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The Digital Nomad – Part 3 – Improve Your Productivity Kanban-Style

Last week, when you could not fall asleep because you felt overwhelmed by the increasing number of items on your to-do list, you had the brilliant idea to buy post-its and start to plan your next four weeks. Then, you also thought about writing down your 25 priorities. 

You already felt a little relieved and fell asleep. However, the question remains “did you actually do what you planned the day after?”

I bet you didn’t do it even if you thought it was a great idea.

 

The good news is that what happened to you last week happens to most of us too. The bad news is that when you do this in your personal life, you are more inclined to do the same in your professional life as well. We accept a mediocre solution or we try to put a plaster on a process instead of analyzing the root cause of the issue.

According to Schwarzt et al (2014), the great majority of companies see this phenomenon as a challenge to productivity and overall performance, but struggles to handle it. According to Deloitte, over half of the respondents to her survey  say that “their organizations are not doing a good job helping workers address information overload and today’s demanding work environment.” 57 percent believe their organizations are “weak” when it comes to helping leaders manage difficult schedules and supporting employees manage information flow.

Have we lost all of our ideals of Total Quality Management (This is a management approach to long-term process through customer satisfaction. In a Total Quality Management effort, all members of an organization participates in improving processes, products, services and the culture in which they work)  from the good old nineties? Do you know about Kanban and visualizing process flows?

We need to learn how to become more productive and we need to learn it now. If, like me, you are always eager to receive tips on how to increase productivity, check this podcast out.

Kanban 

Kanban is a lean method which originated in lean manufacturing, which was inspired by the Toyota Production System. It aims at managing work by balancing demands with available capacity, and by improving the handling of system-level bottlenecks. 

In knowledge work and in software development, the aim is to provide a visual process management system which facilitates decision-making about what, when, and how much to produce. 

Among the most important characteristics is that work items are visualized to provide a view of progress and process, from start to finish, usually through a Kanban board. Indeed, in Japanese, kanban means “signboard” or “billboard.”

Kanban Boards 

A colorful, tidy and good-looking kanban board is one of the most effective tools in project management. It can be used to plan and work through any project, both in your personal and professional life. 

Kanban boards visually display a certain process in its various stages using cards to represent work items and columns to represent each phase of the process. Cards are moved from left to right to show progress and to help coordinate teams performing the work. 

Simple boards have vertical columns for the “to-do”, “doing”, and “done” work.  Alternatively, they may be labelled “waiting”, “in progress” and “completed”. Complex Kanban boards can also be divided into horizontal “swim lanes” representing different types of work or different teams performing the work. Additionally, it can subdivide the “in progress” work into multiple columns to visualise the flow of work across a whole value stream map.

Example of a Kanban board:

 

Seven core practices for Kanban

 

Here I suggest six core practices that will make you optimize the efficiency of the tool and become a master of kanban boards.

  1. Visualize the flow of work. You cannot work on a Kanban board, either physical or electronic, if you cannot visualize the process steps needed to deliver your work. Depending on the complexity of your process and your work-mix, your Kanban board can be very simple or very elaborate. Once you visualize your process, then you can visualize the current work that you and your team are doing. 
  2. Use Colors. Use post-its in different colors for different types of projects. Or, if you decide to use this tool for personal life projects, consider using different colors for different kinds of activities (orange for the projects you wish to complete at home, yellow for your children’s requests, and so on).
  3. Limit WIP (Work in Progress). It’s important to reduce WIP to a minimum to encourage yourself and your team to complete work at hand first before taking up new work. Work currently in progress must be completed and marked done. This creates capacity in the system, so that you can focus on new tasks. Limiting WIP helps you finish what they are doing already before taking up new stuff. This practice is also useful because it communicates to the customer and other stakeholders that there is limited capacity to do work, and they need to plan carefully what work they ask you or your team to do.
  4. Manage Flow.. A Kanban system helps you manage flow by highlighting the various phases of the workflow and the status of work in every single phase. Based on how well you defined the workflow and set the limits to WIP, you will observe either a smooth flow of processes or work piling up as a bottleneck forms and starts to hold up capacity. Kanban helps you analyze the system and adjust their work accordingly to improve flow. In this way, you will manage to reduce the time it takes to complete each task. By improving flow, your delivery of work becomes smoother and more predictable, making it easier to communicate to your customer when you will manage to get any work done. You will also automatically increase your reliability to your customers’ eyes.
  5. Make Process Policies Explicit. Visualize explicitly your policies, process rules or guidelines for how you do your work. In this way, you create common ground for all those involved in the process to understand how to work in the system. The various policies can be at the board level or at a “swim lane” level or for each column. Examples of explicit policies are: what defines a task complete, what describes individual “swim lanes” or columns, who pulls when, etc. 
  6. Implement Feedback Loops. This practice is an essential part of any good system. Kanban encourages and helps you implement different types of feedback loops. If you want to deliver the right work in the shortest possible time, it’s crucial to get feedback early, especially if you ended up on the wrong track.
  7. Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally (using the scientific method). The Kanban Method helps you implement small changes and improve gradually in a way that is sustainable for you and your team. It encourages you to form a hypothesis, test it and make changes according to the results you obtain. In a few words, it aims at tackling issues through a scientific method. As an individual or team who aims at being agile, it’s fundamental that you evaluate your process continuously and improve as much as needed.

