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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
At long last, here is a picture!

This is a copy of my actual VUE document, showing only the Family layer, with personal details altered and dummy items inserted. Not shown are my Career layer in blue and Personal layer in red. They are just like this Family layer, and VUE lets me see whichever I want. The gray vertical lines are in a fourth layer, which I keep always visible. The gray numbers in parentheses are not important: VUE has no document styles, so I've entered the font sizes I'm using for each item type where I can easily see them to reuse them.

The main idea is that kanban columns have been replaced by lines, and items live on a continuum from right to left, rather than in discrete columnar states. If an item touches a line, it is "on the line" or active in that state. If it is waiting to become active, it lies to the right of its line. Multiple items to the right of a line form a queue with their leftmost (leading) edges–think of sprinters approaching a finish line, running right to left. The horizontal links show each task's context (how it fits into the big picture), so I see this as a mind map and a kanban all in one view.

The samples I've chosen illustrate how loosely this is structured. Items don't have to fit into parent categories at every level. I can fix a guitar amp without dreaming up a Project and Goal for it. It would have been even better if I had deleted the "Possessions" node, because it would show that you can stick a Result on the line without any parent at all, if that's what makes the most sense.

You can see that several Goals and Projects do not have any Results assigned. That is fine. They are on hold, or if you like, "Deferred." The "garage setup" project has a task (Result) that is waiting behind three other Results. The Results line already has enough on it, so other Results are waiting their turn to get up to the line. If I had more items waiting (I should have made more!), the leftmost ones would be ahead in the queue, closer to the line—like sprinters, as I mentioned.

"Sump upgrade" similarly is waiting its turn to become an active Project. It will not generate tasks (Results) until I place it on the Project line. Although, if some detail was on my mind that I wanted to record for later, I could attach it as a note to that project node, or I could create it as a Result. The Result would be connected to the "sump upgrade" project, and it would be queued to the right of the Result line, in the same way that "sump upgrade" is queued to the right of the Project line.

This structure allows me to record "what comes before what" with a lot of detail and little effort, in a visual/spatial way that is extremely easy to read. Once I've decided that something comes later, I don't need to keep reviewing it or reminding myself that it's okay I haven't started because I'm still working on Project X. When Project X is done, the space becomes clear, and the next project draws attention easily.

I hope this helps!
July 25, 2017 at 8:55 | Unregistered CommenterBernie
I have always liked the idea of Kanban for personal projects. There is a book called 'Personal Kanban' and another called 'Factory of One' that both advocate using Kanban. I like the 'pull' feature of Kanban - you decide which tasks to do from your backlog, rather than the tasks pushing at you to be done.

A couple of years ago I made a printable Kanban board that I used posit it notes to hold blocks of tasks on. I placed everything I needed to do on the left hand column and then moved them to the days I'd plan to do them. There was a section for WIP (no more than 1 post it here!) and also a 'waiting for' section that was useful if a job was waiting for somebody else, I could leave the post it in this section. Finally, once a post-it had been completed it was moved to the last column and placed on the day it was finished. This helped me see at the end of the week what I had done on which days. Then I'd clear the board and start again!

You can see a picture of it here:
July 25, 2017 at 10:39 | Unregistered CommenterDAZ
DAZ, I like your board. It's a nice way to work in calendared items, whereas most boards don't allow for that. I found Personal Kanban over five years ago and spent some time trying to make it work for me. The catch was always that backlog. The board isn't much use if its backlog is such a mess that I can't figure out what to pull next (same problem all over again, right? What do I do next?). So it still needs some kind of deferral system to keep it properly fed.

That's why I developed the Analog Kanban. It is the backlog manager. And "backlog" is of course just a synonym for "deferred items"! Now I find that with the backlog organized well, it is sort of obvious what to work on, so I don't need a personal kanban to go with it. Lately, I haven't even been copying those items anywhere. They're on my mind because I made the effort to sort them, and so I just kind of work on them when I can, and then later they're done. Wow!
July 28, 2017 at 3:56 | Unregistered CommenterBernie
The two principles of personal kanban:
1. Visualize your work.
2. Limit WIP

Obviously you are doing (1).

Is there anything specific you are doing with the analog kanban to implement (2)?

If yes then you don't need a personal kanban because you already have it. :-)
July 30, 2017 at 2:06 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Yes, WIP is limited but not a specific number. I just don't put too many things on the Project or Result lines at once. They are all different sizes, so I just intuitively limit it.

Results are bigger than tasks, though, which why I don't call them Tasks. The board is just something to look at once a week or so and to pull new tasks from, so it really is a backlog manager as opposed to the kanban itself.
July 30, 2017 at 6:46 | Unregistered CommenterBernie
Kanban board is one the main tools that used to realize Kanban methodology in project management. There are big amount of applications based on Kanban, but the most huge is Atlaz realization BTW true Kanban is completely free. Join open beta now!
August 28, 2017 at 15:53 | Unregistered Commenterraveena
After five years of near-continuous development, the source code to Kanbanara, a web-based project management system using the kanban methodology, has now been open-sourced under the GNU Affero General Public License version 3. Kanbanara has been developed in Python 3.6 and utilises CherryPy as its web framework and MongoDB as its NoSQL database system.
January 1, 2018 at 7:47 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca Shalfield