Personal Kanban: my experience

IMG_5273I think every Project Manager knows how easily you can become flooded with the tasks. While developers can afford spending some time on the single task, PM has to switch between a lot of tasks during the single hour (some PMs think that they are multitasking, but it is not true :). Sometimes, in the end of the day I feel like I spent all my time on switching and dream about getting some task on which I can spend 3 hours in a row and not been distracted.

Developers usually say that while they work they fully wrap their mind around the task at hand, they create the “mental model” of the classes, methods, etc and they need some time to “get context loaded” when they start working with the task.  They feel something like the “work stream”, so when they are distracted – it takes time to get back to it.

I should say, for me PMs work process is the same – I get to the office in the morning, sit in my chair and have so spend some time to “load mental model” of my projects: project details, people, relationships, todos, etc. Sometimes I do that on my way to work. I am not keeping all details in my head all the time – I unwrap this model when it is needed. The difference between the “work stream” of developer and the manager is that manager’s constants of “interruptions” –  you have to think quick, make some decisions, answer questions and be always alarmed.

Sometimes I felt flooded with the incoming interruptions, so I could not keep my mental model in my head any more – it was too big (remember, PMs brains are rather small).


The other reason I wanted to try something “with stickers” that I envied developer’s when they could set something “Done” on their board. As PM I usually felt in the end of the day, that nothing is done. Even if huge amount of things were actually done – you have the never ending flow of the incoming requests, hundreds of email, etc. So I wanted to see what was done. In my personal range of the things which motivate me is the feeling of accomplishment.

So, I started my personal kanban board) I was not caring about the productivity, I was caring more about the value I create during the day, so I can better choose the tasks for “to do next”.

Why personal kanban? Because it is that simple – the main rules for the personal kanban are:

  • visualize your work
  • limit work in progress

I started simply with creating the board:


After a month I could see the following:

  • personal kanban provided me clarity in what I am doing during the day and allowed to find out that I do myself something I could give someone else (and I succeed in that).
  • I limited work in progress, so switching was less and I felt less exhausted in the end of the day (as PM you should just get used that everything could not be done till the end of the day – you should just prioritize better).
  • I coped faster with big tasks (when I need to spend several times in a row to finish the task)
    I felt SO GOOD when put the sticker with the task to DONE column! It was like getting the prize)
    When a new task came I just put it on the board and prioritized when I had “prioritization time” in the end of the day. I had some time booked for URGENT!!! tasks.
  • I could load my “mental model” faster looking at the board with all tasks.
  • I started planning less for the day. I got some days when I went home doing all from “to do” for this day! (No, the amount of tasks remained the same. No, I was not cheating. I just stopped lying myself).
  • When a person came to my table with “small 5 minute task” he could see how full is my board today. And we more often figured out who else can help us instead of me having another “dead” task on my list which is postponed every day.

Of course, sometimes I had smth like this on my board:


But I just took the next sticker from “to do” instead of panic. Sticker by sticker I cleaned “to do”)


Our current non-development (actually, it’s just “Office Operations”) team uses such a simple board for coordination too:


10 thoughts on “Personal Kanban: my experience

  1. Excellent one. I have planned the same on white board. I have columns like to do, delegated, fixed in QA, and closed .. I have this priority matrix also. So that helps me to load mental model better.

    1. I am glad to hear that I am not the only PM to have the “projects mental model”) Usually developers say that only they use such “context” approach. Also I noticed that my memory is not as good as it was 5 years ago, so I definitely need such boards)))

      1. Oh ya for sure I also keep forgetting things. U know something .. I spoke about why agile is failing in my office after reading your earlier posts and people where impressed. Thanks for your article on that

  2. I love your example – I use the Ipad App IScrumboard that does the same and use it intensly in my private to do’s because mostly there’s no need to share information. In the office I have my assistant and she is brilliant in managing my professional lifetime ( I hope this doesn’t sound too arrogant – it shouldn’t – I really mean it )

  3. Omgoodness i do that too. But for my revision. I should probably emulate your method to make the post its neater 🙂

  4. Great post!
    I’m a bit lazy to write stickers, so it is just a bunch of paper sheets with tasks written in different directions with arrows, marks and crazy pictures, in my case 🙂

    1. That’s almost the same) But I like moving stickers to done) Now i have no personal board, I am using paper too. But I just can’t do that in my computer, I need physical evidence!

  5. Something really interested me about the DevOps board. It mentions Trello. Do you have any comments on why they mix physical and ‘virtual’ boards?

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