What? You Say You Have Too Many Projects and Can’t Limit WIP?

Jim BensonGeneralLeave a Comment

Tonianne and I run the Personal Kanban, Modus Institute, Modus Cooperandi Corp-o-plex pretty much duo-handed. There’s a lot of work. The rules of Personal Kanban apply to us too. We are constantly experimenting with new ways to visualize our work and limit our Work-in-Process.

Right now, we have five proposals out, are discussing potential work with four other organizations, are supervising another translation of Personal Kanban, have a major client with seven concurrent internal projects, are putting out a new product (coming soon!), have two other clients that require touch, a new project of Toni’s, group classes for Modus Institute to track / schedule / lead, eight conferences to speak or teach at, and the usual biz dev / taxes / paperwork … oh and we’re redesigning web sites, making marketing collateral, and having interviews with the press or conversations with people.

So … how do you limit your WIP when it takes a paragraph to list just the types of work out – not even the tasks.

Well, the answer is simple … ish.

I’ll write about how we schedule out our weeks in a week or so, when I have more data about how our current shared board is working. But for this post, I just want to talk about this board.

This is my personal In-Flight board that is keeping track of all things Modus for me.

Blue column headings note client work, business operations, or speaking / open classes.

Green Big Bet stickies track my big bets (work I expect to take more than a month to complete or are the entire project).

Orange stickies are either the upcoming value delivery package or event (proposal, call, class video, etc).

Red stickies are highlights that the Big Bet needs action.

Purple are Today’s WIP.  (It’s Sunday, so I’m just getting two things out and writing this blog post).

The columns tomorrow will be joined by our week’s Big Bets – Toni and I select two or three things each week to “knock out.”  Last week it was to get a prototype design of our new product to the producer. Which, I’m happy to say we did.

We pick a few big bets each week that can live in the flow of the work you see here. That way we make sure that company goals and needs are both met.

Actual tasks are not tracked on this board.  They are on my pretty eternal “Immediate Personal Kanban” which has been up long enough for the title stickies to be faded and the “Options” column to actually say ready.  (Let this be a testimony to super sticky post its).

The two items in doing are the two items in the purple ticket.

Mea Culpa – While writing this I “remembered” three other things to put on the portfolio wall and two more things on this board.

So … the important thing to remember is that Personal Kanban is always an exercise to keeping track, keeping honest, and keeping control.  We lose track, we lie to ourselves, and we surely lose control all the time. Don’t lose heart, just know that this is part of being human and busy.

The Exercise:

  1. Take several colors of Super Stickies
  2. Decide colors for title, big bet, active work (what you need to do), status (what is in flight and you don’t need to act on right now), and current WIP.
  3. Start writing down all your responsibilities as projects / big bets
  4. Ask yourself as you go along, “Is this how I want to spend my time?”
  5. Note big bets, projects, or tasks that you answer “no” to.
  6. Begin to strategize how to make that work improve or go away.
  7. Systematically and calmly do the rest.

My goal at the end of any day is to get those red stickies to disappear.  In essence, turning the board into active tasks I’ve let fly.  In this way, I’m able to keep multiple responsibilities in flight while limiting my WIP.

Over time, I’ve asked myself that question a lot.  It’s led Toni and me to select customers carefully and extract ourselves from situations in which we were personally invested, but didn’t lead to a healthy company or healthy Toni and Jim.

So, be busy … but be busy right.

Jim BensonWhat? You Say You Have Too Many Projects and Can’t Limit WIP?

A Christmas Story of Care, Family, and Healing

Jim BensonGeneralLeave a Comment

The holidays are wonderful times, but also difficult ones.

I was interviewing Deb McGee, a client, colleague, and friend about how our time spent working with her team went. At the end, she turned the interview to the fully “personal” side of Personal Kanban. During a holiday season, Deb suffered a profound personal loss, but was determined to give her family a holiday season.  She could have done this through denial or burying her feelings. She chose, instead, to meet the holiday’s head-on and realistically decide what she could do and what was “too soon”.

I’ll let her tell her own story in the interview.  I hope you find it as inspiring as I do.

Happy Holidays, everyone.


Jim BensonA Christmas Story of Care, Family, and Healing

For Context, Clarity, & Continuous Improvement, Get Rid of That To-Do List

TonianneFeatured, General, PersonalKanban, Project Management, Projects1 Comment

Make list.

Become overwhelmed.

Cross off low-hanging fruit.

Feel good (momentarily).

Tackle next easiest task.


Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? But why simply optimize for productivity, when you can shoot for effectiveness?

Those seemingly interminable, anxiety-inducing to-do lists – we’ve all been beholden to them. But if context, clarity, and continuous improvement are what you’re looking for, there just might be a better option.

For something with such a staggering amount of information, to-do lists fail miserably at providing the context necessary to effectively prioritize our work, understand and communicate our capacity, or surface issues so we can address them in real-time, preventing them from recurring.

Rather than create a static, task-focused, prescriptive inventory of your to-dos – inviting little more than an opportunity to react – visualizing your work on a flexible, flow-focused Personal Kanban transforms those to-dos into a narrative of your work that promotes cognitive ease and invites informed action. Tasks are situated in context, options and priorities become obvious, and emergent patterns (like recurring bottlenecks) give us the necessary feedback to invite discussion, collaboration, and/or improvement.

TonianneFor Context, Clarity, & Continuous Improvement, Get Rid of That To-Do List

Design: The Status Column

Jim BensonDesignPatterns, PersonalKanbanLeave a Comment

The Problem: Sometimes we are waiting to hear the status of something. That status could come at any time and from any type of communication (email, phone, mention in the hallway, etc.). But we are waiting. If we wait too long, not knowing will cause us problems – but waiting isn’t a task. We lose track of time and suddenly we are under the gun.

The Solution: Build the Personal Kanban to specifically track status items and let us know when they require action.

The Narrative: We’ve all been there. That day when someone says to us, “How’s that thing going?” and we realize “Oh crap! I don’t know!” Then we have to scramble to find out.

Someone else or some group of “someone elses” are responsible to getting something done, but it directly impacts us. We can’t call them every day and say, “Are you done yet?” because that’s micromanaging. But we do need to have an idea of where they are at.

At Modus, we’ve found specifically calling out items we are waiting for status on (things outside our group and therefore not on our Personal Kanban) allows us to treat them as potential tasks. If someone reports in on time, it simply moves to DONE and never required us to act. If it sits too long, then it becomes a task.


Jim BensonDesign: The Status Column

5 Ways to Focus and Finish

Jim BensonExpert, Neuroscience1 Comment

Focusing on our most important work (so that we can get it out the door and create value) is hard. It’s harder still when work suddenly picks up, is unfamiliar, or arrives with immediate deadlines when we are already busy.

The tyranny of the urgent often distracts us from what is truly important. We lose focus on the important and end up doing a lot of “busy-work”. By then end of the day we are frustrated. The real value wasn’t created, but the business was satisfied. We need to understand what “most important” means. It’s not always easy to just “know” what task out of the hundreds we have on our plate is the best to jump on right now.

When we visualize our work and limit our work in progress, we can see beyond the urgent and find what’s the best use of our time.

We can then sit down with our brains and have an honest chat. What do we need to do? What relies on others? What is stopping us from doing that one task that just sits there in our OPTIONS column and doesn’t move? Why do we promise we’ll get those things done today, but at the end of the day it is still just sitting there?

You’ll see that our latest newsletter is on this theme of finding focus in a world of noise. Focus isn’t a “light” topic, we all struggle with it every day. Below are five of our top ranked posts on focus. If you have a story about how Personal Kanban has helped you find focus, please leave it in the comments and let us (and the community) know!

1) The Overhead of Overwork

In our work, we take on more and more because the task seems small and we don’t understand our actual capacity. We take on more and more because we can’t see we are already overloaded. One day, we burn out, we break down, we snap. Read more.

2) HOW TO: How to Limit WIP #3–Reducing Interruptions

The fact is that interruptions are part of knowledge work. We seldom do it alone, which means we have colleagues. Colleagues require information. Information requires communication. Communication requires attention. Read more.

3) Finishing Feels Good

In order to complete, we need some help. We need something to ground us, something to focus us, and something to propel us. Once we have these elements, projects at work become easier, communication becomes smoother, and motivation is easily found. Read more.

4) Time to Completion

What if the game of work was to continuously improve the quality and rate of delivery of your work? The game becomes ways to discover how you can work most effectively, most innovatively. The game stops being how close to an arbitrary deadline can you complete something. Read more.

5) On Focus: Conquering the Shiny Squirrel

Task-switching begets more task-switching, not completion. This is often attributed to “the Zeigarnik Effect,” a phenomenon in which information and tasks left incomplete don’t leave our mind. Instead, we dwell on those incomplete tasks, and those intrusive thoughts render us vulnerable to distractions. The energy that consumes–the metabolism task-switching requires–drains our cognitive capacity, causing frustration, burnout, impeding focus and inviting error and rework, preventing us from realizing our optimal potential. Read more.

