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Little Kanban

Over the last few years as part of my coaching I often find I'm gently reminding the guys to try to just do one thing at a time. We’ve all been there. A combination of distractions and pressure, context switching can just become part of a teams everyday life. When deadlines are looming and work needs doing, suddenly this becomes a lot more important to manage.

Telling people not to context switch and actually helping them do something about it are two different things. This is one of the reasons why I find Kanban boards so powerful. Simple, visible, gets everyone talking. As a coach, when a team has some difficulties and calls me for advice... I find looking at the board always gives me a sense of how a team is functioning. From this I find I can make subtle suggestions which can often get a team back on the right track and feeling less burdened.

OK, so I love Kanban boards. But I didn't write this article about team boards (if you are an agile evangelist you already have a view on this). No, this is about an idea I had one day when I slipped out of manager/coach mode, rolled my sleeves up, and put my geek coding head on.

I find when I write code, I have a little check list of granular tasks to complete the work. This normally is kept in my head. It's like writing a book; the ideas and decisions float around inside until ready to be worked on. I know I can easily get distracted, and most times my 'head' list comes back... But like everyone, writers block can set in. The list items are on the tip of my tongue… but the next most important thing has simply slipped from my mind.

One day at a particular stressful time, it came to me... I can use my monitor as a Kanban board!

The left side of the monitor is my ‘To Do’ items, The bottom... ‘In Play’ (obviously I place a WIP limit of one here as there is only me to only have one thing in here!) The right side ‘Done'.

I have my trusty pack of stickys, and quickly flow through my thought process without letting my list get in my way. If a new thought comes into mind, I stick it up in ‘To Do’ (left side) and maybe do a quick reordering. This gives me that perk of focus knowing I haven't forgotten something. If I do have a break or need to leave my desk, I’m safe in the knowledge that my train of thought will come back to me so much quicker.

When I'm pairing I've found this to be really useful. The ‘To Do’ lets us know what we have in mind. We can discuss whether we agree with the next task. But most of all gives us the great feeling of Done regularly.

It’s really simple, and the benefits are immediate – with a real feeling of calmness throughout. Best of all, as a coach it allows me to lead by example and show others that I talk that walk too. It also helps the guys use the same skills for keeping their team board up to date. I also noticed the guys seem to remember more talking points for any Daily Scrums (right side to recap and feel good!).

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