Habits can change

I have a habit I like very much: incorporating some professional training every year. Last year my needs led me to go on a coding tour.

I also have habits I don’t like very much, particularly about how I allocate my time. So when I heard Personal Kanban training was coming to New York, I needed to allocate only a small amount of time to deliberate. Sue Johnston helped, too.

20 minutes in, I could tell my learning would be in good hands with Tonianne DeMaria and Jim Benson. The ideas I was hearing were ones I knew and cared for, and they were being used in the service of people being whole people.

Emotions contain information

One such idea: a leading indicator for software quality problems is the emotional state of the developers. (For me, this connects directly to Michael D. “GeePaw” Hill’s formulation of made-making-maker.) If we’re uncomfortable with what we just delivered, that’s a signal. If we ignore our emotions and the information they contain, we’re likely to experience them again, more painfully. Or — check this out, fellow humans! — we could help each other observe and value our emotional signals.

Another such idea: in Lean manufacturing, where work is standard, variation is desirable to reduce. In Lean software development, where work is knowledge, variation is desirable to understand. Can we learn to expect where it comes from? If so, our planning will improve. (Can we differentiate “accidental” and “essential” variation? If so, we can drive down the former and our planning will further improve.)

Lean in code and class

What does the application of Lean principles to software development look like? Perhaps the best known example thus far is Mob Programming: when the whole team works on the same problem on the same computer, we get single-piece flow, a WIP limit of 1, just enough decisions made just in time, shared context, and easy predictability. I had enough to say about mobbing, it seems, to be called “the Mob Programming guy” in our class. In response to Pomodoro Technique, I also offered what I might call “Inverse Pomodoro”: when you are being pulled away, write down your next thought before you lose it. Then it’s waiting for you when you come back. When my work is programming, I do it like this.

What does the application of Lean principles to teaching look like? A couple Big Apple Scrum Days ago, Ryan Ripley and I did an entirely audience-driven talk where folks told us what they were wondering about and that’s what we talked about. Jim and Tonianne did this for two whole days, relating each idea back to previous ones, often via previous visuals. As a result, I found myself relating familiar ideas in new ways. If I hadn’t encountered most of them previously, I might well have been overwhelmed. It was plenty to take in as it was.


Hearing about Jim and Toni’s working relationship, I realized: I’d pay someone to irregularly but periodically wipe my kanban board (and absorb my reaction). I tend to habituate quickly to my board and forget I have agency to rethink everything about how it works. When it’s been cleared, I’ve been reminded. After several emptyings, I might even find myself less attached to my backlog. Might be nice.

Hearing about Personal Kanban in the service of whole people, with health explicitly non-negotiable, I was reminded of a hypothesis: a balanced life is a small-batch-size life. Mine hasn’t been so balanced lately. Returning to visualizing my work — everything I need to do to have the life I want — will help. I’m eager to get to my office, lay out a dozen stickies with fresh design considerations, and build myself a fresh board.

Previous trainings