Focus Deep

What does it take to focus? When we teach or work with clients, the need to focus is always the base of any board or system we create. We are all distracted. We’ve directly addressed this in the Personal Kanban online class. Sign up today and join the hundreds of other PK students from around the world. And stay in touch.

Jim Benson5 Ways to Focus and Finish

How Many Options Do You Have?

Jim BensonDesignPatternsLeave a Comment

The other day I was driving down Point Brown Road in Ocean Shores, Washington. Ocean Shores is a small town with almost no economic base. If you live there you are likely a retiree or work in one of the restaurants or hotels that serve the tourists. The Internet in Ocean Shores is anemic, but it does exist. Yet, when I drove by the McDonalds in the center of town, the sign said, “Now hiring, apply on-line.”

There is an assumption that everyone, now, in the United States has access to the Internet.

With the Internet, we can reach millions of people in an instant. We can research anything in milliseconds. We can find opportunities.

We live in a world of options.

Options of growth, options to waste our time, options to be informed, options to be misinformed. We can get a degree. We can write a book. We can work at McDonalds.

This is good and this can be overwhelming.  We can now build a wide-range of things to do simply through the electronic slabs in our homes.

Further, we have all the expectations placed on us by co-workers, bosses, clients, family, friends, the government, and ourselves. They want us to do things. We want us to do things. All those things are more options.

We all have tons of options.

When you are creating your first Personal Kanban, your first goal is to simply understand all you could be doing right now or that is expected of you.

The Options Triangle

Understand your options

Here’s how you might start out.

  1. Write down all the expectations people have of you.
  2. Write down all the things you would like to do (not just work, you want to go to Bali and sit on the beach … write it down.)
  3. In your options column make a triangle like the one below
  4. Use this to organize your current supply of options by placing the options in the portion of the triangle that best described the mix of obligation, desire, and growth.
  5. Ask yourself … what does this mean?

With this quick tool, your work will begin to take shape. Is your work merely obligation? Do you want to do the work on your plate? Is this work building your skills or challenging your intellect? Ideally, we’d like to see tasks working into the middle to middle -right of the triangle. We want to engage in options that allow growth and that we enjoy.

This helps us see the context of the options we have amassed. A vacation in Bali will likely be high in desire and even growth.  Moving to Bali and sitting on the beach for eternity might be a good escape, but might not be so high on the growth side.

One other thing about this triangle. It’s not the magic trianglethere is no magic triangle.  There is no magic anything except magic erasers for everything else, you have to work.

You can swap out any of the words in the triangle at-will. If you want to collaborate more, swap out “growth” for “collaboration”. Your context is your own.  Another triangle might measure risks like “resources” “complexity” and “time”. Make your own, improve on it. Make a better one, but please examine your options carefully and choose wisely.

Jim BensonHow Many Options Do You Have?

Q: What stops you from acting? A: You!

Jim BensonNeuroscienceLeave a Comment

Image result for procrastination quotesMost of us, in our heads, have a list of “If I had onlies”.  These are horrible little things that nag us. If I’d only painted those steps, if I’d only bought those shares when the company was at the bottom, if I’d only … It’s clear we can’t live in a world of regret, but it’s also clear that we often don’t act when we know we should. Regret comes from a combination of inaction and hindsight.

But why don’t we act?

It’s been shown that we humans tend to default to a mode of conservation of energy, which is another way of saying we will tend to find the least onerous way to do something. Often that means accepting the status quo or outright inaction over changing something or acting. We become action or change averse because it’s simply too much work either to think about of physically do.

Procrastination, you might say, is a survival mechanism – but one that is working overtime. We need to remind ourselves of the importance of the goals we want to achieve and the things we want to get done.

Studies have found that writing down goals makes us as much as 85% more likely to achieve them, which leaves us little hope for achieving things we don’t write down.

It’s not hard to see how Personal Kanban helps here. The act of writing something down and adding it to your Personal Kanban, then regularly revisiting the board to see what you could be doing next both reminds us of the task and reinforces our desire to see that it gets done.

Jim BensonQ: What stops you from acting? A: You!

Finding Our Own Value – Growing By Understanding

Jim BensonDesignPatterns, FeaturedLeave a Comment

There are those days where your Personal Kanban is on fire. You are in a state of flow and tickets are just moving right along. The days go by and you look at your DONE column … it’s full. Really really full.

