For few months, I have been using a Personal Kanban board like the one below: 

Figure 1: My current personal kanban board 

This is not an usual style for a Personal Kanban implementation. A more common way is to distribute tasks in limited columns representing items to do, ready, doing and done, which it is an interesting model once it creates visibility in terms of tasks in focus and also encourages flow. My design, however, puts in place a different model. I call it "the initiative box" and I have been using it not only for my Personal Kanban, but also for helping clients to visualize their portfolio of initiatives. 


The semantics of the "Initiative Box" is composed by three main elements: initiatives, targets and tasks. An initiative is a project that you are involved with. One initiative can be decomposed in one or more targets. A target is an accomplishment inside the scope of the initiative. In order to accomplish that target, I need to execute some activities (tasks).

The main reason to use a design like that is to see my work as a more holistic set of activities. I'm always involved in quite a few initiatives. Some of the them are long term initiatives (like product development). Others take just few weeks. Each one of these initiatives requires a little of my attention at the moment. The goal is to balance some long term initiatives with few quick ones. I try to do that by making the short term initiatives flow fast, and by making the long term initiatives more sustainable as time goes on. The "Initiave box" creates a mental model based on the constraints provided by the limits suggested on the physical space.  

This approach helps me to restrict my options, which influence me to focus on finishing pendent work, instead of starting new one. Before I accept new work, I learn to "see" my mental map to figure it out how to make it fit. The connection between the high level vision provided by the "initiative/target" semantics with the low level rhythm of planning and executing tasks, is what I think makes this visualization holistic.

How it works

Figure 2 shows how each one of the initiative boxes is structured. You probably need to design your board using one of these boxes for each initiative you want to track. The number of boxes will depend on the limit you want to impose to your portfolio to generate flow and focus. It is important to reserve some capacity (some boxes) to short term initiatives. So, you can always have an horizon to pull new initiatives as the ones on these boxes are getting complete. 

The blue ticket in Figure 2 represents an initiative. You need to decompose it in targets. Those targets should be minimal and a tangible result should be associated to them. I use to have targets with a result that provides some kind of visibility to other people interested in the initiative. When the target become the new current target, it is moved to the "In Progress" area and then it is decomposed in tasks. Only one target per time is allowed in the "in progress" area. Target tasks are positioned on the "Planned" area. As the work evolves, you pull tasks from the "planned" area to the "in progress" area, one at a time. When you finish the in progress task, you move it to the "executed" area. They remain there until all tasks finish.

There is an optional final area on the right side of the box to hold achieved targets. But after some time using this approach, I've decide to deprecate this area in favor of a new retrospective area, which I will explain in the next topic.     

Figure 2: The Initiative Box elements and structure


I think it is important to preserve the past, so you can use it to get better in the future. So, at certain point, the Initiative Box connected to a new visualization idea that I also use in teams. I call it "self-retrospective". I used that with few teams in particular contexts, but here I was interested in how seeing the past can influence me when projecting the future. So, I've created a vertical area, with each month of the year on the right side (pink stickies in Figure 1). As targets are being achieved I move them to the correspondent month in the self-retrospective area (see green stickies in Figure 1). Tasks associated with these targets are also moved to the retrospective area and putted in a space near to the time period that each task was complete. The date of completion of a task or target is noted when I finish them to facilitate this process.

Every time I deliver a target, I naturally review what happened from that point backwards. By reading previous tasks and targets, I create a mental model relating effort and capacity, which help me to remove some false assumptions about my potential throughput of work.  

Other Contexts

I also have been applying this visual management tool to help teams, managers and other professionals to look at their portfolio of initiatives as they look to a map. In this particular example (Figure 3), I help a certain company to put together few leaders and other influencers of the main Value Stream to run and design, as a group, a system for continuous "problem solving" initiatives.

Figure 3: The Initiative Box in a context of "problem solving" initiatives.

After a root cause analysis work, they started two problem solving initiatives for each economic opportunity identified as key at the moment (like increase profitability, turn-over reduction, cost reduction and others), each one with well-defined targets and tasks pulled by people inside or even outside of the group. The semantics is completely different, but the visual structure that supports the visualization is the same "Initiative Box" covered on this post.

In contexts like that where a team is working together in different initiatives, the map is the place where conversations happen. The board is an invitation to discuss not only what should be done, but also how the work should be perceived by everyone (shared mental model). The team working with the board presented in Figure 3 does 15 to 30 min stand-up meetings every 15 days. It is a synchronization cadence to update the results and re-align efforts.

Final Words

The Initiative box offers a more holistic way to see interconnected work. It connects the hierarchy of necessary steps to pursue a goal, preserving important ideas promoted in the Kanban community, like flow, visibility, wip constraints, focus in finishing current work, wisdom to select new work to start, enable conversation and collaboration and finally offering a systemic view so people can see their work as a whole.   


Posted by: alissonvale
Posted on: 7/12/2011 at 5:15 PM
Tags: , , ,
Categories: techniques
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