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Jim Benson


Personal Kanban: Work Not Chosen

The point of the options column is to give you the option of not doing tasks

Published: Wednesday, August 22, 2018 - 12:02

‘What if there’s a task in my options column that just never moves?”

This question comes up in almost every class we teach.

And we ask, “What if that happens?”

We get answers like, “You have to make time for it,” or, “We need to find out why we didn’t start it.”

Maybe. Maybe that was something really important, and you just happened to do 200 other stickies. But more likely there are a few other options.

1. You don’t want to do it. You can then ask yourself: Do I really need to do this?

2. The task is poorly defined. You can then ask: What needs to be better defined? Do I have the understanding to flesh it out? Do I need help?  (Hint: Most tasks are poorly defined, and that’s OK.)

3. It’s not really necessary. Does this task really need to be done?

4. It’s better suited for someone else. Can I delegate this or move it to someone else’s options column?

5. It is huge. Is this task so big that it will monopolize my time?

6. The task has no victory conditions. With no definite end-state, a task is a time sink.

If in doubt, just ask the questions in the box:
• What will happen if this happens?
• What will happen if this doesn’t happen?
• What won’t happen if this happens?
• What won’t happen if this doesn’t happen?

Assess the risk.

The point of the options column is to give you the primary option of not doing, or changing the nature of, the tasks.

Our understanding of our work is emergent. You don’t start out knowing what your real finished product is. Be bold; change your options column often.


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).