Notable tools

This is a list of tools that implement the Kanban method. You can test some of them for free.

  • Asana, with boards.
  • Azure DevOps Server, an integrated ALM-platform for managing work in and across multiple teams.
  • CA Technologies Rally, provides teams with the option of managing pull-based, lean software development projects.
  • Unicom Focal Point, a portfolio management and product management tool.
  • Jira (software), provides kanban boards.
  • Microsoft Planner, a planning application available on the Microsoft Office 365 platform.
  • Pivotal Tracker provides kanban boards.
  • Projektron BCS, project management tool, provides kanban boards for tickets and tasks.
  • Trello, cards-based project management.
  • Tuleap, an agile open source tool for development teams: customize board columns, set WIP (Work In Progress), connect board with Issue Trackers, Git, Documents.
  • Twproject (formerly Teamwork), project and groupware management tool.
  • Wrike, an Agile Collaborative Work Management Platform.

Reflection

Think of three ways a Kanban board could facilitate your own professional and/or private life. When you come up with ideas, try to be very specific. They have to reflect what you do and how you operate on your daily routine. 

If you haven’t tried Trello yet, try navigating it and setting up your own account.

 

Resources

If you want to learn more about Kanban: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban_(development)

If you want to learn more about Kanban implementations and Kanban boards:

https://www.digite.com/kanban/what-is-kanban/ 

If you want to know why you should use Kanban in marketing https://business901.com/blog1/why-you-should-use-kanban-in-marketing/

If you think your lack of digital competencies is affecting your productivity: https://globalpeopletransitions.com/lack-of-digital-competence-affecting-your-productivity-heres-how-you-escape-that-rut/

If you’re curious to know more about the benefits of handwriting: https://www.fastcompany.com/90389979/5-times-when-using-paper-and-a-pen-is-better-than-using-an-app

References

Piper, J. (2018). Focus in the age of distraction: 35 tips to focus more and work less. Panoma Press, St. Albans.

Schwartz J. et al. (2018, Aug. 4), ‘The overwhelmed employee: Simplify the work environment.’ Deloitte University Press. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/human-capital-trends/2014/hc-trends-2014-overwhelmed-employee.html#:~:text=The%20overwhelmed%20employee%20Simplify%20the%20work%20environment&text=Too%20much%20access%20to%20information,us%20into%20%E2%80%9Coverwhelmed%E2%80%9D%20employees.&text=Sixty%2Dfive%20percent%20of%20executives,ready%E2%80%9D%20to%20deal%20with%20it

Productivity Makeover with Graham Allcott (Podcast): https://www.sundaebean.com/2019/12/02/152-productivity-makeoverwith-graham-allcott/

If you’re curious to know more about the benefits of handwriting: https://www.fastcompany.com/90389979/5-times-when-using-paper-and-a-pen-is-better-than-using-an-app

References

Piper, J. (2018). Focus in the age of distraction: 35 tips to focus more and work less. Panoma Press, St. Albans.

Schwartz J. et al. (2018, Aug. 4), ‘The overwhelmed employee: Simplify the work environment.’ Deloitte University Press. 

by Angie Weinberger

When you are a business owner you often feel torn apart between taking on more clients and providing better service to your existing clients. Sometimes you might even feel that you deserve a higher quality in your personal life. Most business owners I know work every weekend and when they become mildly successful they realize that they have not been in touch with their oldest friends and even their family is often neglected.

