Everyday Kanban

Discussing Management, Teams, Agile, Lean, Kanban & more

Taming the chaos for managers: Getting Started

Stressed ManagerA manager’s day can be extremely hectic. First of all, your calendar looks like one solid block of color – you’ll have to schedule that lunch with friends next quarter. You haven’t seen your desk for more than 30 minutes at a time in weeks. Those precious minutes you aren’t in meetings you can be found overseeing or helping people putting out fires, mitigating interpersonal issues that occasionally make you wonder if you have secretly become a kindergarten teacher and are the last to find out, or going glassy-eyed playing the gantt chart equivalent of Tetris. All this and you still feel like you didn’t do your “work” for the day.

I have been there. A lot. My personality is very much that of a caretaker. I put my team first because I think that if I do that, the benefits will roll up to me. However, even your team can see the deterioration of your sanity and your effectiveness if you don’t gain some control of your own environment. If people begin asking you what they can take on for you, it is a sign and you need to step back, evaluate and likely accept their help.

Many good managers spend so much time and effort on removing roadblocks for their teams that they often forget to make time to manage their own work or improve conditions for themselves.  No one is looking out for them, telling them to do all of the good practices they preach to their teams. Don’t let your strength become your weakness! Go from good to great by treating yourself the same way that you treat your team. This blog post will highlight the first few steps to help you get started. Follow everydaykanban.com to catch other posts in the series that will help you go even farther!

Schedule some “me” time

Block off focus time on your calendar (I also make my calendar visible to others). Not all meeting makers will respect this scheduled focus time, but a portion will and its a quick fix for that percentage. I’ve tried various subjects from “Focus Time” to “Absolutely No Meetings During This Time.” Your results may vary but you know from watching your team that focus time is a huge driver for accomplishing goals. Find the way that’s best for you and your environment to ensure that you get your “me” time!

Visualize your work

However you end up scheduling “me” time, first use it to organize yourself and your work. First, you need to be able to see everything you need to do. You can do this with lists, but I prefer to use a Kanban board – it can be as low-tech as stickies on a wall or you can use a great online tool to visually manage your work such as LeanKit. One of the big benefits of electronic tools is that they calculate your metrics for you.

Visualizing your work is so critical because, once you have it out of your head and into something you can see, you are no longer under the stress of remembering everything you’re responsible for. You may be surprised at how many balls you have in the air once you start writing everything down.

You can organize your work in a way that makes sense to you. My management kanban board had these five columns:

  • Backlog: the items I have yet to prioritize, start or delegate
  • On Deck: the items that I have prioritized to start next
  • In Progress: the items I have started (even if I am not currently working on them)
  • Delegated: the items I am responsible for but others are handling
  • Complete: the items that are finished

Controlling work-in-progress (WIP)

As I mentioned, I want to call out everything I have started and haven’t completed, even if I started it long ago, as long as I still plan to complete it. Over time, I want to track how long it takes me to take an item from start to finish (cycle time) and begin to see that decrease. How you do this will depend on what type of board you choose. I am confident that you will find that, the more work you start, the longer your cycle times will be.  Once you notice that, you’ll likely decide that it is best to make sure you’re only working on a small set of things at one time – this is called limiting your WIP.

Right now I can hear someone thinking “I don’t get to decide when I start things. My job is very reactive! When something comes up, I have to handle it.” I get it.  Realize though, that this isn’t that different from the teams you manage when you think about it. What advice do you give them?

Remember that, if you don’t have a lot of changing circumstances in your work, you can easily predict your ability to finish work and can commit to items farther ahead of starting them. But, when your job is very reactive you have to defer commitment until much closer to the time you can do the work because you don’t know what will come in and supercede the priority of any said item between now and when it can be started. This is a universal truth whether you are a manager, developer or construction worker.

Starting a piece of work signals a commitment to finish it.

If your job is very reactive, don’t start a lot of work. Start what you can finish, finish it and then immediately pick up something else. This allows you to deliver early and often and you’ll start to see that backlog moving not just to In Progress but to Complete!

This is the first of three blog posts in a series focused on taming the chaos for managers. Subscribe to everydaykanban.com by submitting your email address at the bottom of this page and follow along with the rest of this weekly series.



    July 15, 2015 at 8:21 am


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