The DONE tickets seem to swim. There are so many of them. You’ve been productive, but what might all that work actually mean?

A few weeks ago I started a side experiment. By hand, each day, I wanted to see what the actual impact of my work was … on me.

What was I getting from the work I was doing? What was I learning? How was I making sure I was becoming healthier? 

Was I stuck in the productivity trap and not growing … not being truly effective?

Tracking Learning, Creating, and Health

Tracking Learning, Creating, and Health

Each day I gathered my Inputs, Outputs, and Maintenance, which is an overly technical way of saying:

  • What did I learn today?
  • What did I create today?
  • What did I do to make sure I stayed healthy.

LEARN: In the first four days we see here, we see both talking to clients and reading made up the bulk of inputs. Almost immediately this section paid off. I noticed that I specifically set aside time to start reading Humble Inquiry, simply so I’d have something to put in the block. Since starting this, my reading radically shot up, due to this one simple adjustment.

CREATE: Creation was anything for work or otherwise, so we have writing proposals, recommendation letters and even sous vide ribs. The question wasn’t necessarily what made me money, but what did I create that kept me … well … creative.

MAINTENANCE: Since starting this, I was taken down by a nasty

Reading List in Personal Kanban

Toni’s PK Reading List

little bit of pneumonia, but we can see here that from the outset I started walking (a peak of 13.2k steps and 81 floors that week), that I’m talking to friends, and that I’m scheduling needed doctors visits (hard to get time to do when you travel a lot).

RESULTS: Immediately, visualizing the very loose goals of simply learning, creating, and maintaining created tickets on my Personal Kanban board, changed the way I organized my day (to allow for frequent short walks), and got me to focus each day on a balance of learning, creating, and being a whole human being.  Shortly after putting the books I was reading on our board, Tonianne added the book column on the right to our shared board.

Why is that important? Because my starting to do this was due to her putting, out of the blue, reading time into her Personal Kanban.  She had simply put that she was reading Deep Work on the board.

That got me to thinking about what I was reading and one thing led to another. She made a little improvement, I ran a little experiment, she made another little improvement.

Meta-Lesson: When we visualize for ourselves or others, new information is created. When we expose ourselves or others to new information, improvement opportunities are exposed.



Jim BensonFinding Our Own Value – Growing By Understanding

Construire son premier tableau de Personal Kanban

Jim BensonFrench1 Comment

Construire son premier tableau de Personal Kanban est vraiment quelque chose de très simple.

Tout ce qu’il vous faut est un tableau blanc ou, à défaut, un mur, des crayons-feutres et des feuillets adhésifs.

Une première étape consiste à établir votre chaîne de valeur.

La chaîne de valeur représente le flux de votre travail de son début à son achèvement. Il vous permet de dessiner une véritable carte de votre travail.

Le mieux est de commencer par la chaîne de valeur la plus simple, avec seulement trois colonnes:

  • BACKLOG: travail en attente d’exécution
  • EN COURS: travail en cours
  • FINI: travail achevé


Cette configuration très simple vous permettra de commencer à mieux comprendre le contexte de votre travail. Vous pourrez ensuite le modifier en fonction de vos besoins.

Une deuxième étape consiste à établir votre backlog.

Le backlog représente tout le travail que vous n’avez pas encore fait et qu’il vous reste à exécuter.

Commencez par dresser la liste de toutes les choses à faire. Pour cela, utilisez un feuillet adhésif par tâche ou projet, en prenant soin de ne rien négliger.


Vous vous en sentirez soulagé, car cela vous permettra de prendre la mesure du travail à accomplir.

La troisième étape consiste à établir votre limite de WIP.

La limite de travail en cours ou WIP (de l’anglais Work in Progress) c’est la quantité de travail en cours que vous pouvez gérer à un moment donné.

Nous avons tous une tendance chronique à laisser les tâches à moitié ou même presque terminées. le fait de visualiser permet de prendre conscience de l’accumulation de tâches non complétées. La solution est simple: passez vos tâches en revue, débarrassez-vous-en une à une, finissez le travail.


Pour trouver le juste équilibre dans votre travail, il faut commencer par définir une limite de travail en cours arbitraire, disons pas plus de trois tâches. Ajoutez ce nombre à votre colonne EN COURS. Assurez-vous de commencer avec un nombre réaliste, vous permettant de respirer. Attendez-vous à voir cette limite changer.

