“Personal Kanban” Book Review

During my time learning about “Agile” software development methodologies and personal management (See Getting Results the Agile Way by J.D.Meier), I came across the concept of Kanban and was intrigued by its dashboard-like, visual setup; something I’ve felt was missing from many of the time management systems out there. “Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life” by Tonianne DeMaria Barry and Jim Benson was pretty much the only source of information for using Kanban as a personal productivity system so I decided to give it a read.

Described as a system that abhors rules, there are only 2 rules: Visualize your work, and limit your WIP (Work In Progress). Visualizing your work involves getting ALL of your current work items written down (They use the example of a Post-It note), which is very similar to David Allen’s “get everything out of your head”. Having all of your tasks on sticky notes allows you to see everything you need to get done, and thus helps with making the decision of what is the best next thing to do.

Limiting your WIP means only allowing yourself to move on a small number of tasks at one time until that task is complete. This basically is a method of preventing multi-tasking which has been shown to reduce productivity.

Using these 2 rules, Personal Kanban then goes through and shows you how to set up your first Kanban board, how to “pull” tasks through the system, how to set your own personal WIP limit, and some advanced topics (Metrics, task categorization, implementing with other system like GTD, etc)

Personal Kanban does a good job of explaining the concepts to help you get up and running. It has a good level of detail and offers explanations as to why you want to implement the rules of the system. Writing is clear and concise and examples are provided to help drive home points, although I wish that either more examples or a case study to help visualize the process.

On the downside, Personal Kanban goes a bit overboard on a few topics, jumping on them over and over again (Limiting WIP). I think that while the topic is important, another method other than repetition could have been chosen to explain it’s importance. I would liked to have seen more discussion on the more advanced topics like metrics and implementing it with other systems. At times, it felt very disorganized about incorporating personal tasks with business and/or career tasks. Finally, I have found that the system has too much overhead for people that have a lot of projects on the go and/or a large backlog. The amount of sticky notes becomes massive and it seems that the only way is to have an entire whiteboard for each and every project; something that isn’t too appealing. Nothing was really offered on what to do about this.

Despite all this, I recommend reading Personal Kanban if the topic interests you. It wasn’t life changing for me, but more of a minor evolution or a tool that I can use. But I do think that I would need to make some changes to the system as a whole to make it work for me.

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