Sunday, December 6, 2009

Personal Kanban Board

Are you having a hard time with interruptions in your every day work? Do interruptions and priority changes make you feel like you can’t keep everything straight and seem to never get anything done? I know how you feel. I’ve been in that position many times and what I’m discovering is that lean/agile principles can help on a personal, not just a team level. I’ve been using a personal kanban board for a few months now and can say emphatically that it works!

Here’s what I mean by a personal scrum board. I have a whiteboard in my office divided into columns: backlog, staged, in process, ready for review, done. I keep track of all of my work on sticky pads very much in the same way as story cards. I also give each task a priority based on customer value. Work moves from column to column, eventually into the done column. I purposely keep work in process to one or two items and when a higher priority items pops up, it gets moved into the top of the staging column.

All of this seems like simply making a list and executing the list. That’s true, but the real power of the board is the agile processes that I can pull into my personal work. The board gives me plenty of visibility to those who work with me. I also have a morning daily planning session (by myself) before I begin work. I make sure that if anything that doesn’t flow through the board in a couple of days is evaluated to see why is it stopping up the flow. I also keep an impediment list that everyone coming into my office sees – my manager is responsible for helping with the impediment list.

If you’d like to try a personal kanban board, there’s information on the net for determining how kanban works. I’d encourage you to investigate and try it. Corey Ladis has a lot of information on:

The genius of story points

People have a really hard time wrapping their head around the idea that story points are not related directly to time. They are related to velocity and there’s a real genius in this idea. Let me explain.

Let’s say you estimate based on ideal days. The problem is: how many actual days equal an ideal day? If you’re like most managers there’s a one to one correlation, despite any grounding in reality! You’ve got to calibrate the number of ideal days with reality which is what story points tend to do, but in a slightly different manner – via velocity and the abstract number that comes out of points.

Story points are meant to categorize stories by effort and size. Once you’ve initially categorized your work via story points, you pull in a few stories into your first sprint and then sum up the number of points you think you can do. Once the sprint is complete, you see how many story points you’ve actually completed and that becomes your initial velocity. If you are consistent in estimating story points, you can begin to figure out how many story points you can take in based on velocity.I think the reason story points are so fishy to a number of people is that they’re anchored in velocity, which is something that a new, forming team, doesn’t have yet. Once you’ve completed a few sprints, you’ll have a velocity and a set of canonical stories for each group of story points that you can then hang your hat on.