La quatriéme étape consite à commencer à tirer les tâches

Tirer: faire passer une tâche d’une colonne de la chaîne de valeur à la suivante.

Chaque fois que vous vous le faites, définissez des priorités en fonction de votre contexte actuel.


Plongez dans votre BACKLOG et de là tirez les tâches de plus haute priorité vers EN COURS. Ne tirez pas plus que votre limite de TAF ne vous le permet.

Quand vous complétez une tâche, tirez celle-ci vers FINI.


Votre colonne FINI devrait rapidement commencer à se remplir, reflétant en cela votre productivité.

C’est aussi simple que cela. Utiliser ce Kanban personnel de base pendant quelque temps vous permettra une meilleure compréhension de votre travail. Son évolution ira de pair avec celle de votre Kanban personnel.

Jim BensonConstruire son premier tableau de Personal Kanban

Qu’est-ce que le Kanban et le Personal Kanban ?

Jim BensonFrenchLeave a Comment

Le terme kanban peut avoir plusieurs sens.

1. Le mot japonais kanban.

Au départ, kanban est le mot japonais pour une carte, un ticket ou un signe.

Kan = Visuel
Ban = carte

2. Le kanban dans le système de production de Toyota

Au lendemain de la seconde guerre mondiale, l’ingénieur japonais Taiichi Ōno s’inspira du système de carte communément utilisé pour le réapprovisionnement dans les supermarchés et l’adapta aux besoins de la production automobile chez Toyota.

C’est ainsi qu’un système de cartes permettait désormais à chaque étape du processus de production industrielle d’indiquer en amont le besoin de réapprovisionner un poste de travail sur la chaîne de montage.

Un tel système qui fonctionne en quelque sorte à reculons : chaque fois qu’une pièce est utilisée, la carte de kanban correspondante est envoyée en amont pour qu’une nouvelle pièce soit produite et livrée. Le kanban sert à signaler le besoin qui se manifeste. La pièce requise est ainsi produite en fonction de la demande, au moment opportun. Un tel système de travail à flux tiré permet de minimiser l’inventaire.

Le kanban est donc depuis lors un outil on ne peut plus simple mais qui se révèle très précieux pour gérer le flow et la production de composants dans le système de production de Toyota.

3. Le kanban chez les développeurs de logiciels

En substance, au tout début du vingt-et-unième siècle, certains développeurs de logiciels s’inspirèrent du Kanban industriel et l’adaptèrent aux besoins spécifiques de leur travail d’équipe.

Le contexte était bien différent: il ne s’agissait plus de production industrielle, mais de travail des connaissances.

Une telle pratique Lean du développement de logiciels prit le plus souvent la forme de l’utilisation d’un tableau blanc et des feuillets adhésifs.

Il est intéressant d’observer que ces informaticiens loin d’avoir recours à un logiciel pour faire gérer leur projets de développement souvent d’une grande complexité aient eu recours à une approche low tech.

4. Le Personal Kanban

Le Personal Kanban est une façon très simple de visualiser son travail pour mieux le gérer en utilisant un tableau de kanban.

Nous sommes tous l’objet de multiples sollicitations, entre les tâches à exécuter, les personnes avec qui interagir, les responsabilités que nous pouvons avoir et même nos loisirs. Par ailleurs, les plans les mieux conçus doivent composer avec la réalité, toujours pleine d’incertitude, et nous devons savoir faire preuve de flexibilité et nous adapter rapidement à des circonstances toujours changeantes. Notre cerveau trouve toutefois bien difficile de jongler avec des priorités multiples.
Le Personal Kanban se révèle précieux à cet égard. Il permet de visualiser la quantité de travail que nous avons à faire et la façon dont nous l’exécutons. C’est une façon très simple de dresser une carte de votre travail. Celle-ci a vocation à s’adapter parfaitement aux circonstances personnelles de chacun. Le Personal Kanban peut-être mis en oeuvre tant individuellement qu’au sein de votre famille ou de votre équipe de travail.

Le Personal Kanban n’a que deux règles:

  • Règle n° 1. Visualiser votre travail.
  • Règle n° 2. Limiter votre travail en cours.

C’est aussi simple que cela.

Pour se faire, on utilisera un premier Personal Kanban qui vous permettra une meilleure compréhension de votre travail. L’évolution de celle-ci ira de pair avec celle de votre tableau de Kanban personnel.

Mon prochain billet vous expliquera comment construire son premier tableau de Personal Kanban.

Jim BensonQu’est-ce que le Kanban et le Personal Kanban ?