Author: Gerry Kirk

Adjust your settings (part 2 of 5 to a more effective you)

This week we look at what happened one week after Nancy started using her Personal Kanban™ system (read part one here).

It’s not enough to be busy. We’re all good at that! What we want is to be effective, to do the stuff that matters most. The first step to becoming more effective is to understand the current situation. Think about what you did yesterday, or 3 days ago. Now what if you wanted to see patterns of activity across a whole week? Heck, just remembering what one had for breakfast can be challenging. That’s where a visual management system like Personal Kanban™ shines. It can provide a complete picture, both a real-time snapshot and tell the story of your week, in ways that matter most to you.

At the end of the first week, I helped Nancy reflect on her work. What we are looking for, after that first week, is mostly to increase her awareness, and to learn how to use the board to reveal valuable insights.

Nancy’s revelations

Most people, like Nancy aren’t used to thinking about their work. So there we stood in front of her board, and I gave her these four questions, which I find are an excellent starting point for reflecting on work:

Four powerful questions for reflection
Four powerful questions for reflection

The satisfying. Immediately, Nancy was delighted at all of the work that was sitting in her Done column. For the first time ever(!), she had a reasonably accurate picture of what she had accomplished, and now could celebrate that. She also liked having everything in one place, in a way she could review quickly. This also helped a lot when she spoke with the management team, they knew instantly her situation and could provide useful feedback.

The difficult. She also noticed there were several work items she had done that weren’t on the board. Building new habits takes time!

The avoided. Lots of important work wasn’t getting attention. Why? Lots of interruptions, through emails, phone calls and visits, many with issues others perceived as urgent. She’s fighting lots of fires, which get in the way of doing the more valuable stuff. The second, very obvious reason looking at her board is she just has wayyyy too much work to handle. She is doing the work of 2 or 3 roles, and as a doer she struggles to delegate work to others.

The surprising. Given all this was new, she was pleasantly surprised how easy and effective it was. The big a-ha, again was the work she wasn’t getting to, and the sheer volume of work she had.

Week 2 Goal: Address the overload

Each week, we decide what is most important to improve. For learning goals, we gather more data, for action goals we define a measurable outcome to achieve. The goals for week 2 were easy to decide on:

  1. Get *all* work on the board, so we have an accurate picture of what is going on. To support this, I will check in with her at the start of each day to review the previous day, and act as a trigger to get any missing work up there.
  2. Answer the question, “How much completed work is unplanned?” For this, we decided to mark each completed item with a red dot the moment it goes into the Done column. We also organized done by the days of the week, to see if that might uncover additional data.
  3. Answer the question, “How much work am I getting done in a week?” This is easy to do, we just count up the post-its in the Done column at the end of the week.
Work items in Done column organized by day
Work items in Done column organized by day

So, in just one week, Nancy learned a lot more about how she works, the work she has to manage, and gained valuable insights in how to make her work life better. Most of all, she has greater confidence she can change things for the better.

In the next excerpt we’ll see how Nancy does with those improvement goals.

5 steps to a happier, more effective you (Part 1)

Meet Nancy, a new client of mine. She wears many hats. She manages a support team, coordinates and defines work for the software development team, and works on many internal improvement projects. Oh, and she’s constantly interrupted by a barrage of emails, phone calls and in person visits, making it a challenge to get anything done.

Her days are long, and it’s common for her to sit at her computer on weekends, just to try and keep up. Stress is affecting her health. On top of it all, she rarely finds time for the work she really wants to do. Life is tiring.

We can all relate to Nancy in some way.

Guess what? That was Nancy a month ago. The Nancy of today is

  • going home from work on time
  • completing less urgent, more valuable stuff
  • feeling on top of things
  • smiling lots more
  • dropping fewer balls, and more relaxed
  • feeling more satisfied with her efforts

And here’s the thing. What she did is simple, straightforward, and does not demand a lot of time. What she did was follow 5 essential steps that emerged from my work with hundreds of individuals getting started with Personal Kanban™, the most effective tool I know to manage work and navigate life.

Today I’ll introduce you to the first step, through Nancy’s journey. Read how she learned to make better decisions about her work, and have fewer 3 am jump out of bed freak out moments. Learn how to apply it to your own situation right away.

Step 1: Set up your new workout routine

Tools like ToDo lists, email and calendars don’t help us see the full picture. When we don’t understand all of our options, we feel anxious and stressed that we’re forgetting something, and from not fully knowing just how much stuff there is to manage.

