Implementing Kanban? Start with Yourself!


While Kanban is an evolutionary (non-disruptive) change management process, the fact is that it requires a change in organizational and management practices and behavior that can be daunting.  The best place to begin that change is at a personal level.  We are deeply honored to have Jim Benson – the father of Personal Kanban – write a guest blog for us that emphasizes precisely that and helps you get started!

Since Tonianne and I started writing about Personal Kanban 12 years ago, we’ve been gratified and amazed with both the rapid adoption and the expressiveness with which people create their boards. Beyond that, it’s been wonderful to watch tools like SwiftKanban take the ideas and create convenient tools that busy people can use to visualize their work and limit their work-in-progress (WIP).

Simple Tips For Effective Personal Kanban

The ideas behind Personal Kanban are simple, we want to:

  • Visualize our work because we can better manage what we can see, and
  • Limit our work-in-progress because we cannot do more work than we can handle.

One of the main goals of having a Personal Kanban is the adoption of a “kaizen attitude”. This is an attitude of continuous improvement. By visualizing our work and limiting WIP, we are able to focus on completion, better understand the choices we are making, and gain an appreciation for how long it really takes us to complete things. These factors combine to further make us aware of what we do, why we are doing it, and what, ultimately, we actually enjoy doing.

Improvement then can come in a variety of forms:

  • what am I doing now that I can do faster (efficiency)
  • what can I do to make sure I’m working at my optimal rate (productivity)
  • what can I do to make my work of the highest practical quality (effectiveness)
  • what can I do to increase my satisfaction and quality of life (happiness)
  • what can I do to make sure I’m providing quality work to those who need it (customer centeredness) and so on

This list can extend for as long as there are questions of improvement we have … and we have many.

Right now, however, most people are unable to devote attention to any of those questions. As we ignore them, we ignore our professionalism. But the fact is, today we are afforded little time for improvement. We are constantly dealing with emergencies. There is always a burning email or a phone call or one more promise that is on a back burner that we have to get to.

And this is true for everyone – even Personal Kanban practitioners. Simply because we create our own Personal Kanban does not mean that the universe suddenly calms – if anything we see it as even more complicated than we did before. But we start to get a more realistic picture of our lives, our work, and our promises.

People often fall off the Personal Kanban wagon. Periods of work arise that are so overwhelming that most people simply cannot continue any regimen be it a kanban, eating regularly, or sleeping right. That, unfortunately, is part of life. I’ve had many people tell me they “failed” at Personal Kanban at these points.

My response surprises them.

At points like this, we know that we’ve lost touch with our work. We now we are out-of-control. We yearn to get that control back. We didn’t have this understanding before.

The Personal Kanban is just a tool. It will be there when you are ready to re-organize. You can only fail at it if you fail to learn anything at all. Falling off the wagon is merely a healthy part of the kaizen process.

Did you like the article? Please do comment and share.

Want to learn more about Personal Kanban?  Check out Jim’s blog!

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