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Jim Benson


Do More Things Right

Don’t focus on the negative. The kanban board shows us successes to replicate.

Published: Thursday, July 12, 2018 - 11:01

I love to cook. When I make good food and share it with others, they will take a bite and look as excited to eat it as I was to create it. They might not understand the subtleties that went into it, but they understand the product. Satisfied eater, satisfied chef.

When we do something and are happy with it, we get excited. We want to show it to others. We are proud of what we’ve done and want to see the world interact with it.

In the world of Personal Kanban, we teach that we want people to use their boards to see what is happening and continuously improve. This doesn’t only mean that you look for everything bad and make it go away, you also look at what’s gone right and make sure you do more of that.

Marcus Buckingham, years ago, urged us to build on our strengths, but right now team retrospectives and annual reviews focus on the negative. “Improve” becomes synonymous with “how can you stop doing bad things.”

That’s not improvement, it’s rehabilitation.

Don’t focus on the negative. The kanban board shows us successes to replicate.

It is popular now to look at “plus/deltas” after meetings or when something happens. After witnessing about a million plus/delta exercises, it is clear that the only thing that’s improved are the deltas. More often, however, there is no improvement at all. People go through the exercise and fill in the columns, then they leave.

That’s not improvement, it’s filling in plus/deltas.

While you are using your Personal Kanban, either by yourself or with your team, look at improvement opportunities like this… What can be improved?

Pro tip: Improvement does not mean “fix.”

Look for things that go well that you can improve to be the norm. Look for things that don’t go well that can be improved to bolster things already going well. Look for things you can stop doing.

When you find them, that’s not the end of the mission. This isn’t merely discovery.

Now you need to actually do things to improve. That means making a plan for the improvement, figuring out what needs to be done, making the tickets for your Personal Kanban, and then doing them. Doing them, in turn, means you have to do them. Make time for them, make the improvements collaborative (we’re more likely to elevate an improvement task if we are working with others), and set a goal date for the improvement. Then measure and discuss the impacts of the work you’ve just done. Make the improvement a system to both complete and learn.

Sound like work? Maybe it is. But in the end, you get to do more of the work that is rewarding; work will be easier, and you’ll spend a lot less time complaining. It’s an investment.

First published May 2018, on the personalkanban blog.


About The Author

Jim Benson’s picture

Jim Benson

A pioneer in applying lean and kanban to knowledge work, and an internationally recognized speaker and writer, Jim Benson is CEO of the collaborative management consultancy Modus Cooperandi. He is a fellow in the Lean Systems Society and recipient of the Brickell Key Award for Excellence in Lean Thinking, 2012. He is the creator of Personal Kanban and co-author of Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2011) winner of the Shingo Research and Publication Award, 2013. His other books include Why Plans Fail (Modus Cooperandi, 2011) and Beyond Agile (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2013).