My first step with Nancy was to get all of her work visible. We set up a board like the one below. The work flows from left to right as follows:

  1. Options are all of the possible work items that may be chosen to be worked on. I prefer the word Options instead of To Do to emphasize that not everything here has to be done. Context changes all the time, we don’t have to feel obligated to do something just because we’ve added it to our list.
  2. Today holds all of the work items she plans to start today. Having a Today list provides her greater focus so we minimize the time looking for options. We can spend more time simply doing, which brings us to
  3. Doing are all of the work items she’s already invested time in. It doesn’t mean she’s working on it right now. If Nancy started on a report 3 days ago, that report is in the Doing column until it’s finished.
  4. Waiting On is a subset of Doing, holding any item that Nancy can’t work on until something else happens. Waiting for someone to provide feedback on a report is an example.
  5. Done contains all of Nancy’s accomplishments, everything completed, the place where she can celebrate what’s she done and learn more about the nature of her work.
Personal Kanban starter board design
This board design satisfies the majority of people – start with it.

Visualize what matters most. We then figured out what she needed to see most about her work. Since Nancy wears many hats, she opted to use a different coloured post-it for each hat. In her case, we had colours for Development Features, Development Issues, Customer Support,  and Investments. Investments are the items that have a lot of value in the long term.

Now, Nancy could write out all of her work. She looked through her emails, documents, calendar and mental notes to identify everything. The dump process took about 30 minutes.

Have a purpose for the board. We also made an explicit goal for the first week, and posted it beside her workflow. In the first week, it’s all about incorporating new daily habits, and building awareness, namely to visualize all work. This means not working on anything that isn’t already on the board. I recommend anyone getting started to have this as their first goal.

We also discussed what that means in daily life, to increase odds of success. She agreed to begin each day by updating her board before starting into work. We also placed the board directly behind her desk, so it’s in plain view and easy to access. It’s hard to ignore.

Sticking with it. Often I recommend adding a daily habits tracker to the board, to make those intentions more explicit, to measure progress and to learn how to be successful through experimentation. I’ll explain more on this in an upcoming post. With Nancy, we opted not to, partly because I work right beside Nancy so my presence creates accountability and we usually checked in at the start of the day. Since I can’t be with you at your office (sorry!), you might want to try the daily habit tracker trick.

Once everything was in place, Nancy was pretty excited, though a bit overwhelmed by the vast number of post-its on her wall! That’s normal, even expected when seeing for the first time everything that she was trying to manage. At least now she felt more confident that something important wasn’t going to slip through the cracks.

In summary, Nancy got started by:

  1. Creating a board using the recommended workflow.
  2. Deciding on what she wanted to visualize most, and used colours to support that.
  3. Wrote out all of her work items
  4. Added an explicit goal
  5. Decided on a routine to keep her board updated

Next time, we’ll see how Nancy’s first week went, what she learned about her work and where she went next. We’ll explore the power of retrospectives and goals to drive improvement.

A Personal (Kanban) dream come true

A dream of mine is coming true. For some time now, I’ve wanted to reach more people to get the deep benefit of Personal Kanban. I’m also unsatisfied with the big batch approach of one day workshops, where people absorb a lot of material before a chance to apply it. At the same time, I’ve been getting requests to do some remote PK training over the past 6 months so…

Well, the day has come. I’ve launched an online course! I’m excited, yet unsure where it will go, it’s very much an experiment.
Here is why I’m motivated to put the work into this:

  1. Material absorbed at a more manageable pace. Learn, apply, reflect, repeat.
  2. I can provide feedback to the board designs multiple times, resulting in a higher quality design.
  3. Participants get a routine nudge to keep using and experimenting, avoiding the pull back to old, familiar ways.

I’m trying to use Lean Startup, notably Running Lean by Ash Maurya to learn before scaling. The first group is limited to 10 people so that I can invest a lot of time with them, and in turn iterate to create an amazing online learning experience. Only 2 spots remain.

This is an investment in personal, team and organizational effectiveness. I’ve literally seen lives transformed through effective use of Personal Kanban. I will do my best to have people operating with more clarity, intention and motivation than ever before.
This is an experiment, being the first time I’ve worked with a group online. The upside is the course will evolve as we try things so  value is maximized. The downside is the length and structure is not set in stone, so for those who like absolute certainty, they will want to wait for a later class.
The course is a combination of self-paced learning, group discussion and one-on-one checkins. The first group will get more of my time than any future group. By being extra hands-on, I’ll be able to respond often to what people are doing as they do it. I’ve launched dozens of Personal Kanban systems over the past 3 months, and I’ve learned two key insights:
  1. Frequent touch points in the early going dramatically increase usage and understanding.
  2. Designing visually is a skill not easily mastered. My taking an active role in designing the initial system produces a much better system to start from, increasing value and motivation for the owner to use.
I’m planning to use the Udemy platform to run the course. Udemy has amazing tools and support for effective online learning. Participants will be able to post questions on any lecture and the course itself.
Here we go! I’ll share my key learnings in launching this course as it unfolds.

