Lean Office

Agile Kanban Journal: Kaizens on Day 1

By Jon Miller Published on June 22nd, 2009

agile kanban kaizen day 1.JPG Kaizen is all about making small changes persistently every day and keeping the ones that turn out to be for the better. And so it is that with a little help from friends my agile kanban board evolves on the first day of its use. Last week I dumped all of my major projects and near-term tasks onto a simple erasable magnet board. Today I started my day, after taking care of a few e-mails and other interruptions, by looking at the right side of the agile kanban board, and working through the tasks from right to left. It felt like a fairly successful day.
The far right column is now simply “Delegated to”. There were two tiles in the header previously, but one will suffice. The new rule is that there is no limit to the number of tiles that can be placed here. Theoretically, with 10-minutes per follow-up e-mail per day the limit is around 50 items per 500 minute work day, but in reality the space won’t fit more than 7 in one column, 14 if doubled up, with very little space for notes on the board itself. I will be perfectly happy to dedicate more space on the board to delegated tasks: the day when all 20 items are in that column will be the day when I have successfully worked myself out of a job.
Right away I saw the need for some prioritization and categorization system. But I din’t have all day to figure this out. Taking David J Anderson’s advice, I kept it simple. I used materials close at hand: color white board markers. There are three categories of tasks on the board. The green indicates near or mid-term revenue-generating tasks. The blue indicate long-term or company-building tasks. The red are any of the above which are urgent or overdue. This allows me to always work on the red things first, then the green, then the blue. There is a risk that I will never get to the blue tasks, granted. We shall see.
I spent no more than 4 hours working the items on this board today. As a result, there were:

Movers = 3 (green, red x2);
Items done = 2 (green, red);
New items = 1 (blue)

So in terms of net reduction of tiles on the board, my output for the day was two. Who knows if that is good or bad, but it’s a provisional standard. There were quite a few small changes made during the day as I was learning to use this agile kanban method.
agile kanban kaizen day 1 zoom.JPG
The limit of all WIP items on the board is 20. The only reason for this is that the two dry erase panels were cut into a total of 24 pieces, and there are 4 used as headers for the columns. This is somewhat arbitrary but we need to start somewhere. It will take a few months of experimentation and measuring the trend of the lead times to complete items in order to see whether the number of tiles has an effect either way. Total allowable work in process in the second column from the left by the same name has now been reduced from 4 to 3, a 25% improvement! But seriously, having room below the top three items was just a way to cheat, to let things jump the queue to allow for cherry-picking and more task-switching. So I nixed that.
Limiting it to 3 pieces of WIP, and taking John Santomer’s advice on marking the dates directly on the tiles has freed up room to the right of the tiles in the Work in Process column. This has proven useful as an area for working notes. It is used to break down the project (tiles) into smaller tasks. In fact what I call Work Items on the left column are all projects of some size and any single one could be managed through a traditional 3-column Scheduled-Working-Done agile kanban task board.
Summary of kaizens to my agile kanban board on day 1:
Color-coded prioritization scheme in trial. If these categories survive, the next step is to set a desired output level for each and then set limits for each one based on some balanced measurement of productivity and lead time.
Tiles now include start dates. At such times that they are completed, that date will be written below and the elapsed time recorded in a document TBD.
Work in process section redesigned, There are now three sections to limit WIP to 3 and to create space for writing task details.
Total cash spent on implementing these ideas: zero
I will try this out for a few more days and report new findings. Please keep the suggestions and questions coming. It has been very helpful so far.

  1. Scott

    June 23, 2009 - 8:15 am

    I myself use the dry erase board method but know that the minor issues can become a major problem if you do not take care of them early and then they will take 3 times as much time to resolve. That is why I allocate a time each day to take care of the quick hitters so they are closed and off the board. People say they can multi-task but in reality you can only do one thing at a time and the board ensures that I do not loose focus on what is still open.

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