auch kann – um erst mal einen Überblick über die Themenlandschaft zu bekommen – zunächst ein kurzes Informationsaustausch-Lean Coffee durchgeführt werden und anschließend z.B. per Dot-Voting entschieden werden, in welches Thema man tiefer einsteigen möchte.

Abgrenzung zu Open Space
Lean Coffee unterscheidet sich von Open Space dadurch, dass

  • es nur eine Diskussion mit allen Teilnehmern gibt,
  • die Diskussion zu einem Thema von vornherein zeitlich begrenzt ist und
  • am Ende des Treffens nicht notwendigerweise ein Aktionsplan steht. Daher eignet sich Lean Coffee besser zum Erfahrungsaustausch.

Lean Coffee ist ein strukturiertes agenda-loses Meeting-Format, bei dem die Teilnehmer die Tagesordnung durch die Themen, die sie einbringen, selbst bestimmen. Um möglichst viele Themen zu besprechen, wird die Länge der Diskussion pro Thema durch Zeitbegrenzung limitiert.

Lean Coffee unterscheidet sich von anderen Meetings dadurch, dass

  • jeder formlos einladen kann,
  • es ein hierarchie-freies Meeting ist,
  • keine inhaltliche Vorbereitung notwendig ist,
  • es durch Zeitbegrenzung und Abstimmungen keine ausufernden Diskussionen gibt,
  • die Teilnehmer sich einbringen können, indem sie die ihnen wichtigen Themen adressieren,
  • durch Priorisierung die Themen zuerst besprochen werden, die den meisten Teilnehmern am wichtigsten sind.

Lean Coffee lebt davon, dass jede Gruppe damit experimentiert und ausprobiert, was für sie am besten passt. Dies bezieht alle Komponenten von Lean Coffee ein: die Diskussionszeit, das Priorisierungsverfahren etc. Insofern ist dieser Artikel ein Vorschlag für eigene Experimente.

[Pop 03]: Poppendieck, Mary und Poppendieck, Tom: Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit for Software Development Managers. Addison Wesley. 2003

(Dieser Beitrag basiert auf dem Ausgangsmaterial für einen Artikel für das Projekt Magazin)

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Personal Kanban & Some Goodies About Your Brain

Simple Personal Kanban

Sharing some thoughts around my weekly homework from my neuroscience studies

Knowledge work is all about attention. Unfortunately that is a scarce resource, easily high jacked by any distraction. Multitasking, i.e. using focused attention on two different targets basically does not exist. What you are able to do is to do a lot of things on autopilot (i.e. walking, breathing, looking) while your executive network (incl. working memory) is doing something else (i.e. discussing). When you think you are multitasking you are actually attention switching, with a high cost in performance. For this you will allocate attention toward or away from interference, maintain relevant memory in mind, and reactivate representations if the maintenance of what you are doing is disrupted (Clapp et al, 2010). So when you are working with a need for cognitive logical thinking, minimizing any distractions is a great preventive method.

Kanban is a method for managing knowledge work with an emphasis on just-in-time delivery while not overloading the team members. The core mechanisms in Kanban is to start where you are at, work in an evolutionary and incremental way to develop the system, limit the work in progress, and finish one thing before starting another. (Wikipedia, Kanban, 29.10.2014).

While Kanban is used on a team/organizational level and longer time spans, the same logic applies on personal level and short time spans, too. From a neuroscience perspective, Kanban is too interesting to fit in a 300 words homework.

A couple of Kanban-insights from the neuroscience perspective

  • Limiting the number of similar things you work on will lessen the cost of attention switching and thus positively impact performance on the task at hand. (a no brainer) (Clapp et al, 2010).
  • Focused attention means you are using your long-term learning mechanisms (Medial temporal areas) to encode the experience. This makes the knowledge accessible by conscious thought later on (vs. using striatal habit learning, creating more unconscious and automatic learning). (Forde et al, 2006)
  • A “healthy” backlog is genius from a neuroscience perspective. Attending to an issue (backlog item) then leaving it with the knowledge of that you will return to it, seems to activate your unconscious processing. So while you are consciously focused on your work in progress (WIP), your unconscious works on items, which you know you will attend to later. (Backlog) (Ritter & Dijksterhuis, 2014)

Kanban definitely requires more in-depth analyzing from the neuroscience perspective. My hunch is that Kanban fits many of our biological & neuronal requirements, so I will definitely be dissecting Kanban some more in my studies.

Where’s the scalpel?



  1. Clapp, W.C, Rubens, M.T., Gazzaley A. ,(2010),  Mechanisms of Working Memory Disruption by External Interference, Cerebral Cortex, April, 20:859-872
  2. Foerde, K. , Knowlton, B. J., Poldrack, R.A.(2006), Modulation of competing memory systems by distraction. PNAS, August 1, 2006, vol. 103, 31, p 11778-11783.
  3. Ritter, S.M., DIjksterhuis, A., (2014), Creativity – the unconscious foundations of the incubation period, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, April, Vol 8:215, p.1-10.

