How Am I Doing? Measuring Success in Personal Kanban

One cannot choose wisely for a life unless he dares to listen to himself, his own self, at each moment of his life.
- Maslow, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature

Okay, so we’ve gone through several ways kanban can look, be used, and operate. We’ve discussed ways to prioritize work. But we have yet to address how to measure (gulp) performance. But what exactly is “performance,” and why do we care?

Toyota’s Taiichi Ohno is credited with the initial deployment of kanban, and the creation of Lean and Just-in-Time management concepts. His goal was to make Toyota the world's leader in automobile production, so he needed some metrics. Ohno understood that simple numbers did not drive performance, but that Toyota's staff and its suppliers needed the will to work better.  

Along the way, physicist Eli Goldratt came up with the Theory of Constraints (TOC). (You can hear Goldratt say he needs 4 days to define TOC in this video.) His glowing gem of wisdom is that we conceptually overcomplicate problem solving by identifying way too many constraints to arrive at a solution. When we want to get to a goal, we tend to lose the goal from all the little issues that surround it. But, usually there are one or two big constraints that, if solved, will both provide huge results and often solve a lot of the little constraints or make them irrelevant.

The beauty of both these messages is that small changes make big differences – if they are the right small changes. What do you need to identify the right small changes to increase the will to work better? Awareness.

Personal kanban helps give us that awareness, enabling us to begin to listen to ourselves. A few posts back I discussed retrospectives, how they were vital at the beginning and became less so as we incorporated self-improvement into our normal actions. As you focus less on that massive pile of little nuisance constraints that surround you, and move instead to the high-payoff constraints, you move to what Ohno calls a “kaizen” state. You begin to continuously look for ways to improve your quality of life.

3044660630_2388b02b0a_oPlease notice, I’m not telling you how to improve your life or even suggesting what improvement looks like. That’s totally up to you. If you want to work towards helping to save the rainforests, that’s fine. If your goal is smoking 10 cartons of cigarettes a day while watching cage fighting...well, I guess someone has to do it.  Our goals are our own. They’re not for retirement, they are for living. If you want wifi and code, you design your life to allow wifi and code.

If we can clear the big things that Goldratt calls constraints or Ohno calls waste from our plate, what’s left is a clear and open space to do some real living.

Musicians must make music, artists must paint, poets must write if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves. What human beings can be, they must be. They must be true to their own nature. This need we may call self-actualization.

- Maslow, Maslow on Management

In upcoming posts, I will cover a few ways - some absurdly simple, others a little more complicated - for how your personal kanban can tell you some pretty amazing things about how you work. Hidden in those post-its is some pretty awesome insight.

Image: The Programmer’s Hierarchy of Needs

cc. David Flanders