1 simple step to more satisfying work

Completed work, what is it good for?
Completed work, what is it good for?


How often does someone say they are really busy when you ask them how they’re doing?

It’s like a badge of honour. If we’re not busy, then we’re wasting time, right?

It’s easy to get caught up in being busy, forgetting where the time has gone. Imagine discovering one day that everything you’ve been doing you didn’t enjoy! That’s exactly what happened to Jackie.

When I met Jackie she was using Personal Kanban™ for a few weeks, and feeling good about the amount of work she’d gotten done. The board helped her to stay focused on what needed doing, and avoid forgetting important tasks.

Then, everything changed with one simple question – what was satisfying about her accomplishments?

Satisfying? Jackie hadn’t thought of evaluating her work in this way. And now, because all her work was visible on the board, she had the means to do so.

Looking at her board, my eyes were drawn to one area – the Done column. Her Done was overloaded with stickies, perhaps 50 or more. She was getting lots done, but she didn’t know what to do with her tasks once they were completed. This is a common scenario, unfortunately. We get caught up in the act of doing and miss out on improving what we choose to do and how we do it. We settle for being busy, even productive without considering the value of our time invested.

I showed her by simply asking ourselves a few questions, we can uncover some important truths about our work. Questions like:

  1. What was satisfying?
  2. What was frustrating or disappointing?
  3. What did I avoid doing?
  4. What was easy? Difficult?

At first Jackie wasn’t sure what to do, as if she didn’t have permission to consider these questions. After all, this was the work she simply had to do, what did it matter if some of it was enjoyable and some of it wasn’t? Then, as she looked through her completed work she was disturbed to discover that there wasn’t one task she had done in all that time which she particularly enjoyed. Knowing this now, Anna saw her work in a new way. It wasn’t okay to just “do work”. She wanted satisfaction, a greater sense of joy and now she had a way of knowing what part of her work really meant something to her. That was a big aha moment!

We made one adjustment to her board.  We divided her Done column into 3  categories: satisfying, average and unsatisfying. Now as she completes her work she can evaluate how she feels about it in real time h. She can instantly see the pattern of her finished work and choose to do something about it if she wants to. Now her done work has an influence on what she chooses to do next. It’s not just about being productive anymore, she’s choosing to bring more joy into her day-to-day work life.

Jackie goes from disappointment to happiness :)
Daily work, now with 100% more satisfaction 🙂


To sum up:

  • We do our best work when we have motivation.
  • Use Personal Kanban™ to gather data on how you feel about your work.
  • Adjust your Done column to make it easy to see patterns.
  • Do regular reflections on your work.

Don’t settle for being busy. Move towards doing more of what you love.

What are your tips and thoughts? Share them in the comments below.

Are you new to Personal Kanban™? Anyone can use it. Here is an intro to Personal Kanban by Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry, creators of Personal Kanban and some simple steps to get started.

Personal Kanban Sault College meetup notes

Today I met with some of the workshop participants from last May’s Personal Kanban workshop. I was curious to see how people have been experimenting with Personal Kanban and learning about themselves in the process.

Notes from session. Click image to view larger.

What’s worked:

  • High value in using Today / Waiting On columns to stay focused on what is important right now.
  • Visualizing all the options saved missing some important deliverables on a number of occasions
  • Using Pomodoro to get work done. Pomodoro helps with large tasks by breaking them down and forcing oneself to get up and take short breaks. Experimenting with putting a Pomodoro symbol on the office door and closing the door more often led to increased productivity. Use Outlook calendar to create Pomodoros.
  • Using PK for individual work, haven’t tried for projects yet.
  • Taking time at end of day to plan for next one.

What’s hard:

  • Focusing on limiting WIP. It’s easy to put up activity cards, harder to stop starting more tasks before finishing others. 
  • Taking time to reflect. Kanban being used mostly for deciding what to do, not about continuous improvement. This is unfortunate, as a Kanban board can teach us a lot about how we work.