Picture: Photo credit: o.tacke / Foter / CC BY

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Take the RealWIP Test

If you are already using Personal Kanban or another kanban system, you are likely at least thinking about limiting your work-in-progress (WIP). You are likely finding that challenging.

We know that the more work we take on, the more our brains’ resources are taxed. That tax limits our ability to focus, to process, and to complete quality work. We want to limit our work-in-progress so that we can finish quickly and with quality.

One thing to remember is that if it were easy to limit WIP, we’d all be doing it already. Limiting WIP is challenging in a world filled with demands and distractions. Often we’ll be watching our Personal Kanban and, as long as there’s three things in DOING, we’ll feel pretty good about ourselves.

Then, one day, we’ll catch ourselves working on something that isn’t in DOING and we’ll realize … oh no, I have hidden WIP.

Write Down Your WIP

Write Down Your WIP and Be Honest

Hidden WIP is that work you do all the time that you don’t tell your board about.

So it’s helpful once a week to sit down and write down your WIP.  Simply write down everything you are really doing right now. Write down everything you are currently working on or is making you think. (You may be starting tasks before you pull them). See what that real load is. If you work with a team or manage them, sit down and do this with the team.

You’ll be surprised at how much work you are actually taking on.

I can’t stress how important this is even for experienced kanban users. I visit teams and counsel individuals regularly who are overloaded with work and have very nice WIP-limited Personal Kanban boards. Their hidden WIP is killing them.

So, sit down, write down your real WIP and do something about it.

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READY COLUMN: Breaking Out Projects

KanbanLots of tickets in our READY column make a jumbled mess. We’re not sure how close we are to completion or what ticket to pull next, Breaking your work into projects in the READY column lets you see both. You can sequence work (pull the rightmost ticket), see how many tickets are left in the project, and see what projects are ripe for rapid completion.

You can also create better strategies. For example: Sunday can be the day to nuke the “CLEAN GARAGE” project.  But maybe Saturday is the day you look over the tickets and figure out what you need to get from the hardware store for both the CLEAN GARAGE and the RENO BASEMENT projects. One trip to the hardware store gets you a power washer, broom, and shelving for the garage and a drill and sledgehammer for the basement.

Without having the tickets in orderly swimlanes, we instead would have a disordered jumble which is much harder to manage.

This is the final post in the Personal Kanban Tips series.  You can read all the previous posts by clicking on the links below.
DONE COLUMN: How Does Your Work Make You Feel?
DONE COLUMN: Daily / Weekly Review
PROMISES COLUMN: Make Good On Your Promises
THE NEW STUFF COLUMN: What’s Just Come In?
READY COLUMN: Ticket Aging

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READY COLUMN: Ticket Aging

KanbanIn our last post, we discussed a NEW STUFF column. In this post, we are being even more explicit, noting in our Personal Kanban how old tickets on the board are.

We have seen, even on our own boards, that tickets can linger on the board for six months, eight months, even a year! That’s simply too much time.

What we also see is that if tickets aren’t done within the month they’re put on the Personal Kanban, they probably won’t get done. You’re better off making a second board called “Things I might want to do some day” (What in GTD would be a “someday” task) and getting off the Personal Kanban.

An easy way to see this is to make three or four swimlanes in your READY column, each labeled by month. Here you see the months are JUNE, JULY, and AUGUST. This shows us, at any point in time, what tasks are aging or maybe old enough to simply discard.

It also lets us see, over time, the types of tickets we tend to put on the board but never get around to. That’s important because people are skilled procrastinators. If one of those old tickets is “schedule physical” or “talk to Uncle Louie” we know the ticket didn’t age out – we’re not prioritizing effectively.

Watching tickets age tells us a lot about what we choose to do, what we choose to put off, and what we wish we could do but is never going to happen.

Seeing that explicitly can teach each of us what plans we can make that will likely succeed and which will likely falter or never make it out of the gate.

This is the fifth post in the Personal Kanban Tips series.  You can read the fourth post – THE NEW STUFF COLUMN: What’s Just Come In? here.

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THE NEW STUFF COLUMN: What’s Just Come in?


Is your READY column filling up with tasks? Is it hard to figure out what’s new, what’s important, and what’s aging?

One option to deal with this is a NEW STUFF column. This column holds exactly what it says: New work that has come in over the last few days. As new work comes in, simply place those tickets in the NEW STUFF column.

One recommendation would be that at the end of the day or perhaps every Friday you move incomplete tasks into READY – keeping the NEW STUFF as fresh as possible. Once a month, you would look at your READY column and see what tickets have become stale.

What we’ve noticed is that many tasks that wind up on our Personal Kanban are never actually completed, but they stay in READY for months on end. It becomes harder and harder to make sense of the work in the READY column because some of it is fresh and some is nearly moldy.

My favorite example of this was I visited a team using PK and they showed me their board. They pointed at the blue, yellow, and pink tickets and told me what each meant.

I asked, “What does the white tickets mean?”

They told me there were no white tickets.

I pointed at one.

