Dealing with a Line Stop

In my previous post I recounted how I had come to the conclusion towards the end of last year that I had allowed my Work in Progress to overwhelm me. This necessitated me to pull the line in my Personal Kanban system both at work and at home.

Before I could restart the line, I had to understand what went wrong so that I could apply appropriate solutions. I also had to understand why I made these mistakes so that my solutions would address the actual root cause, not just the symptoms.

Too much work in progress at work

To start with, I had not limited my Work In Progress explicitly on my whiteboard at work. I had relied on the real estate in each phase column to implicitly limit the work in progress. But instead of heeding the physical limit, I had just found creative ways to stick new stickies over and under each other.

By doing this, I had violated the primary principle of limiting work in progress. And Instead of addressing the rather obvious visual indicators on the board I continued to deceive myself that this was just a temporary state of affairs that would be resolved if I worked just one more late night. How often does that happen to you, or in your organization?

Too many boards at home

In addition, I had taken the self-deception one step further and created a number of separate boards to keep track of personal tasks, hobbies and administration. Ostensibly, each board was under control. Work in Progress limits were in place and the phases were well below their limits.

What wasn’t visible was the lack of progress on each of these boards. Because I wasn’t explicitly measuring lead and cycle time (something I also wasn’t doing at work) it was somewhat easier to ignore the fact that some stickies were staying put for weeks on end.

The Human Factor

Between these two areas of my life, the sum of the parts was far exceeding the capacity of the whole … I was constantly tired and grumpy, and my stress levels were skyrocketing.

What was difficult to fathom was why I had allowed this to happen, after all my experience with projects and teams, and the calm balance we’ve started achieving with Kidzban. I certainly don’t have all the answers here, but I have come to some conclusions after some serious introspection:

  • I generally set higher standards for myself than for others. This has always been the case, since childhood. Running a large backlog of work has therefore become the norm rather than the exception for me over the years. Although I’m much better than a few years ago, I have an inner voice that keeps pushing me to do more. I fact, when I introduce myself to people, I really should start with “Hi, I’m Maritza and I’m a recovering workaholic.
  • Superwoman Syndrome undoubtedly played a significant part here. Many working moms tend to overcompensate by taking on more than their fair share at work and at home. At work, it is to prove that being a mom does not make you less productive or driven than your male colleagues. At home, it is to prove that you’re no less of a mom and wife than any home executive.
  • I love hobbies. In fact, I think my main hobby may be collecting hobbies. I am a true gatherer in this regard. I gather more hobbies than I have capacity for, and they’re usually ones that are consuming in some way or another, like blogging. Ehem.

The Response

Having come to these conclusions, it was time to act. The third and last post in this series will focus on the changes I made to improve things. But you’ll have to wait a week or two. My current Work in Progress does not allow more frequent blogging. 😉

This is Part Two of Three in a series. Read Part One.

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9 Responses to Dealing with a Line Stop

  1. Pingback: Knowing when to Pull the Line « Becoming an Agile Family

  2. I love reading about your introspection. Refreshing that someone else struggles with similar things to me…

    Thank you for blogging about your “failure” to be superwoman. I think many woman fight this on an ongoing basis – and recovery from stress is usually when we are on deaths doorstep with flu??? or something similar 😦

    • Admitting this wasn’t easy … it’s like they say “the first step to recovery is acknowledging that you have a problem”. Before I started visualizing the work in my life, I really didn’t have a complete grip on what I was doing to myself and my family in the long run by trying to be everything to everyone. Now that I can see that, I have to make changes that will ensure a balanced, sustainable lifestyle for myself.

  3. Nice to see jidoka in practice. Love the root cause analysis. Funny how even when problems become visible, we still want to ignore them.

    I think one reason personal kanban is hard, is because kanban is primarily a communication tool. But when you communicate to yourself, you are only accountable to yourself. And we know how that ends up.

    • I think you’ve made an important point here about accountability. In a team context (family, even) that accountability is shared and therefore the visual problem is more likely to be addressed. However, I’be been pondering the lack of courage I sometimes see in some teams. It’s almost as if there’s a joint blindness to the problem – either conditioned by culture, because the culture dictates that you don’t question or that certain “problems” are “just the way we do things around here”.

  4. Pingback: Becoming an Agile Family thru Kanban :: Business901

  5. Among my greatest takeaways here Maritza, relates to the implications of having several boards to contend with at once. Are we deluding ourselves into thinking that maintaining separate, project-specific kanban – one for work/home/hobbies respectively – equates to balance and helps us facilitate an integrated life? Does having several boards in the long run (stealthily) increase our WIP, because we now have the added work of mentally aggregating tasks before we begin to pull them? I’ve certainly found that to be so.

    My experience using multiple boards that are not co-located (as opposed to one centrally located “portfolio personal kanban”) is that “they” don’t respect our need to incorporate slack, thus fostering an unhealthy if not distorted image of our true capacity. We’re forced to ask if technically they’re helping us limit our WIP…or just simply *managing* our WIP. Likewise, they don’t allow us to (easily) batch tasks, nor do they accurately reveal all of our tradeoffs/future options. In the end, it seems as if they can actually impede sustainable results and at least in my case, induce anxiety, compromise focus, and obscure my sense of purpose.

    Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite posts. You’ve so eloquently and honestly given voice to a problem many of us admit to having, yet never get around to addressing: the need to be “superwomen/men.” We rail against a hero culture at work, so why do we feel the need to wear the proverbial cape at home, I wonder. I thank you for sharing your insights, Maritza. Inasmuch as I look forward to your follow-up post, I hope your recent observations compel you to reevaluate the expectations you place on yourself, and let your kanban/WIP limit reflect a healthy image of your capacity. Inspired by you my friend, I shall attempt to do the same.

    • Thank you for your very kind words, Tonianne. I will admit that my hand hovered over the “Publish” button a bit with this post. It’s been quite exposing, and I’ve had moments of doubt about the wisdom of putting this out there. What if a prospective employer reads it and thinks “oh, she can’t cope with the demands of being in senior management and having a family”?

      But slowly I’ve become quite comfortable with the stake I have put in the ground here. The employer who doesn’t want to employ me because of this post, is not the kind of employer I want to work for anyway. The kind of employer I want to work for knows the difference between a sustainable pace and a nervous breakdown waiting to happen.

      Back to multiple boards. I think there is indeed a subtle pathology with using multiple boards and you’ve described it very well. I don’t think they’re taboo completely, though. I found boards that go “deep” into a particular task or event very useful to aid my focus. For example, planning my son’s entrepeneurship day earlier this year was initially a single card on my main board. But it helped both of us to expand that into a separate, low tech board to keep track of the minor details, especially those that required strict chronological sequencing. Really just like a task breakdown for a user story or decomposing an MMF into it’s individual parts.

      The danger indeed comes in when you’re separating value streams across multiple boards. It’s like the frog in the hot water. At first you don’t notice the insidious scope creep that’s happening. It’s just another board. And you pat yourself on the back because you’re so cleverly visualizing your work in progress. But there isn’t another you who can actually do all this other work, is there? And deep down, you know it. But with the social fabric engineered to tell you it’s wrong to rest, and it’s wrong to want to move slower, most of us just keep running our legs off in our little mouse wheels.

      No more. I have a long way to go still, but I hope my next post will show the first steps of trying to find a new, sustainable balance that will bring new meaning to the phrase “Do More, with Less”. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Your Marketing Machine: Becoming an Agile Family thru Personal Kanban | Agile Development

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