Other topics:

  • Options for tablet computing. The request was for something for Windows. I did some looking around, there aren’t a lot of options that work across multiple platforms. There are a couple of apps that have reasonable touch interfaces in the browser:
  • Offline Kanban boards. Not much luck on this one, other than tools that require downloading source code. Dmitry Ivanov has a Windows tool that requires a simple download to use. All the pre-packaged tools seem to need an online connection. For myself, I use Evernote to jot down new items to add to my Kanban board later when I don’t have access to it.
  • Team vs Personal Kanban. Team Kanban has more structure, more layers to support teams, though it can be kept simple like a Personal Kanban board. The workflow will be different, and the work items tend to be larger. The web site Everyday Kanban has a good summary of what the bigger K Kanban is all about – What is Kanban?, including 3 basic principles and 5 core properties. Henrik Kniberg created an example of a Kanban board for teams (image below):
Kanban team example

Lean Change: Applying Lean Startup to Change Programs

If you think building a successful technology product is hard, try organizational change. Shifting culture involves people, and people are complex creatures (I can say that being one myself, and having helped create a few others), which is why most change efforts fail to deliver on their promises. Traditional upfront planning approaches don’t incorporate enough learning and fail to adapt to what is needed.

Lean Change applies the concepts of Lean Startup to Change programs. Lean Startup is a learning engine, applying principles and scientific methods to uncover faster what works and what doesn’t. Using Lean Startup, we can begin with a Plan A  for the organization context (market) and then test it rigorously until we come up with an approach that can stick/grow effectively in a way that creates a sustainable change program.

Jeff Anderson and his Deloitte team are the pioneers of Lean Change, and fortunately for us they write prolifically about it on their blog.

Read about Lean Change on their Lean Transformation blog.

If you attended my session at SDEC, you’ll know that I recommended getting started with Lean Change by creating a Validated Adoption Board, which consists of a MVC (Minimum Viable Change) Canvas, and the planned steps to carry one out, like the one below (click image to enlarge). If you didn’t attend the session, Jeff has a detailed post on these concepts.


Here is my slide deck from the SDEC 2012 session:

Download the Lean Change Handout

What are your thoughts about Lean Change? Are you interested/ready to try some experiments? Do you think Lean Change is just more buzzwords that will sell more consulting gigs? Join the conversation by adding a comment below.

Defining moments from 2011

Another year has passed, 2011 was filled with major change around the world. Here is my personal look back at 2011, and the changes that took place in my own life:

Personal Growth

A big investment this year was taking the highly regarded Co-Active Coach Training Program. I felt it was time to bring in professional coaching skills to my work as an Agile coach and consultant. The training has expanded my coaching range, allowing me to go farther, more powerfully, in service to my clients. I’ve also started coaching one-on-one, with a focus on magnifying the efforts of other change agents.

After a couple of years of using Innovation Games® with teams, organizations and communities, I finally made it to one of Luke Hohmann’s excellent Innovation Games for Customer Understanding classes, so now I can slap on the IG Trained Facilitator badge to my web site. 🙂

Community Building / Citizen Engagement

Community building is a core passion of mine. I love applying the skills and knowledge gained in the workplace to the wider world of citizen engagement. Last January, I participated as a facilitator at the San Jose Citizen Budget Games, a truly unique event where citizens worked collaboratively to purchase items for the upcoming budget. The results were so compelling that in 2012 the city of San Jose plans to invite thousands to play in person and online. If politics were always this fun and engaging, we’d all be taking part.

At a local level, I had the privilege of working with the Sault Ste. Marie Council in a kickstart session designed to provide a foundation for working effectively together. I also designed and facilitated a Youth Forum for the Sault Youth Association using Innovation Games® to deliver compelling results for their strategic plan.

Ignite Sault continues to bring a diverse crowd together, with #4 (recap) and #5 (recap) near sell outs to hear local citizens share their ideas and passions in 5 minute talks.

My latest and most ambitious project is getting a collaborative workspace off the ground. Modelled on the highly successful Gangplank in Chandler, Arizona, Gangplank Sault aims to be THE go to place for creative, innovative work, where entrepreneurial types work together to build a new economic engine in Sault Ste. Marie. Through a series of events including Agility Cafes and Tuesday coworking meetups, momentum is building towards an official launch in early 2012.

Scaling Down

During those Agility Cafes, the same topics kept coming up. People were feeling stressed, overwhelmed, struggling to stay on top of things. That led me to co-create a workshop focused on personal performance, centred on the book Personal Kanban. The pilot workshop was a huge success. With demand high, plans are in the works to do a series of workshops with Jim Benson, friend and co-author. I’m really excited about impacting people’s lives through this simple yet profound way of working.

