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Jim Benson


Your Tools Won’t Save You

No tool is going to coddle you out of needing to pay attention

Published: Monday, June 15, 2020 - 12:03

Stop asking, “Which tool should I use?” and start asking, “How can I work smarter?”

When I was a young coder, I asked my mother, “What will I be?”
Will I be Jira, Will I be Asana?
Here’s what she said to me....
“Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be. Your app is not a ticket to be free. Que sera, sera.”

Today on Medium, yet another person asked, “Which kanban app is best?”

My answer was predictable. So predictable that it was painful writing it.

If you have to ask, then you haven’t worked with Personal Kanban enough to know what you need and why.
• Do you need to be tightly coupled with your scheduling or tracking tools?
• Do you need to increase conversations with your team?
• Do you need to better understand the customer?
• Do you need to investigate your workflow or its composition?

What do you need?

What you most likely need is to use Post-it notes on the wall. You need to do this because you need to answer those questions and many more before locking yourself in procedurally and fiscally to a digital tool.

There are more than 90 kanban-ish tools on the market right now. They are all good and they are all challenged by being on a computer, which you can shut off. You often shut off your computer. When you do, the value of a kanban evaporates, poof! All that time you just put into it completely disappears.

Out of sight, out of mind

You need, grasshopper, to first see the stickies. To understand how your work flows by interacting with it on a human level. You need to feel the tactile feedback of moving a ticket. You need to stare at them for a while. You need to see that ticket stuck in the “options” column and not moving.

You need to discuss it with your peers.

You know what happens to that stuck ticket on the computer screen? It slides below the fold and you never, ever think about it again... until it’s too late.

The siren song of false digital value

We see the sexy app. It’s got clean lines. It integrates with other things. It has a subscription plan. It is professional because it makes me enter stuff into things, and then gives me charts and graphs.

Hooey, hogwash, and bull.

What happens is some product manager ends up entering a bunch of stuff into a thing; no one else participates; it’s not used daily by anyone, and all that effort floats into the ether.

The tools themselves are fine, but you are doing the tool and yourself a disservice by thinking that a system you haven’t fully adopted can withstand the additional overhead of data entry and the cognitive overhead to remember to use the tool in the first place.

Right now, my wall above my desk has Post-its; in the entry there is another bunch of Post-its for tracking portfolio planning. Post-its.

Yes, I use digital tools to manage some projects. Those are for projects with a distributed team that wouldn’t be able to see physical Post-its. Every digital board is only as good as our weekly meeting’s and daily workflow’s reliance on the digital board for success.

Build value quickly and purposefully

The only purpose for a kanban board is to convey the right information at the right time in the service of completing quality work. It’s not to build after-action reports or run statistics. Yes, you can do that, but your primary goal is to complete quality work.

Quality work requires communication and improvement. Does your board show you the flow of work? Does it show you what is languishing? Does it reward small batches? Do you learn from everything you do (no “fail fast” garbage; do you work and learn regardless of outcome)?

Do not focus on the tools. Focus on the work.

First published Feb. 25, 2019, on Medium.


About The Author

Jim Benson’s picture

Jim Benson

Jim Benson is the creator and co-author (with Tonianne DeMaria) of the best seller Personal Kanban (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2011) winner of the Shingo Research and Publication Award, 2013. His other books include Why Limit WIP (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), Why Plans Fail (Modus Cooperandi, 2014), and Beyond Agile (Modus Cooperandi Press, 2013). He is a winner of the Shingo Award for Excellence in Lean Thinking, and the Brickell Key Award. Benson and DeMaria teach online at Modus Institute and consult regularly, helping clients in all verticals create working systems. Benson regularly keynotes conferences, focusing on making work rewarding and humane.


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