They laughed. It was a yellow ticket that was on the board long enough to be sun bleached!

This is important, the goal of the NEW STUFF column isn’t to merely focus on new tasks, it is to help us see what tasks are fresh and when to clean things off the board.

This is the fourth post in the Personal Kanban Tips series.  You can read the previous post – PROMISES COLUMN: Make Good on Your Promises here.

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PROMISES COLUMN: Make Good on Your Promises


When we get overloaded, it is very easy to promise people work and then under-deliver. Promises are tricky, they bring with them social costs as well as costs for time and effort.

When I promise something to you personally, I am putting myself on the line. I am telling you, “because you are important to me, I will do this thing.”  If I don’t deliver, it is telling you, “I guess you really weren’t that important to me.”

That was never my intent, but we all know when we’ve been waiting on someone and they don’t deliver, we lose a little faith in them. Worse yet, if it’s early in the relationship we identify them as a “non-deliverer.”

Mea Culpa: I, personally, end up overloaded or in danger of being overloaded frequently. Many people place demands or expectations on me and I need to meet them. In many cases, I was making perfectly rational decisions to delay some work and do other work. While that was rational on my end, it was likely infuriating for others.

Therefore, I started explicitly tracking promises to other people. This immediately had to impacts on me.

1. My short term backlog and WIP shot through the roof. Seeing the promises explicitly laid out was stressful and illuminating.

2. I stopped promising so much.

3. I began to seriously consider each promise as I made it.

  • Was the promise necessary?

  • Could the goals of the promise be served with a less costly promise?

  • Could the goals of the promise be served with more collaboration?

  • Were there options to meeting the goals of the promise?

What I learned was that we tend to rashly promise the first idea that comes into our heads. We’re having a conversation. Something sounds like a good idea, like it’s needed, and like I could provide it. So … I promise it.

That promise becomes a tacit social contract … I’ve promised something. You are counting on it, I need to deliver it. So, basically, I just contracted to do work for you without giving it very much thought.

That’s a recipe for disappointment.

So manage your promises by seeing them. A lot of obligations in the PROMISES column mean a lot of work that is very difficult to re-prioritize. That means you have work in your queue that won’t respond well to change. If you have an emergency arise, those promises don’t go away.

This is the third post in the Personal Kanban Tips series. You can read the second post – DONE COLUMN: Daily / Weekly Review here.

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DONE COLUMN: Daily / Weekly Review

Done column review

“When do I get tickets out of my DONE column?”

People often allow their DONE column to get so full of work that it becomes useless – a huge pile of completed work. There are so many tickets in there, you no longer know what happened.

If we’d like to encourage ourselves to empty the board weekly and get some interesting information at the same time, we can create a DONE column that tracks what we do daily. On Fridays or Monday morning, we review and empty our DONE. Now we have set up a system … last week is over and we’d need to clear space for the new week.

We can take a look at the week, clearly see what we did, see what days were satisfying and what were not, and get an idea of what days were interrupted.  We can do a “retrospective” on the work and evaluate where we’d like to improve what we’re doing. We can also plan for the upcoming week.

We can also see how much work we tend to do.  This is very powerful.  Looking over the board above, we see that we reliably complete about three or four tickets a day. This helps us set our expectations for what we can promise others. We know that a promise, any promise, that we make takes up about a third of our capacity for that day.

Understanding that promises have a cost greatly helps us limit our Work-in-Process (WIP). We can see our daily output and limit what we are working on accordingly. It’s hard to say no to work. We tend to like what we do and the people we work with. Understanding how much we actually complete helps us say “No” to too much work.

“I’d love to help you, but I’m working on these other tasks right now. Can I help later after I finish a few of them?”

Your throughput (the number of tickets you do) may be 6, 8, 12, or more tickets a day – so don’t get hung up on the number in this example. The goal here is to find out what your number is, so you can choose work more effectively and not overload or over-promise.

When you over-promise, you under-deliver.

So, take a look at what you’re doing each day, review at the end of the week, and set realistic expectations for yourself and others.

This is the second post in the Personal Kanban Tips Series. You can read the previous post – DONE COLUMN: How Does Your Work Make You Feel here.

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DONE COLUMN: How Does Your Work Make You Feel?

Done Column

When we work, we spend our most precious resources: our time, our energy, and our emotion. Each task we complete takes a little bit of us and we’d like to think that time was not only productive, but impactful.

But we are so busy, so distracted, so overwhelmed that we finish one task and move right on to the next. The treadmill. The rat race.

All too often, we bring this home with us. Home tasks become just more in the endless stream of numbing work.

With your Personal Kanban, you can work your way out of this by asking a few simple questions:

  • What work makes me happy?

  • What work does not?

By simply augmenting your DONE column with three or more simple sections that note what tasks you enjoyed, which were merely okay, and which were upsetting. You can add more gradations (we’ve seen ones with mushroom cloud columns).

Make explicit what you enjoy and what you do not. Then you can create strategies to even your work out. Enhance work that energizes you – that’s the work that gives you the energy (and the hope!) to get through the harder stuff.

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