Another experiment, based on feedback I’ve received is the first of a series of online courses on productivity tools. I believe I’ve found a sweet spot of tools to help any consultant / solopreneur. The first one is on the dreaded expense filing, with plans for managing contacts, e-newsletters, social media and more.

Scaling Up

Another stretch for me came in working with large enterprises for the first time. Through partner consulting agreements with renowned Agile companies Enthiosys and Rally, I’ve had the opportunity to engage with the likes of Rackspace and Bank of America. One highlight for me was learning from Luke Hohmann himself how to build effective product road maps.Well, at least a starting point. Product management is a weak spot in the Agile landscape, one that I’m interested in addressing more.

wRap Up

I’m grateful for a year filled with new beginnings, with foundations set for greater things to come. We all have inspiring stories to share. What were your satisfying moments of 2011? Please share them below in the comments or link to a post elsewhere. May 2012 be a year filled with hope, joy and passion for what you love to do.

My kids and I prepared this little Christmas ditty for some holiday fun. Watch and enjoy!

Expense help for busy professionals like U

I discovered I have a gift. Over the years, I’ve assembled a series of tools and processes that greatly streamlines my business operations, something important for a solopreneur like myself. When I talk to other consultants and busy professionals, they are delighted to learn about these improvements for their own work.

When I can help others focus on what they love to do well, instead of spending time on necessary back-office work, then we all benefit. I am especially motivated to help people doing work to make the world a better place. Through them, I too can make a greater impact.

To that end, I produced my 1st online video on expense filing. I’m really excited about this! Managing expenses used to be such a dreadful task for me, taking up lots of time and filled with errors of omission. I’d forget to file some things or details related to expense items. Now I have a system that allows me to file both paper and digital expenses and real-time, reducing costly delays and the time it takes to submit expenses. It’s even fun at times (gasp).

If expense filing is a drag for you, I invite you to take a look. Initial reviews are enthusiastic. All it takes is 30 minutes of your time to watch and you’ll benefit immediately from what you learned.

Join now, and you can use coupon “PAINFREE” to get $5 off until Friday, December 9, limited to first 50 subscribers.

Spend less time on expenses, more on what you love. 🙂

Xpenser is the tool that I use for expense management. You will need an account to take this course. Sign up for a free trial. I explain in the 2nd lecture how to configure it and get started.

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Democracy unleashed: bringing agility to citizen engagement [Agile 2011 Experience Report]

Looking for the crowd-sourced mind map of the session? You can view/edit/copy/export it here.

Empowered individuals. Creative, participatory decision making. Connectedness and care for each other. These words apply equally to an Agile organization as to a healthy community. What might happen if we applied Agile values and methods to transform communities? I will share my experiences over the past year and up to Agile 2011 to nurture engaged community in my home town and beyond – tools and methods, trials and triumphs, how Agile applied to community differs from organization. This is bleeding edge stuff, an area of opportunity for Agile consultants to do work that transforms the world. My hope is to inspire and encourage others to join me in these efforts, and to meet others already on this journey.

Below is a copy of the experience report, best viewed in full screen mode.

Going to Agile 2011? There are two opportunities in the program to connect with me and other like-minded change agents:

  1. Thursday, 9 am30 minute experience report interactive presentation.
  2. Thursday, 11 am – 60 minute Open Jam event titled “Whatever the problem, community is the answer”. This was a proposed 90 minute session originally. I haven’t thought how I’ll modify the format for an Open Jam yet, though will likely shorten to one hour, depending on interest level. Space will be less than a dedicated room so not sure if World Cafe still best format. Ideas welcome.

Scrum is a Major Management Discovery

Scrum, the most widely used Agile development framework got some major praise recently from outside its software origins from Steve Denning, a thought leader in leadership, management, innovation, and organizational storytelling:

If there was a Nobel Prize for management, and if there was any justice in the world, I believe that the prize would be awarded, among others, to Jeff Sutherland, Ken Schwaber and Mike Cohn for their contributions to the invention of Scrum.

Why such high praise? For Steve, Scrum creates the right environment to combine “rapid innovation with disciplined execution”. Steve rightly points out that the secret to success with Scrum is recognizing that Scrum is about a change in mind shift and culture, not a process that one merely follows. He uses Salesforce’s adoption of Scrum to validate his point:

Unlike many firms that have tried to implement Scrum, the leadership at saw that Scrum involved not just the adoption of a new business process, or a framework for managing software development, but rather as a fundamental transformation of the way work was managed in the company. They realized that they were introducing a new  way of thinking, speaking and acting in the workplace for both managers and workers. They committed to it boldly and the results have been extraordinary.

Read more: Scrum is a Major Management Discovery [Forbes]