Personal Kanban at the World Bank - Small Team Rapid Development


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Visual controls help small teams achieve. Controls reduce stress, adapt to changing conditions, and provide clarity for the users. Project managers can use visual controls like Personal Kanban to help members deal with the variability inherent in knowledge work. A short case study from a world bank project by Modus Cooperandi.

Published in: Business, Technology
  • To me, this comment by modestergg seems to be pure spam and quite off topic. I suggest it, and this, be removed.
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  • Hello my dear
    I am Modester by name good day. i just went to your profile this time true this site ( and i got your detail and your explanation in fact the way you explain your self shows me that you are innocent and maturity and also understand person i decided to have a contact with you so that we can explain to our self each other because God great everyone to make a friend with each other and from that we know that we are from thism planet God great for us ok my dear please try and reach me through my email address (modester4life4@yahoo.c/o/m) so that i can send you my picture true your reply we can know each other ok have a nice day and God bless you yours Modester
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  • The Personal Kanban book is out! Get yours!
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  • For me, the most important lessons here are around flexibility over form. There's Goldratt in there, but there's also product development, agile programming, developmental dynamics and more than a bit of patience. We were truly lucky to have a team of scientists and economists who were used to patient problem solving.
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  • This looks almost like a full implementation of Critical Chain project management, especially in the 1-10 assessment of progress on individual tasks.

    This implementation also goes beyond Personal Kanban in that it created a mechanism to balance flow (Goldratt's Fourth Principle of Flow).

    However, it extends Critical Chain, by relaxing CC assumption that the flow of work is defined upfront in the form of a project network.

    Really interesting. Worth extracting the generalized principles.
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Personal Kanban at the World Bank - Small Team Rapid Development

