In record time, the Apple Store has accepted our iKan Personal Kanban app. This means that Modus Cooperandi’s first iPhone app is up and ready for sale. That link there tells you about the app itself, but this post is going to discuss how it came to be and why it is significant to me.
You see, the way things get built is changing rapidly. It’s exciting – but it’s also not surprising when it fails. But when it works, it is a beautiful thing.
Here’s what happened.
Over the last eight months, people kept asking me “Where is the Personal Kanban iPhone app?” I usually answered something like, “We just came out with Personal Kanban a few months ago, give me a break!” I was expecting other developers to do the iPhone app, but after a time it became clear no one was going to do it.
We negotiated a quick equity-for-effort model, designed to evolve with the product. As we move forward, equity stakes in the product will change as groups of us (or others) work on the product. No pain, no bickering.
The next day we had our first pre-alpha of the software. Everyone pitched in with the time they had and the expertise they could bring. Jeremy and Gary doing the coding. Corey and I finalizing the feature set and guiding the release plan. And finally Jeremy and myself getting all the rigmarole with getting Apple certification for the developers, Modus Cooperandi and the app itself.
We set up a dropbox folder where Jeremy and Gary fed versions of iKan to Corey, the beta testers (Thanks Ann and Patty!), and myself. We used a development kanban on Zen to track features, progress and tasks. All in all it was about eight weeks to completion.
Why is this beautiful? It was refreshing to have an idea, come up with the first minimal release for that idea, and just build it. No angels, VCs, loans or legalities. Just four people who wanted to get this thing out and working.
Between this, the Personal Kanban book and the work Modus has been doing with the United Nations, I’m feeling pretty good about the state of collaboration in my world right now.
At the end of March, I spoke at Social Media Breakfast, Seattle (See their recap) at the Waggener Edstrom offices in Bellevue. They were live streaming the talk, but had some technical problems – so the video is in two parts. If you want to see what the audience saw on the screen, there’s also the Prezi I spoke from here.
This talk is covering the challenges that organizations have with collaboration, both internal and external. Social Media and Lean need to be applied together to provide both a set of principles and a collaborative foundation. I also talk about being a punk rocker. So, if you want to know how punk rock, twitter and the CIA all mean the same thing … take a look!
Over the last few months, I've had the good fortune to be a featured guest on three different podcasts discussing Personal Kanban. In the Yi-Tan calls, we discussed Personal Kanban and Personal Kanban for teams. In the Social Media Breakfast Seattle Podcast, we explored the relationships between Lean thinking and social media. Of course, Personal Kanban comes up there as well.
I finally finished the first Personal Kanban video. (There are way too many videos that never made it past the cutting room floor). This first one is a quick tutorial about prioritization.
Prioritization is often even more difficult and daunting as the tasks that confront you. A priority filter in your Personal Kanban helps you determine what tasks are ready in your queue, and the order of importance they should assume.
Lately I've received several requests for my most current Enterprise 2.0 toolkit. I've hesitated writing it down because it really does seem to change from month to month. But now I'm thinking that having a placeholder for future posts is a good idea. So I'll try to revisit this every quarter or so, to see what tools endure and which are just flashes in the pan. The applications listed here are my core, I use them several times a day.
Gmail - I know some people fear Google and their penchant for searching our information. But there is only one email tool ever created that comes even remotely close to the utility of Gmail - and that is Evolution. But Evolution is Linux only and not on-line. Always having your email available via your phone or other device and having it totally searchable is reason enough for me to consider Gmail unparalleled.
Google Docs - Google Docs is pure magic. More than any other tool, it has hands down, increased my productivity, my ability to collaborate, and my overall satisfaction with life in general. Does it have some major limitations? Absolutely. Does it format documents as if it is intoxicated? Sure does. But does it allow me and 16 other people globally collaborate on and edit a document in real-time seamlessly? Yes. Does it care if people are in Kenya on a netbook or that they don't have the most recent version of the latest software installed? No.
Zen - Our Personal Kanban has been given life by Zen. Zen is an online Kanban tool that gives us the ability to visualize our backlog, our workflow, and our work styles - greatly increasing our productivity, effectiveness, and (again) satisfaction. With a functional yet elegant interface, Zen lets my entire team know who is doing what, when they are doing it, and what problems they are having. We can help each other get past sticky points, we prioritize better, and we now understand our business better.
CoTweet - Robert Frost sort of once penned: I doubt that I shall ever meet, an app as lovely as CoTweet. Why? Because there is no wasted effort in CoTweet. It allows me and my colleagues to manage Twitter accounts together. It allows us to build permanent searches. It allows us to annotate who certain people are, why they are important, and how we can best engage them. In short, CoTweet squeezes the noise (the cacophony) of Twitter until just the signal remains.
Facebook - There is no escaping the fact that Facebook has become a major information conduit. In a hyper connected world, one has little choice but to participate in Facebook - it's the 800 pound social media site. But what I've come to appreciate most about Facebook is that it has humanized the world of business. Perhaps unexpectedly, virtually gathering our business contacts, friends and family in one place shows - rather than tells - business contacts that there are real human beings behind that corporate logo. Perhaps now we can get rid of that awful notion that "Business is Business," that our lives should be bifurcated between work and play. For as messy as Facebook's interface can become with live feeds of Mafia War updates and Farmville announcements, it has given us all insight into what really makes each of us tick.
Flickr - I write lots of blog posts, educational materials, white papers. Like A LOT of them. And they all require pictures. With an advanced search function that lets me select Creative Commons licensed images, Flickr is a godsend to me. I credit the original author and include a links back to them. I also share many images with the Flickr community. Not nearly the quality as what I use in documents - but Flickr is unique in its focus and its reach. Every organization should be using Flickr for its images.
