Kanban and To-Do Lists

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Image from https://mozaicworks.com/blog/productivity-visibility-kanban-board/

Frank Innovation and Transformation has recently delivered several Team Kanban Professional courses from the Kanban University. What has been noticeable for us is that while our learners go back to their offices and implement the TKP learnings, some of the learners do not extend the Kanban principles to the individual level.

Digging deeper has led to us uncovering the presence of the To-Do list at the individual level. The learner has been using a To-Do list for years now and relies on that list to get things done. The To-Do list is their safety blanket. Often, a To-Do list is much easier to add stuff to as it makes for quick capture of information.

So how do we get the best of both worlds? Is it even possible? Let’s consider the 6 General Practices from the Kanban Method, outlined below, and see if we can apply them to a To-Do list.

  1. Visualise
  2. Limit Work in Progress
  3. Manage Flow
  4. Make Policies Explicit
  5. Implement Feedback Loops
  6. Improve collaboratively, evolve experimentally

Taking them one at a time lets first consider Visualise. Most To-Do lists do an excellent job of visualising work. They don’t use a kanban board but certainly do provide a good visualisation platform for what we have on our plate. Consider the hypothetical To-Do List below.

Frank’s To-Do

  • Update Website with SAFe information
  • Automate Invoicing
  • Contact Dave about Kanban Training Opportunity
  • Plan out next quarter
  • Add DevOps Leader course to training pack
  • Update CRM with new client ACME Inc. details
  • Pay utilities 
  • Install remote conferencing and training technology
  • Arrange financial review session with the accountant

This list does a great job in quantifying the work Frank has on at the moment. Frank does not use a priority system and picks one and starts working on it. Frank works on more than one thing, and at least 50% of the list above is in progress. We can improve our visualisation of Franks list by adding some headings to the list.

Frank’s To-Do

 To-Do

  • Automate Invoicing
  • Plan out next quarter
  • Pay utilities

 Doing

  • Add DevOps Leader course to training pack
  • Update CRM with new client ACME Inc. details 
  • Install remote conferencing and training technology
  • Arrange financial review session with the accountant
  • Update Website with SAFe information
  • Contact Dave about Kanban Training Opportunity

 Done

We have improved the visualisation of Frank’s work. We can see that Frank likes starting work before completing in-progress work. Now that we have this basic To-Do list structure in place, let’s consider the second Kanban General Practice Limit Work in Progress.

Work in Progress or WIP has a direct correlation to Lead Times. So it follows that limiting WIP will improve our Lead Times and also bring about due date delivery predictability. (This is out of scope for this article, but if you would like to find out more, please contact the team at @Frank Innovation and Transformation). Our next step in improving Frank’s To-Do list to add some WIP limits. Frank’s To-Do list now looks like this.

Frank’s To-Do

  To-Do

  • Automate Invoicing
  • Plan out next quarter
  • Pay utilities

  Doing (3)

  • Add DevOps Leader course to training pack
  • Update CRM with new client ACME Inc. details 
  • Install remote conferencing and training technology
  • Arrange financial review session with the accountant
  • Update Website with SAFe information
  • Contact Dave about Kanban Training Opportunity

 Done

We have added a 3 in brackets to Frank’s list. This 3 signifies that Frank should only have three active tasks that are in-progress. At this stage, Frank will not be able to start any new work until Frank has reduced the activity in Doing to below 3. At first, this does seem counter-intuitive, but lead times will improve and so will due-date delivery.

The third Kanban General Practice is to Manage Flow. We can make further enhancements to Frank’s To-Do list to Manage Flow. Let’s add two more sections that help improve the flow of work through Frank’s To-Do list. Let’s look at Frank’s new To-Do List below.

