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I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Saturday
Jan212012

Pull, Don't Push

One of the things I struggle with is balancing the desire to get things done over the long haul with the need to respond to things in the moment. To my surprise, I’ve been applying tools for managing this balance at work but failing to do so at home. Over the holidays, I spent some time trying to work out how to fix this oversight.

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: At the beginning of every month, I sit down and make plan of what I want to accomplish during the next several week, based on the data I have about what I’ve been able to do in the past and what I see coming down the pike. Where I get into trouble is that I get attached to the plan. When something comes up in the middle of the month, I try to stick to it — even if what comes up is something I want to do. A conversation with Gwen in early December woke me up to the fact that I’m not as flexible or spontaneous as I think I am or as I want to be. I’m missing out on opportunities because I’m too attached to my planned outcomes.

The irony is that as an improviser, I’m supposed to give up my attachment to outcome, to trust in the process and in my partners, to respond in the moment to what happens. At work I’ve been doing more and more of that. To realize that I’m not doing it in my personal life is… an opportunity for growth.

So with that in mind, I took a long, hard look at my personal planning process and discovered a few things. I’m essentially using a Scrum process, with month-long iterations. One option to increase my flexibility would be to reduce my iteration length. I could do my planning on a weekly basis rather than a monthly one. There’s some appeal there, but I found that I was more interested in another option: I could move to a Kanban-based approach.

So with that in mind, I sat down to read Personal Kanban, which had been recommended to me around Thanksgiving. The book is pretty simple; if you read this slide show, you’ll know 90% of what the book says. That’s slightly unfair, because the book also has a lot of stories about how the authors and people they know have used it, but the essence of it is this:

  1. Visualize your work
  2. Limit your work-in-progress

I completely agree with these two principles, though I’m conflicted in how I felt about the book. I wanted a little more “how” to go with all of the “why.” I get that you have to adapt this framework to your own situation, but I was hoping for more guidance about how people have adapted it so I could see potential fits for my situation. (Appendix A does this a little, but it’s much later in the book than I hoped it would be.) I also felt like the book took a long time to get to the point. When I was outlining it for my notes, I jumped over entire chapters that I was able to summarize with a single sentences. It did not have what I would term economy of expression.

These misgivings aside, I found the core ideas of Personal Kanban compelling, and I’m experimenting with it. The first change I’ve making is one I was toying with already: I’m only working on one “project” at a time. I don’t have a timetable for finishing that project; I work it on it as I have the bandwidth to do so, and when I’m done with it, I pull the next one. What I’m noticing so far is that while my overall productivity may be down slightly, my sense of well-being is up. I’m feeling better about what I’m doing. Most importantly, I’m responding to opportunities as they come up — like the chance to watch hockey with Gwen.

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