Monday, October 19, 2009

Office Kanban - My Early Experiments

This works well, and it's fun, but a couple of things I've noticed...

You will need some Wall Space

My cube (yes, I work in a cube :p) does not have a lot of wall space. And what it does have is covered by this strange mesh made of recycled carpet or upholstery or shoes or something, so stickies don't really adhere to it. I almost used my window for the board, which would have worked great, but would have made me crane my neck to see, and I was worried might look a bit show-off-ish for people looking in from outside because they would see my sticky to solve the NP-complete travelling salesman problem in nLogN operations securely placed on the "done" side of the board - more about this in an upcoming post (ok, no - not really).

When lo, what did I see? My embedded whiteboard, easy to reach and visible from my computer, the perfect rectangular shape, I could write on it (not with the Jiffy markers though, really hard to get that cleaned off - trust me) and it had excellent sticky adherence. Good-bye whiteboard, hello Kanban board!

Small tasks, but not too small

I started out really small, like 20 stickies a day, it was crazy, like "read email", "clean coffee cup", "recycle TPS reports", "select new screen background". I think I was just reveling in the amazingness of the board, and stuff was just getting done. Whatever I put up there, like magic. Lots of tiny tasks was creating a lot of churn, I was spending too much time writing up stickies, and going to the stationery cabinet for more stickies, and stealing stickies from co-workers. I was also using the Jiffy markers A LOT and I think they were having an affect on me (like I became extra talkative and paranoid and really thirsty all the time).

So I made the tasks bigger, too big unfortunately. Like days, and days big. And this allowed me to get distracted. So, say, instead of writing an AD interface like my task said - I was adjusting my chair height, and then my desk height and then my lamp angle - and those things were NOT on the board. The Kanban "flow" was not happening. I could see it was time to right-size my tasks.

Somewhere in between nano-tasks and uber-tasks was right-sized tasks. How big are they? somewhere around 2. Hours that is. I like them around this big. Why? Well, at the end of the day I can look at the "done" column and say "That was a pretty good day, look at all those stickies in there". Smaller tasks keep the focus, and keep you coming back to the board to move them, which keeps you focused on the board, like a game of tag, a back and forth, a conversation, a flow...

A Great Topic of Conversation

My visitors like to talk about the board. Like "What have you got there? Is that the sticky board you were talking about? Do you have MS Project installed because it can manage tasks? No? Well put in a request to have it installed, and I'll help you get started with it. I think you'll really like Project. And you'll see you don't need this sticky board.".

Or, "Are you using those stickies to track your work, because we have a task tracking system you know. In fact we have two, and people are expecting you to keep that up to date. Well, it doesn't really matter if the task tracking system works for you or not, the important thing is that we ALL use it. It's written in our SOX compliance documentation. Where is that documentation? I don't know, and I don't think we're allowed to see it anyway.".

Here's a picture of it before someone orders the janitorial staff to remove it.


  1. This is excellent. I agree it is a great topic of conversation, and when you talk about it and show it, it snowballs.
    Great job!

  2. I use the AgileZen online kanban board, since that means I can access it from the office and from home. Yes, I sometimes work in the evenigns.

    Since I always have it open at work, I also get a lot of questions about it. In fact, the questions led to me starting a new board (in another tool called LeanKit Kanban, since I'm still trying to decide which I like most) for the technical writing team (of one and a half) to see if that can keep them focused on tasks and not get lost in the detail of writing, as writers sometimes tend to do. ;-)

  3. Thanks for the feedback. I have setup a single instance (I.e. free) AgileZen account. I will give it a shot - the portability is definitely advantageous and you it looks like you still get to move "Stickies" around.