Frank’s To-Do

 To-Do

  • Automate Invoicing
  • Plan out next quarter
  • Pay utilities

 Next (2)

  • Add DevOps Leader course to training pack
  • Arrange financial review session with the accountant

 Doing (3)

  • Update CRM with new client ACME Inc. details 
  • Install remote conferencing and training technology
  • Update Website with SAFe information

 Waiting

  • Contact Dave about Kanban Training Opportunity

 Done

Frank’s work now flows from To-Do to Next to Doing to Done. The Waiting heading shows that Frank needs input from someone else before progressing this activity. Once Frank has received feedback, this task can be added to the Doing section if the WIP limit permits.

We can now consider the fourth Kanban General Practice of Making Policies Explicit. Making Policies Explicit defines how Frank is to treat work under each of the sections and the To-Do list as a whole. The updated To-Do List below shows Frank’s policies.

Frank’s To-Do

Policy: Only add work to this list that brings us closer to being the best transformation consultants in New Zealand.

 To-Do

 Policy: All work goes here. Frank only works on items that are on this list. 

  • Automate Invoicing
  • Plan out next quarter
  • Pay utilities

  Next (2)

 Policy: The next two most important items that require Frank’s attention.

  • Add DevOps Leader course to training pack
  • Arrange financial review session with the accountant

 Doing (3)

 Policy: Only three or less work in progress items.

  • Update CRM with new client ACME Inc. details 
  • Install remote conferencing and training technology
  • Update Website with SAFe information

  Waiting

 Policy: Items listed here require additional information before they can proceed. On receipt of the information and if WIP limits permit, the task is moved to Doing.

  • Contact Dave about Kanban Training Opportunity

 Done

 Policy: Move items here when all Definition of Done criteria are satisfied.

Frank’s To-Do list is starting to resemble a Kanban system. Next, let’s look at the fifth Kanban General Principle – Implement Feedback Loops. Feedback Loops allow us to assess how efficiently our system is performing. For Frank’s To-Do list, the main thing for Frank to keep an eye on is how many occasions work is started and then either discarded or moves to Waiting. This indicator will help Frank improve the flow of work through his To-Do list.

The sixth principle is Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally. While there is not much room to improve collaboratively, we certainly can improve the To-Do list. One of the items Frank noticed when using the task list for a while was that tasks were frequently started and then put into Waiting. Frank realised that if he ensured that in the Next section of the To-Do list that everything was present before beginning the task that the flow of work not only improved but the To-Do list became more efficient and effective. Frank updated the To-Do list policies and is currently using the list shown below.

Frank’s To-Do

Policy: Only add work to this list that brings us closer to being the best transformation consultants in New Zealand.

 To-Do

  Policy: All work goes here. Frank only works on items that are on this list. 

  • Automate Invoicing
  • Plan out next quarter
  • Pay utilities

  Next (2)

  Policy: The next two most important items that require Frank’s attention. Things can only move to Doing once everything is available for work to commence.

  • Add DevOps Leader course to training pack
  • Arrange financial review session with the accountant

  Doing (3)

  Policy: Only three or less work in progress items.

  • Update CRM with new client ACME Inc. details 
  • Install remote conferencing and training technology
  • Update Website with SAFe information

  Waiting

  Policy: Items listed here require additional information before they can proceed. On receipt of the information and if WIP limits permit, the task is moved to Doing.

  • Contact Dave about Kanban Training Opportunity

  Done

  Policy: Move items here when all Definition of Done criteria are satisfied.

Frank has successfully adopted all of the Kanban General Principles using a To-Do list. Using the General Principles with Frank’s favourite To-Do list has now reduced Frank’s lead times and improved due-date delivery.

Pro-tip – if you are using an electronic To-Do list, you can hide the policies, so you are only focussed on the work that you need to do. They will always be there for you to review and amend as circumstances change. If you are a To-Do list superuser, you can use tags to enrich your list further. Electronic To-Do will also make your life easier by allowing you to add due dates and create recurring tasks.

Just like Frank, you too can apply the Kanban General Principles to your task list. I hope you have fun using these principles and start delivering faster with less distraction.

If you would like any additional information, please contact the team at Frank Innovation and Transformation.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn by Left Hand of Fr@nk’s Jits Doolabh

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