  1. 1. In September 2009, Modus Cooperandi was approached by CGIAR - an NGO with ties to the World Bank - to conduct a “Writeshop.” During this week- long workshop, 16 scientists and economists from around the world convened in Washington DC to produce a document addressing the reduction of carbon emissions from deforestation. At the beginning of the week, participants arrived with a document in various stages of completion. Their goal: to finish 90% of the document by the end of the 5 day Writeshop.
  2. 2. While the work was assumed to be straightforward, their goal was ambitious. Our history with knowledge work suggested a need for caution and flexibility. When planning a project with a new client, we often discuss the role uncertainty plays in knowledge work. Whether creating software or authoring documents, things never progress exactly as planned. A computer freezes up, a section of text won't gel, easy research hits a snag, a section of code runs into unforeseen technical issues. Such is the capricious nature of knowledge work.
  3. 3. After we establish that variation and uncertainty often dictate knowledge work, we can then accept that traditional, Gantt-chart style management is perhaps the most unscientific way to manage knowledge workers. Gantt charts impose a false level of certainty on a highly variable project, and then impose that arbitrary guess as law. Assumption-based management will not do.
  4. 4. Managing knowledge work therefore must account for variation. Variation is often subtle, and difficult to spot as it is happening. Visual controls that communicate what is being done at any given time highlight these subtleties. The writeshop was 100% knowledge work. We were creating an unknown product from assumed elements in a short period of time. As such, we wanted to employ techniques that would best mesh with the group's personality and manage the large number of unknowns we would be facing. The team needed a visual control that would be tailored to this specific project and highlight that variation. The stakes in a rapid-release product like this are high because there's little room for error. We had to do it right the first time.
  5. 5. At Modus Cooperandi, we enjoy projects like this: short duration, high focus, immense value. We fully expect that they never go the way the event planner foresees. Holes in assumptions and variations in work become immediately apparent and often can be addressed quickly. Projects of short duration leave little room for procrastination.
  6. 6. The Nature of Knowledge Work By its very nature, knowledge work is: Highly variable - discrete tasks can be very short (a matter of seconds), or extremely long (a matter of months) Recursive - multiple passes of edits, rewrites, and new discoveries Innovative - most knowledge work involves the creation of something: new code, new text, a new product... Surprising – in a positive way, knowledge work helps us discover novel ways of doing things. In the not-so-positive-way the uncharted waters of knowledge work can take projects off- course because it is difficult to plan for the unknown.
  7. 7. While variability, recursiveness, innovation, and surprises are natural components of most work, they are especially prevalent in knowledge work. These attributes wreck havoc with traditional “guesswork” project planning practices such as waterfall methodologies (in which the lifecycle of the project flows in an assumed predictable, downward direction) and their supporting tools like Microsoft Project. As a result, knowledge work is often challenging to pin down in terms of duration, work flow, and outcomes. Difficult? You bet. Impossible? Certainly not.
  8. 8. What was previously thought of as hard project planning, waterfall methodologies are usually personality-driven, and rely on unrefined management techniques that involve the following steps: 1. Assign someone a project 2. Give them a project plan 3. Establish an unreasonable time line 4. Set an unreasonable budget 5. Instruct them to make a schedule 6. Become upset when then project doesn’t meet the schedule People drown in waterfall management.
  9. 9. When creating the CGIAR document, we needed a rapid management tool that would allow us to track the group's progress at any point in time. Our ideal tool needed to give the group clarity in their progress. While respecting recursive tasks and the variability of work the tool needed to reward innovation and dealing with surprises. And it needed to be simple and real-time. No Gantt charts, no burn- down charts, no cumulative flow diagrams. It needed to be as simple as a traffic signal. It needed to develop itself, by crushing our assumptions and asserting itself in relation to the way our group operated. Lastly, it needed a development environment to run in.
  10. 10. The Evolution of a Management System At the World Bank: Our Assumptions, the Reality, and the Products
  11. 11. Assumption #1: small groups writing at small tables
  12. 12. Reality: The project took place in your average conference room. We had one long table, and no means to divide it up. Our original assumption was that we were going to distribute the group into 3 or 4 person teams, and have them blast away at various modules in the document. Alas, the room we were given didn't allow for that. So we pulled a page from Extreme Programming - pair programming (where two programmers work on the same piece of code - one writes and the other participates) - and created pair writing teams.
  13. 13. Assumption #2: We are writing a document Assumption #3: Writing begins on day one
  14. 14. Reality: When you're hired to oversee the creation of a document, common sense dictates that document creation is your primary focus. In this case, the product turned out to be instructional material to teach techniques for calculating the opportunity costs of deforestation to agencies in small countries. This gave us a defined customer and a defined product. When we realized this, the nature of the week's work radically shifted. For two full days, attendees engaged in good, productive conversations. At the end of the 2nd day, a spreadsheet model for calculating opportunity costs was developed. The nature of the document suddenly shifted from explaining complex theory, to explaining the spreadsheet model; the final product went from a textbook, to an enhanced user manual and study guide.
  15. 15. Assumption #4: Work was a linear process of outline -> writing -> revision -> completion
