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If you want to be tougher, be tougher. Jocko Willink, former Navy SEAL Commander
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Discussion Forum > The incredible "Analog Kanban"


“Bernie - I'd be very interested to see your ‘analog kanban’ idea. I've been thinking about different ways of managing someday/maybe kinds of stuff, and I feel like I need some fresh ideas.”

To properly explain the Analog Kanban, a diagram would be truly helpful. But in the interest of "failing quickly" or "rapid prototyping" and all that, I'll just bang out a half-baked description right now. ;)

Take a standard kanban workflow, and change four things:

1. Run it from right to left. Really not critical at all, but it's my personal preference to see my in-progress stuff first (as I read from the left), rather than tripping over the dang backlog full of stuff I'm trying not to work on yet.

2. Change the discrete columns to vertical lines along a horizontal continuum. Items don't sit inside a column. Instead, they sit anywhere along the horizontal axis. If they touch a vertical line, they belong to that line, very much as if they were in a corresponding column, but some are (horizontally) ahead of others. Like sprinters crossing a finish line, their leading (left) edges determine their order. Items in between lines are similarly queued up by their horizontal coordinate, waiting to reach the next line. This lets you record lots of little decisions about what comes before what, and of course only the first few items' order really matters, so you can leave most of the later items stacked near the right of each zone.

This #2 is logically no different than ordering a standard kanban column from top to bottom, plus inserting similarly ordered buffer columns between all the main columns, but it adds a feature crucial for me, which I am calling #3, next.

3. Forget about workflow (sort of). Workflow is replaced by size. Instead of done<--doing<--ready ('cause I'm right-to-left), we have Result<--Project<--Goal<--Ongoing. So on the very right (vertical line labeled "Ongoing"), I have big Ongoing categories of things that never end, such as "House Exterior" representing the fence that blew down in the wind last month, a bad porch light, repainting, etc. These super-broad Ongoing items don't need to be queued, so they all live equally on that rightmost vertical line. They are really memory joggers, placeholders, umbrellas that together cover everything. Next from the right is the vertical line labeled "Goal." "Fence Repair" sits on the Goal line, and it is connected by a mind-mappy line back to its Ongoing "House Exterior" parent sitting on that rightmost Ongoing line. The Goal "Fence Repair" spins off a Project "File Insurance Claim" that sits on the Project line, and that spawns a Result item "List all visible damage" to sit on the Result line. When I scan from the left, the first thing I see is "List all visible damage" waiting for me on the Result line. My eye can follow connection lines to the right to see more context if necessary.

4. So you see, I am combining a project/goal mind map with a kanban. This is absolutely crucial for me, and its lack scuttled all my prior kanban experiments. I always got terribly lost once my larger projects were diced up into little bits bouncing among the columns. No amount of color coding or swim-laning or the like could rescue me! I know it sounds like I am just using swim lanes for projects, but consider that each Ongoing can have several Goals, which in turn can have several Projects, etc. My layout really is mostly a mind map, with an added horizontal flow that makes its left half resemble a kanban.

But what about Someday/Maybe? I am actually combining my active items with future plans, in the same view. The ones sitting on those vertical lines are active, and I tend to limit the Project and Result lines to only 3 items (Ongoing and Goals don't need a hard limit; if they are on hold, they don't have any children on the Project/Result lines). Everything else is queued up horizontally approaching the line. So Projects that I haven't started lie just to the right of the Project line, queued by their horizontal coordinate, while their vertical arrangement and connecting lines still clearly show me their parent items.

A few other usage notes:
- I keep three of these maps/kanbans, labeled Career, Family, and Personal. Each gets its own layer in a VUE document (free Java mind-mappy app, ). I would go crazy if they were all in one layer, but this degree of separation makes it very manageable. I have a ton in my Personal layer, but most items are pie-in-the-sky, shoved way to the right of their buffer zones and will not be in play for a long time or ever... and I am totally fine with that! I much prefer that to having them scattered through an old AF notebook highlighted in yellow, or constantly scanning and rescanning past them, or deleting them altogether. VUE allows any node to contain popup text, so I stash more details in there if the map is getting too busy. A cluster of future items might turn into a text list held by the parent. Again, we’re talking Someday/Maybe, so these things don’t need to be visually prominent. They just need to be there next time I care to focus on that parent item. I could always link a node to a document on my hard drive and fill the document will reams of information, if that became necessary.

- I do not work in the moment from these maps! They are planning documents, not working documents, another reason I equate them with Someday/Maybe. The Results line (leftmost) is essentially my "Doing" column and gets entered on my LOTD (List of The Day, FAF or whatever has become trendy), and my "Backlog" is roughly whatever is queued up to the right of the Results line, waiting to become active next. These areas are quite sparse and simple. The busy, pie-in-sky, popup-text stuff happens toward the right. Even this is a continuum, from the big and fuzzy on the right to the focused and tight on the left.

- When I finish a Result, I drag it to the left of the Results line, so I can see that it was active and has been finished. When I have finished two of my three active Results, I find/create the next two and drag them onto the line, SMEMA style! Then I delete the finished items. In practice, this is often just renaming the two finished items with whatever comes next and dragging them back onto the line. I do the same with Projects, dragging finished ones just to the left of the Projects line.

- None of these rules are absolute. I do whatever makes the most sense visually. The whole point of this thing is to make sense at a glance. Every Goal does not dogmatically need to belong to an Ongoing; some just pop up at the Goal level, and I don’t try to force them into some higher category if it doesn’t feel important. Likewise, some Projects don’t belong to a Goal. WiP is very relaxed, because item sizes vary. I just want to see that the Project or Result line has only a small batch on it, and then I copy that batch to my working list(s).

This whole thing grew out of the "radial task map" idea I described months ago. The radial part had some drawbacks, so I unwound it into a Cartesian form, and it became this. This level of planning is “beyond dismissal,” the missing piece (for me) from any of these systems we tend to talk about here. It can feed pretty much any system, just as Management feeds your task list or kanban at work.
February 22, 2017 at 12:24 | Unregistered CommenterBernie
Hi Bernie - Sorry for the slow reply!

Thanks for taking the time to detail this!

I've read it a couple times but still have a hard time visualizing it. Maybe you could share a screen shot or something?

I looked at the VUE tool -- looks very nice; too bad it's not being actively developed! I could see how using that tool would be in line with your wanting to have a "dashboard view" of everything.

My current someday/maybe approach is to throw everything into Evernote and see if I ever figure out how to organize it. LOL
March 1, 2017 at 20:25 | Registered CommenterSeraphim