This is post 10 in Jim Benson’s Personal Kanban series.
Imagine you have a number of tasks that need completing, and you need to visualize the state of each task. Let’s say that each of these tasks is going to involve several days of information exchange with others. Now let’s suppose that each of these tasks needs to be completed by a certain date, and if you did them in serially with a WIP limit you would spend most of your time waiting for responses. You simply don't have time to fully "complete" each goal and tracking individual subtasks like "bug Bob to send paperwork AGAIN" is a waste of your time.
In a traditional kanban, you’d have a problem. Tasks started but not completed would be “blocked,” and you’d need to solve that blockage before you could move the card. Until you moved that task, it was considered WIP.
But here we have tasks whose very nature require us to wait for others to acheive completion. These tasks are messy.
The task-based personal kanban approach changes the tasks into swim lanes, and allows for a large number of simultaneous tasks. Your actions should still fall into a WIP limit, but the tasks themselves are unbounded.
I’ll retell the story from the original post:
In the beginning of June, I was suddenly faced with a large number of items that had to be done in a very short period of time. All of them involved interactions with others. So I built I task-based kanban where each swim lane was a specific task and the adjudication of the tasks was “Assembling,” “Assembled,” “Processing,” “Completed,” and “Notes.” I knew that my WIP was toast; there was simply no way I could limit WIP when the tasks were so dependent on others. I need to be able to launch things quickly and then let them resolve naturally.
Context required me to rethink the nature of WIP. WIP needed to be my personal action state, not the completion of the whole task.
Each project had objects that needed to be assembled. I allowed myself to have a WIP of three for assembling. So at any given point in time, I’d have three tasks with stars next to them. I would then gather all the background materials I needed for those things. When I had all the background information, they would be “assembled”. As items were assembled, I would start the process to complete the task (calling people, emailing them, etc.) – that put a check in the “processing” column. I would take notes and place text reminders in the “notes” column until the matter was settled. Then it would get a “Completed” and I could ceremoniously draw a big line through the whole task.
This helped me visualize the full project on a task basis without feeling guilty that I had more than a certain number of tasks active at any given point. The task based approach helped me track and complete about 35 simultaneous responsibilities during a very stressful time.
Next post: Cadence and the Personal Kanban...