Personal Kanban is a productivity and effectiveness tool for individuals or small groups with two core rules: visualize your work and limit your work in progress (WIP).

Courtesy of Wikipedia:

Personal Kanban is a productivity and effectiveness tool for individuals or small groups. The system takes central principles and techniques of Lean manufacturing and applies them to personal work. Personal Kanban has two core rules:

  • Visualize your work
  • Limit your work in progress (WIP)

These rules are based on two key principles: (1) When you “see” your work, you can understand it better and, (2) you can’t do more work than you can handle.

Personal Kanban divides your work into phases that are laid out visually. This is called a value stream or value stream map. The exercise of creating this is called value stream mapping and is used extensively in Lean systems for business. Personal Kanban suggests that new practitioners start with the most simple value stream of “Ready” “Doing” and “Done”. This represents the basic distillation of the states of a value stream. The Ready state is the practitioner’s backlog – or work waiting to be completed. The Doing state is work that is currently in progress. The Done state is completed work.

The value stream is then written across the top of the kanban board (most often done on a whiteboard). This creates column headings. The practitioner’s work will then be “pulled” through these columns.

Personal Kanban is a pull system, which means that work is done as per the capacity of the practitioner actually to do the work. Rule number two of Personal Kanban is to limit your work in progress (WIP). This rule is enforced on the board by having a WIP limit in certain columns. A WIP limit of 3 in the Doing column means that the practitioner can only be working on 3 work items at a time. The practitioner must finish one of the active tasks, before it is possible to pull a task from backlog.

This rule enforces finishing over starting and ensures that there is a constant throughput of work. The practitioner is always focused on finishing work. This commitment to completion leads the practitioner to be more careful in the selection of tasks from the backlog. More careful selection leads to greater scrutiny of work as it enters the value stream. Work is now scrutinized for value – personal, professional, monetary, educational … whatever is most important to the practitioner at that moment.

Personal Kanban differs from other productivity schemes in that it is focused not on getting the largest number of tasks crossed off your list, but rather it focuses on doing the right things at the right time. People and teams measure productivity then by highest value moved in a day, not in raw numbers of tasks. It does this by providing a map of our work, which trains practitioners over time to make better decisions. These decisions are based on future goals and past performance. Practitioners begin to see which tasks they can complete with the least effort and the highest personal return. Practitioners then begin to focus on and recognize value and true level of effort.

Specific to Personal Productivity:

Because it's a productivity system, questions about Personal Kanban are usually on-topic here, including those asking how to implement it or how to use specific tools with it. Do note that not all Kanban is Personal Kanban; the technique was originally developed for manufacturing and questions on that version would not be on-topic.

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