5s in Personal Kanban

Jim BensonDesignPatterns, Expert, Primers2 Comments


Personal Kanban is a great tool to visualize your work, to limit your WIP and to take better control of your life, either alone or together with your significant other, your kids or even your team at the office. In contrast to industrial Kanban, in Personal Kanban, the items contained in the value stream are often less defined and more often than not even the outcome is not clear. A “go shopping for dinner” task might be clear enough but you could as well end up checking the shelves in the supermarket and decide you prefer to get a Chinese takeaway instead.

Nevertheless, if you have a Personal Kanban in place, customized to your own wishes and needs, suited for the way you like to work, things might or might not improve. After all, Kanban is only a tool, a method, and you still have to find the motivation inside you to make proper use of it. If you are so inclined, a simple Japanese philosophy might help you with this task.


Like Lean and Kanban, 5S comes from Japan and is regarded as one of the fundaments for what literature named “Just-In-Time” production. It basically is a set of steps that streamline the way people work, eliminate waste and inefficiencies and help in reducing variation in the process. Of course, your daily schedule is not such a process but the basic idea of these five steps is still helpful. If you pay attention to them, your Personal Kanban will prove fruitful for you and you will reap the benefits. If you are reading this, chances are high that you already are, without knowing it.

Step 1 – Seiri

Seiri means as much as cleaning, throwing your junk away, and in a certain way, this is what you need to do when implementing your Personal Kanban. If you have used (or still use) different ways of keeping track of your tasks, get rid of them. No scribbles next to your keyboard, no sticky notes next to your phone, no random reminders in your mobile phone. Do a spring clean, if it’s a task, put it in your Personal Kanban (the backlog, if it’s for later on), if it’s useless information, dump it. Make sure that there is only one place for you that contains all the information you need.

Step 2 – Seiton

Seiton means to bring things in order so you can use your Personal Kanban efficiently. It doesn’t matter if you are using a big whiteboard, a table or your office door but whatever you use, you should have everything you need accessible. Stock up on post-it notes in different colours, have pens at hand, maybe even a filer so you can store your finished tasks for later. Whatever it is, you should not have to search for it when you want to work with your Personal Kanban, and the tools should neither be far away nor in an uncomfortable position. A corner in your room for example is a bad idea, as I guarantee that you’ll lose your motivation if you constantly have to bend down to get a new post-it note.

Step 3 – Seiso

Seiso means to clean things or to shine them. This does not only mean that you should regularly take a cloth and scrub your whiteboard, if you have one, as noone likes dirt and dust. The bigger part of this means that you should keep your Personal Kanban tidy and in good shape. At the end of your workday, take a look at it, and ask yourself whether it is still a representation of your work. If tasks have become obsolete, then mark them as done. If you like to make notes to your tasks for later retrospectives, then now it’s the time to do so. Rearrange what’s left, reorder, make it look good. These minutes are not a lot of effort but if you start the next morning with a clean and up-to-date Kanban, you will feel better than if you had to start your day with cleaning things up first.

Step 4 – Seiketsu

Seiketsu is the task of standardizing things. Define for yourself a method for your Personal Kanban, and stick to it. If you use different colours or shapes for different kinds of things then be consistent with it. If you usually categorize doing your dishes as house chore, don’t suddenly use a different category just because you couldn’t find a post-it of the correct colour at hand. If you like to add deadlines to task items, make sure that each task with a deadline is marked accordingly. You want to be able to rely on the information your Personal Kanban gives you to make your decisions.

Step 5 – Shitsuke

Shitsuke means to sustain things and to be disciplined. Pay attention to the four steps above regularly. Use your Personal Kanban. Keep things clean and tidy, stick with the system you defined for yourself, restock on tools and whatever you need. And, above all: commit to what you are trying to achieve. Without discipline, your method will deteriorate over time and you’ll gradually fall back into your way you worked before you introduced Personal Kanban. With discipline you will not only maintain but also over time improve your flow (through Kaizen), and you will have more often successful days when you see what you’ve done.


Most likely, all of the five steps mentioned above will sound obvious to you. For me, personally, they have formed a ritual and a mindset that help me maintain order and stability in my Personal Kanban, which leads to clarity and allow me to make the right decisions.

Jim Benson5s in Personal Kanban

2 Comments on “5s in Personal Kanban”

  1. Samuel A. Falvo II

    5S can come in a different flavor that that discussed here though.

    For example, if you’re using a personal kanban to help out around the house, you can use 5S more along the lines as it was originally intended on the shop floor.

    For example, my kanban has a “Shop for” column that has a set of envelops in which you can put slips of paper. Each broad category of consumable has its own slip of paper, which sits at a specific location in the house. For example, in our supply cabinet, we store toilet paper, paper towels, bars of soap, toothpaste, etc. When we exhaust one of these resources, we find a slip of paper identifying what that thing is. You simply drop that in the Shop For envelop, and you basically have a shopping list pre-made and automatically made when you go shopping next.

    when restocking the cabinet, we return the slip of paper to its rightful place, and on top of that, the resource so named (unless the store was out, in which case the ticket remains in the shop-for column envelop).

    Another example is our former laundry system. We have two baskets (whites and colors) and two hampers (whites and colors). The baskets hold clean clothes yet to be folded and put away, while the hampers hold dirty clothes. We keep the baskets next to the dryer, and the hampers in the bathroom. Come the weekend, there’s no rush to collect the dirty laundry, nor any rush to sort them. We just dump the contents of a hamper into the wash, and go. When a load is dry, we never have to find a basket to put it in, since they’re right next to the dryer at all times. Very efficient, and frees up much time on the weekend for more personal projects.

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