Category: Agile

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!

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]

Agility Café 10: what’s in a name, time management and video blogging

If you are wondering “What’s an Agility Café?” then read this.

We welcomed two new people to the café, Birgit Kroll who owns Personal Fit Meal Catering and Sandra Hodge, owner of Sandra Hodge Studio. Regulars Robert Bonell of Bonell & Associates and Cindy Crawford, our host from Sault Downtown Association were also there.

Agility Cafe participants
Agility Cafe participants: Birgit, Bob, Sandra, Cindy (and me, Gerry)

Proposed topics:

Proposed topics
Proposed topics

Topic map, what we discussed, learned, and will act upon:

Topic map
Topic map (click to view in larger size)

Topic: What should I name my business?

Action for this week: decide whether or not to go with personal name as company name (at least for now)

Topic: How can I better manage my time?

Action for this week: make work to do visible by setting up a task board flip chart with columns To Do, In Progress, Done. Put all tasks on stickies and use board to track and prioritize work.

Topic: How can I get started video blogging?

Action for this week: set up a YouTube account and try uploading a test video recorded using camera.

Satisfaction scores

Satisfaction scores
Satisfaction scores (out of 10)

The Café continues to resonate well as-is. In Sandra’s words, “I’ve been looking for something like this.”

Experiments for next time:

  • start session at 12:05, so people should arrive no later than 12:00
  • Birgit to brainstorm some ideas for shared lunch (who better?)

If you are wondering “What’s an Agility Café?” then read this to learn more and register for the next one.

Workshop tales: scaling games to teach Agile/Scrum

Resort Brochure sample
Resort Brochure sample

How would you introduce Agile/Scrum to participants of a Tourism conference in 2 hours? For me, the Tourism Brochure game seemed like a natural fit. Participants get a chance to experience the entire Scrum process, from feature brainstorming and prioritization to product demo and retrospective.

All was well, until I discovered later that there might be 70 participants at the session (note to self: inquire about session size when making proposal). Yikes! I then went to work on ways to scale the game with just one facilitator aka my plan to keep my sanity intact.

Scaling the resort brochure game

Preparation was key. I spent an inordinate amount of time creating supplementary material:

View more presentations from Gerry Kirk

Insights from facilitating

  • Provide clear instructions for people to understand concepts, which includes multiple learning methods. This workshop in some ways ran smoother than some smaller ones I’ve facilitated. There was less confusion, increased flow of activity. You can scale much better with the right supports in place.
  • Keep steps as simple as possible. Each step in the process was kept small and focused, making it easier to follow.
  • Demonstrate by example. For the product review/demo, I helped one team do their demo while the other groups watched. That gave me a chance to go through what needed to be done and why. It produced several teaching moments, and increased the value of the other group’s product review sessions.
  • Keep the fun and energy levels up to make everything go smoother. The music and materials added a sense of play and excitement to the game.
  • 8 teams need more than one facilitator. Had there been one more person, teams could have had questions answered more quickly, or gone less astray during an activity. To compensate, I added time to some activities in order to get around to tables.
  • Sharon Bowman‘s Training from the Back of the Room continues to yield excellent results for me. I had plenty of energy left, even after a hectic two hours because the participants, not me, were the centre of attention. Opening and closing discussions, small table activities kept them busy and learning together, with me as their ‘guide on the side’ as Sharon likes to say.

Agility Café 8: Co-working and Cindy’s amazing update

If you are wondering “What’s an Agility Café?” then read this.

Downtown Association back door
Downtown Association back door

We welcomed two new people to the café, Trevor Swenson and a co-owner of Scripture Gift and Book shop, whose name I’ve sadly forgotten. I haven’t forgotten the amazing brownies she brought however. 🙂

Cindy had lots to update us on since our last session, she is really on fire. The other half of the session was spent pondering the feasibility / desirability of a co-working space in Sault Ste. Marie. The idea resonated with everyone present, with a number of ideas for how to keep building momentum. Andrew Ross, expect some emails from us. Darryl Buck from RBB Innovations is keen on the idea as well, so we’ll continue to discuss this with him.

Mind map of conversation
Mind map of conversation (click on photo to view in larger size)

Overall rating this time: 7


  • venue
  • open discussion
  • rich update from Cindy
  • silent brainstorming


  • time was short for topic discussions
  • interruptions by people coming in late

Experiments for next time:

  • time box updates
  • expand Agility Café overview online so newbies can become more familiar with format before attending
  • pull out mind map from last session for during the update

If you are wondering “What’s an Agility Café?” then read this to learn more and register for the next one.