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While you are transitioning from being in the start-up phase where every penny counts to be on a plateau of a revenue stream coming in from existing clients and before you develop your business further ask yourself these 10 questions:

1) How much turnover do I need in order to have a basic income that is sufficient to survive?
– Write down this number.

2) If I would have more income how would I spend it? Which of needs are not fulfilled with my basic income?
– Start a wish list or wish book.

3) Am I willing to sacrifice quality time for these wishes or is time with friends and family more important to me?
– Mark the wishes you would still like to see fulfilled.

4) Could I provide a better service quality to my current clients and raise my prices before acquiring new clients?
– Go through your services and write down what you could improve.
– Consider the value of your services and explain them to new clients.

5) Do I work for other providers and do I have clients in my portfolio that are not willing to pay for my new price level?
– Communicate your new price level to these providers and clients.

6) Do I believe that my services are so unique that no one else can provide them in the same quality?
– Review your services for the uniqueness and see if you can make them even more unique so people do not really care how much you charge.

7) Am I happy with my services and do I feel rewarded with my price level?
– Check your gut feeling with the price tags.
– Review all your services again and throw out what does not suit you any longer.

8) Am I still doing work that is not well paid? Is it for a good cause?
– If the answer is yes and the work is for profit and not for a good cause I suggest you decline it going forward.

9) Do I believe that I can make a difference in the world with what I do?
– If the answer to this question is “No.” talk to me.

10) Will I learn to say “No” more often in 2019?
– You can only say yes to this question.

The year-end is a good time to review your prices and your service quality. Sit down with a glass of champagne to celebrate your success. Go through the ten questions above and practice to say “No” more often in order to say “Yes” to the right clients and the right jobs.

Do you notice how dark it gets in the morning these days? Yesterday, we went for a walk at our favorite Greifensee and on the way back bought pumpkins. It’s a sure sign that we are moving towards the festive season. I also noticed that I hardly get so many event invites like in November. It seems that the year now only has one month to network and exchange and that December is already considered “closed for personal business”.

As a business owner December this year could be a quiet month (if I want it to be) after a rather busy year. When you develop your business, run a side consulting project, build your network, volunteer for causes and use all the options at your fingertips to learn and grow, you could suddenly be overloaded. And from overload to feeling stressed is a short journey.

I am more effective in my work as a consultant and coach when I am in a relaxed mode, so planning and effective work habits are really essential for my business. Even if you are employed, do you ever ask yourself if you could leave the office at 6 pm if you were just a bit more organized? I told one of you last week, that I like to keep order in my work space and that cleaning up both at home and at work helps me to remain productive.

Here are two posts that might help you with gaining control when you feel stressed and claiming back your diary through seven productivity hacks.

I plan my year in advance and maintain a paper overview of events and important project milestones as well as holidays. For your annual planning it is important to know the cycles of your business. Find out when you have “busy” and “low” season. Use the “low” season for professional development, holidays, and creative projects such as paper and book writing.

You might want to read about the seven cornerstones for running a successful solo business.

Kind regards
Angie

PS: If you would like to give a coaching voucher to a friend or loved one for the upcoming holidays please contact me directly. Do watch out for #Decemberdeal on Social Media Channels. RT, Share and Like and get a reduction on our packages.

Every time a coaching relationship ends I have a hard time to let the client go. When you learn to be a coach you also learn methods for your psychological hygiene. What you don’t really learn in my view is how to let go and accept that the client will take the next steps without you.

Every coach has to let go...
Every coach has to let go…

We do not yet know enough about the real impact of the coach on the coaching relationship and the success of our clients. It would be arrogant to assume that I am having a big influence on my client’s development. My clients are highly intelligent professionals. They are thrown into circumstances where a little bit of guidance makes their efforts worthwhile. Whether they succeed at finding a job they love or at improving their satisfaction during a merger is entirely up to them.
[tweetthis]It is not because I feel they still need me. It’s more because I still need them.[/tweetthis]
When I say that I have a hard time to let my clients go, it is not because I feel they still need me. It’s more because I still need them. Every client brings in a special energy and challenge. Once we are performing as a team I really start to like my clients and I sometimes even want to be their friend. I know that as a professional I need to keep a certain distance and it is better not to expand the relationship for too long but having an ongoing relationship with a client is comforting. It’s a regular income too.
If you also have a hard time letting go here are five rituals for ending a coaching relationship you can work into your practice.

