My last post showed you how to get started using a Kanban board to manage what you were doing. This was very much Agile Researcher 101. Using a board with such a basic design should already allow you to improve the flow of your work and focus on what is truly important. Taking this further is a matter of making the design of your board evolve to adapt to your very own context and making sure you are not trying to juggle with too many balls at the same time. A necessary step to really understand the fundamentals is to study Jim Benson and Tonianne DeMaria Barry’s book: Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life ; Jim and Tonianne also have an excellent Personal Kanban online course [Affiliate link]. It is then a matter of experimenting to see what works for you and what does not.
Since I am often asked what my own board looks like, I would like to share the design I currently use for managing my own research work – Please note that I am sharing the design of the board but that I have chosen to use blank stickies to illustrate this post for privacy reasons. This is in no way given as an exemple to follow : it is working quite well for me at present, but it may not be adapted to the specific needs of someone else.
Changing the design of your board is usually a way to solve a problem. My problem soon became very clear when I started visualizing my work : I am very good at starting things, but not so good at finishing them. Therefore the number of projects I had on the go was getting out of control, This is nothing terribly original.
Reducing my WIP – work in progress – was very useful, but I realized that I also had too many PIPs – Projects in Progress – which were not tracked in a sufficiently explicit manner.
This made me think hard about the question of the articulation articulation between projects and tasks and I decided to experiment with a new board design which would make explicit the distinction between projects and tasks.
A while back, I had used a board design which followed very closely the priority filter pattern, based on Corey Ladas’ Scrumban. It included the following columns:
| Priority 3 | Priority 2 | Priority 1 | Ready | Doing | Pen | Done |
I have found that it worked extremely well and really helped improve the way in which my work was flowing. I could however not help but notice that when the time happened to break down a given project on which I wanted to concentrate on in discrete tasks to execute, I kept been placed in a situation where the number of such tasks was much higher than I expected. As a result I found using this pattern increasingly frustrating, as I needed to rearrange the whole board by moving items backwards to make things work and keep some discipline.
I have therefore tried a new board design which would make explicit what involved projects and what involved tasks.
The left hand side part of the backlog is only concerned with the strategic level, with each project represented by a sticky note. It uses a simple priority filter to establish priorities among projects. The four columns on that part of the board are from left to right:
| Priority 3 | Priority 2 | Priority 1 | Ready |
The right hand section of the backlog is concerned with the tactical level and is used to track the active projects and the tasks associated with them — as well as the smaller tasks which I aim execute in the coming week.
To the left of this section, a column is used to track projects which are active, i.e. which I have actually started. I call it PiP, project(s) in progress. This is what could be termed Meta-WIP, to use an expression Jim Benson once used: “projects are meta-WIP. Limiting to a few projects enables delivery. Limiting to a few tasks creates focus.” Further to the right is a much broader column, with a width which easily fits 5 stickies. The upper part is used to place tasks connected to the active project(s). The tasks placed at the same level than the sticky materializing the project they belong to in effect form something like a swimlane (ie horizontal column), although I have chosen not to materialize it on my board, as the number of tasks for a project can vary a great deal. The lower part is used to track all the small tasks which don’t belong to a projet that I may have to execute.
In the most recent iteration of this board, an additional horizontal section has been added to that part of the board, for also tracking recurring tasks.