  16. 16. Reality: Each two person team was given a module or two to work on. By the beginning of the third day, actual text writing began (mind you, this is already after losing the assumption that writing would commence on day one). Outline writing became an exploration exercise. For a complete outline there needed to be several writing "spikes" - short bits of text were written to explore a direction proposed by the outline. Further writing - even writing in other modules - informed and highlighted needs, creating expansions of the outline. So a bit of outline was written, followed by some text, the outline in turn was enhanced, then more text was written, and so on. What resulted was a highly recursive set of work requiring a recursive This recursive control like the one to the left. At regular intervals, two or three times a day, we would ask the groups how far along they were with their modules in terms of both the outline and the text. They would control shows then assign a 1 to 10 rating of completeness. progress to the The goals of a visual control are to show progress and illustrate what progress really means. Over the course of working with the World group as it Bank group, the estimate would progress from 5, 7, and then up to 8 and then fall back to 6 as people gained greater insight into what "done" really meant. To be sure, this was exciting to watch, as happens. The participants delighted in moving from a 2nd or 3rd order of ignorance to a 1st order of ignorance. First they didn't know what group understands they didn't know. Now they knew what they didn't know and could move purposely towards completion. where everyone is and what is needed for completion.
  17. 17. Assumption #5: The tools for completion were the familiar Microsoft Office Suite
  18. 18. Reality: The less evolved but more collaborative Google Docs suite provided an immediate basis for group writing. While the majority of scientists and economists had little or no experience with Google Docs (for some we set up accounts at the time of the writeshop), the sharable and open Google Doc platform gave participants the ability not only to collaborate on their own modules, but also to quickly add value to other modules. There were points where someone working on one module would say across the table something like, "Hey, can you take a look at what I just wrote?" or "Can you add to this?" And in real-time, with very little opportunity cost, participants could add value to other sections of the document. This open framework and immediacy of expertise removed much of the scheduling and familiarization pain that comes with group document collaboration.
  19. 19. Final Product: Lean tools like Personal Kanban help tame the unknown by facing it head on. Lean systems usually rely on a visual control that makes work visible. As work cycles through a visual control, the variation in work becomes visibly apparent, and we learn to manage that variation. This is a elaborate way of saying people and things never do what you expect them to, and good managers understand this up- front. What we learn from this is that by its very nature knowledge work is a product development process. We discover that knowledge work has definable customers, parameters of usefulness, and is developed - not in a predictable and linear fashion - but in a recursive and collaborative fashion. While elements of knowledge work certainly can have a defined work flow, understanding the variability and being able to work with it is where the true value of a manager lies.
  20. 20. Personal Kanban Lean Thinking for Individuals and Small Teams Read more about Personal Kanban Modus Cooperandi Presents: Webinars Monthly webinars on Personal Kanban and related applications. See the Personal Kanban site ( for topics, schedule, and prices. Consulting / Training / Team Launches We offer direct training for corporate clients. Teams learn to improve their communication both internally and with the rest of the organization using the visualization and clarity facilitated by Personal Kanban. Training includes the Consulting projects tend to focus on working with teams and techniques of Personal Kanban, the integration of Personal individuals to identify clear and low-impact processes to quickly Kanban for individuals and teams into work flows, value create value. See our recent project at the World Bank for an stream mapping, metrics, and the use of retrospectives to idea of the issues we might cover. create cultures of continuous improvement. Supporting Documents Training should never occur out of context, so most training A series of information packages designed to discuss these includes an examination of actual team work flows, issues with decision makers is on its way. management styles, communications channels, policies, Contact and practices that impact productivity and value creation. Reach us by e-mail at During the course of the training, we help teams discover on the web at better ways of managing and communicating that will or survive beyond the training session. Our training is never a follow us on twitter at talking head, it is highly relevant and participatory. via phone at +1.206.383.6088 or skype at ourfounder
  21. 21. P.S. This document is a visual control The images in this document provide visual cues for the emotions and messages being presented. They complete and extend the information being expressed in text. The narrative then follows both a pictographic and a textual flow. A visual control in a work group does much the same thing, providing the qualitative, quantitative, and emotional messages that comprise our work. Having this information come both via visual cues and in written language interacts with multiple learning centers in the brain, making visual controls excellent management tools for people of all learning styles.
  22. 22. Images in this document by creative commons license or permission of the artists Flickr Photo Download: New t-shirt I bought from Flickr Photo Download: gantt Flickr Photo Download: The Way To The Unknown Flickr Photo Download: Train wreck Aerial Train Wreck on Flickr - Photo Sharing! Flickr Photo Download: Explosion (Movie Park Germany) Flickr Photo Download: Virginia Waterfall Flickr Photo Download: Washington National Cathedral Flickr Photo Download: Group around a small table Flickr Photo Download: Olivetti Lettera DL Typewritr Flickr Photo Download: The day of reckoning is nigh. Flickr Photo Download: Belize rain fo