Thursday, 14 January 2010

Personal Kanban to manage personal development

Having an inquisitive minds is a great thing but there can be a tenancy to be interested in too many things that you never learn something deeply enough. How do you stop the inquisitive monster in you mind and get on with just one thing?

I have been using a Kanban system to plan my study and added work in process (WIP) limits to manage the flow so my monster is tamed and I focus on one thing.  Any future interests are quickly dropped into my backlog so my monster is satisfied that there is lots more to learn.

I started with a basic design for my Kanban, with the lanes Review, Study and Blogging which nicely followed the plan-do-act design that is often used for visual boards.

After a week of this Kanban design, I felt that something was missing between review and study.  When I completed a study task there was not a clear set of tasks I could choose from which I new I wanted to study.  I would end up looking at review tasks that I had not finished (or started) meaning more time planning rather than studying.  As duplicating planning of study tasks is wasteful, I modified the board design to include a Ready to Study lane so I could quickly choose the next topic.

I renamed Study to Deep in Study to indicate that this was generally a bigger process and I would need to set aside more time.  I reinforced the idea that deep in study was a bigger task by limiting the WIP to 2 tasks (I am allowing 2 tasks as I am still detoxing from multi-tasking for far too long).

Once I had completed a study task, the plan was to blog about that topic to help retain the knowledge I had gained.  I found it useful to add yet another lane called Evaluating to help me review what I had learnt and had a better idea of what to blog about.

Using a Kanban approach has also helped me develop skills in a just-in-time approach.  By adding small tasks to my backlog to help me evaluate new areas of study or tools, I have a pool quick work that I can fit in when I need a break from deeper study.  Carrying out a brief review of something new allows me to work out what I need to learn, how much effort it would be to learn and most importantly if it is really worth learning yet.  From this quick analysis I can create a number of study and exercise tasks in my Kanban backlog that would help me learn efficiently, indicating effort and priority of each task.


  1. Nice post,

    I especially like this bit:

    "Using a Kanban approach has also helped me develop skills in a just-in-time approach. By adding small tasks to my backlog to help me evaluate new areas of study or tools, I have a pool quick work that I can fit in when I need a break from deeper study."

    This ability to reprioritize work just-in-time is one of the most interesting results from having a Personal Kanban. Being able to see the work easily makes this reprioritization trivial.

    Do you also find that now that you can see your work, that you are also able to explain better to others what you have to do?

  2. I'm thinking about combining a kanban board with pomodoro. I'm thinking 8 pomodoros a week (low I know, but I'd rather always do that and sometimes more than feel I'm not keeping up) and using the kanban board as a way of staying on task.

  3. Bruce,

    If you go to and search, there are a few articles on Pomodoro and Personal Kanban there.

    We've been combining them with great results.


  4. Jim,

    Thanks. I'll have a look.

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