Ritual 1: Limit the number of sessions to a logical number such as nine.

In my experience, every transition takes around nine sessions if you follow short-term coaching approaches and believe in only selling as much as needed. It is obviously different if your sessions contain advisory elements or are built around advising clients or providing a regular service to them. I am talking about classical executive coaching according to the definitions by the International Coach Federation.

Ritual 2: Call the final session “final session”

As you know in coaching we construct and while we construct in the world of the client, we also drive the cycle of the coaching and cycles between the sessions. We should formalize beginning and end. Many of my clients even bring a small present to the last session. I never expect it and I am always a bit embarrassed but it is a great way to bade farewell.

Ritual 3: Run a debriefing in the final session.

In the final session, I always like to look back at the target achievement and at the whole process. What did the client go through, where were the major changes in the process and how do they feel about themselves now.

Ritual 4: Agree how you will keep in touch.

As a coach, public speaker, lecturer, author and business owner you are probably as busy as me. So you understand that it will be hard to “keep in touch” with all of your clients. What I ask my clients is whether they would like to stay on the mailing list for weekly updates and I tell them to let me know if they want to have lunch or a coffee. I also offer that they can send me weekly progress reports. I am proud to say that some of my clients contact me a year later to tell me that an exciting breakthrough occurred or that they remembered something I told them or that they just understood something better that I had tried to explain to them earlier. I always love those emails and cherish them.

Ritual 5: Wish the client well

After we finish the conversation about keeping in touch I tell my client why I like them and wish them well. That is the most emotional moment of the journey. Don’t forget to take notes in between when there was a moment that moved you in a special way. Then the coaching relationship is over. I tell my clients that I keep their documentation for five years in case they ever return. After five years I delete their documentation.
On a “normal” work day I plan an appointment for relationship building and I prefer to do this in person. I have become so accustomed to have instant access to a map and train time table that usually I don’t check where I am going until I sit in the train. Switzerland has perfected the train system. They are usually very reliable and on time. People get irritated here when the train is 5 minutes late. (Ha!)
Yesterday was different though. I had planned to go for a walk but it turned into a mini-walk to the recycling bin. In the afternoon I headed to my appointment. All seemed on time. In the train I found a connection and not for the first time the connection did not take me where I wanted to go but somewhere in the realm of the area. I got off, wished I had time to stroll in the mountains and snow-covered woods but I was running late already. According to my phone I should reach in 22 minutes. Then my batteries died. I hardly remembered the address. I was annoyed, ready to turn around, sick of these endless times where I felt I was going the extra mile even for a volunteering job. I found a bakery on the way, asked for directions. They had no clue. Then I found the street, but not the house. Because I checked all but one.
Strange how we humans can err. Finally (now about 25 minutes late) a young man offered to check the website of the organization I was looking for and yes, I was next door to it. I killed my anger and laughed. There was a lesson to be learnt here. For a long time I did not seek help from so many people. I found it strange that I asked people for the way and I must have come across a lot more desperate than necessary. The meeting was inspiring and I went back with a sense of doing the right thing, with a sense of having met two ladies who are aligned with my values and with whom it will be inspirational to work.
Then on my way back I noticed that I was in an area of the city that I hardly knew. I liked it and it seemed like a place I would feel at home in. It made me think that Zurich is so diverse but if you stay in the expat bubble you could easily forget there is a less affluent part of town which also reminds me more of the area I lived in when I was in Frankfurt. I know…it is not always about outer change…but sometimes your inner change has caught up and your lifestyle might not seem to fit with your values anymore.
I want to downgrade, I want to live without a car, I want to adhere to the Swiss value of modesty. I realize that I have a choice. On my way back I got delayed again because of an accident. Poor soul, a person probably died. I only saw the last cleaning up work but the fact that the road had been blocked for several hours indicated tragedy. Again, I walked for 15 minutes. I noticed in the session afterwards that even though I was a bit flustered my brain was stimulated and energy level higher. I’ve had this weird feeling since the year started that I was not working hard enough but looking at new social entrepreneurs I learnt that I probably just entered a new phase in the start-up cycle.
It is now time to pivot, adapt and optimize. We aren’t going uphill any longer it is a leisurely stroll on the mountain range, the sun shines, snow covers the view and once in a while there will be storm. It is time to let go of the old dusted image, the status symbols of a management career and embrace a simple yet heart-filled and wonderful life. I am filled with gratitude.