Dropbox- Google Docs is excellent for first drafts or collaborative projects, but Tonianne and I still need to share a wide variety of other digital files. We use Dropbox to share files like PDFs, Adobe Illustrator, or print-ready Doc files that are formatted beyond Google's capabilities. With dropbox, we simply create shared folders that allow my PC and Tonianne's Mac to enjoy seamless, web accessible file sharing.
Zoho CRM - To be honest, I've fallen off the Zoho CRM wagon but I still maintain it is the best CRM I've found to date. It is not overweighted, it is customizable, and quite easy to use. I know that as Personal Kanban grows, I'll be returning to Zoho to manage our customers.
Things I Am Missing or Seldom Use
Feedreader - I have been using Twitter as my defacto aggregator, but it is proving to be less than optimal. There's a huge difference between tracking blogs and letting your network recommend posts to you. Over the next quarter I plan to find a more robust and appropriate feedreader, and get back into it.
Tagging Engine - While I have tried many, I still use Delicious more than any other social bookmarking site. I've yet to find one with its simplicity and utility.
Now imagine him performing the duet on his own. First he’ll play his part, then he’ll play hers. Sure it’ll take twice as long … but he’ll get there.
I've never been more productive than I've been over the past year. This was not due to a tool. It was not due to Personal Kanban. It was not due to energy drinks or hot yoga.
It was due to the powerful combination of collaboration and clarity. Everything that was successful about 2009 I attribute to the potency of these two forces.
Anything that fell short, can be easily traced to a lack of it.
Tonianne first came on board with Modus to help me write my book. During the first six months of the year, we pounded out about 80% of a fairly decent manuscript. We felt really good about this, but we were just getting our sea legs.
It wasn’t until June when we raised the sails and the effortless race began.
In the latter half of the year, Tonianne and I:
Wrote three white papers, two for a major company and one for a groundbreaking new organization
Conceived of and launched Personal Kanban with hundreds of articles on personal and team productivity
Created three InfoPaks that described in detailed and illustrated richness what Personal Kanban is
Worked with the World Bank and the CGIAR to create and implement a system to teach local government officials in forested countries how to calculate and distribute carbon credits to landowners
Managed the process to create an iPhone app (almost done)
Helped a client refine the concepts for - and launch a development effort to build - a system that employs social media and real estate information to better define where we actually think we live
Helped a client who owns and operates a drug rehab agency for street kids use Personal Kanban to focus his clients and his staff
and I know I’m forgetting things.
The UN Work and the World Bank project have shown me that David Anderson and I shouldn’t have been surprised when he used Kanban at Corbis and achieved 400%+ gains in productivity.
We should have expected it.
Collaboration and clarity through the kanban dictated it.
There were only two projects that Tonianne and I worked on this year that we were less than pleased with, and that is due to a lack of collaboration and clarity. Engagements where people lacked clear understanding of their role in the project or the purpose of the project or the direction of the project led to collaboration breakdown and failure.
The World Bank/CGIAR project was a wake up call. The group we worked with was comprised of people from around the world, all dedicated professionals, all very intelligent. Previously, the project was all but paralyzed. We got them in a room and working and together they took off. Vertical take off. They went from almost nothing to a clear concept of purpose and a tremendous amount of documentation in five days.
Why? Because in that conference room they had clarity and they were able to collaborate. And they did it gleefully. Why didn’t they do this before? No clarity and no feeling of collaborative momentum. They had jobs in their isolated offices and this project (no matter how important or interesting) was just another thing begging for attention during the course of their day.
The UN Project showed me that collaboration and clarity can be effortless in a distributed team as well. One of the lessons we are writing is in a module where other lessons are being written by Nancy White and John Smith. Instantly and elegantly, everyone began collaborating organically, which has made our work much easier. Our individual creativity and expertise is providing immediate quality improvements to our respective sections and the document as a whole.
So, if Tonianne and I can do all that in six months, and if David can get a 400%+ rise in team productivity, what does this mean?
That with a team that has clarity, the number of team members does not necessarily provide linear gains in productivity. I’m not saying it’s exponential. I’m just saying that 1+1 > 2.
Imagine Yo-Yo Ma performing a solo.
Now imagine him performing a duet with Hai-Ye Ni.
Now imagine him performing the duet on his own. First he’ll play his part, then he’ll play hers. It’ll take twice as long … but he’ll get there.
Life cannot be a solo. Ma and Ni are two of the most accomplished cellists in history, but they can’t perform a duet on their own. Their art, their accomplishment, comes from knowing when they are soloing and when they are part of something larger than themselves.
This does not mean they lose themselves in the process. They don’t become cello-bots simply because it’s not their solo. When Yo-Yo falls back and Hai-Ye’s part is in the forefront, he’s playing his piece with the same grace and attentiveness as if he were on stage alone. Grace and attentiveness that comes from clarity is the bedrock of successful collaboration. You know your part, you know your place, you feel the whole being created because - and only because - you are playing your part perfectly.
As for 2008, I just wanted it to end. It was a year plagued by muddy thinking, half-completed projects, and soloists trying to collaborate. 2008 physically hurt.
2009’s successes have existed not only because Tonianne’s and my duet was able to operate on its own, but also because that same duet could easily shift and become part of an even larger entity, like our UN quartet and CGIAR’s 14 piece orchestra.
I want to thank Tonianne and those who truly understood Modus’ mission, helped make Personal Kanban what it has become, and prepared us for what looks to be a stunning 2010.
Save the date because Modus Cooperandi is hosting a "Tweet-a-ban." Whether you're a Personal Kanban practitioner or just have an interest in improving your productivity, join in on the asynchronous, 24 hour long global conversation.