Kanban is a way to visualize and manage workflow, and limit work-in-progress, all while monitoring, adapting and improving the process with the intent of creating higher quality output. The entire process is also inherently collaborative. But Kanban, as it seems, isn’t just some process that helps your company or team work more efficiently. It is a fundamental re-thinking of how we get things done. How I do work – the process – directly affects the quality of my output. Though obvious to some, this concept is very alien to someone who generally pushes out his assignments to the last minute and often uses phrases like, “I work best under pressure”.
My biggest challenge is beginning a project. I tend to be fixated on the “big picture” and am quickly overwhelmed by all the minutia involved in reaching my goal. They seem to pile up in my mind and all of a sudden I’m backlogged and frustrated. I then begin aimlessly chipping away at a number of different things, making dents in the “surface” of the project, and thereby trying to give it some recognizable features that I can use as points of departure. This, as I am beginning to realize, is a terrible approach. It is how I approach everything in my life. Frontal, forceful, and always with a sprinkle of self-sabotage. It’s what the story of Sisyphus was meant to teach me if my head wasn’t so far up my ass in high school.
Now, nearly five years later, I’m seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve always felt that there was something wrong with the approach to my various pursuits. No matter how much passion I brought to the table, I always managed to grind away in the hamster wheel of my mind until I’d used up all my juice and had to recoup for a few months before daring to get out there and try something again. A desire for instant gratification coupled with a huge amount of energy basically left me haphazardly piecing together my projects with no real regard for the process. If I could get it done right away and then never think about it again, I did. Much like a young child making his first structures using glue and popsicle sticks, my structures lacked a solid foundation and thus were never quite as awesome as I had Imagined. Jilted by my abominations, tail between my legs, I managed to always run from myself.
Sitting at the Hotel am Brillantengrund (a hub for creative minds, curated by Marvin Mangalino) I got a chance to catch up with my buddy Allan Berger. Allan is a co-founder of Blossom, a lean project-management tool designed for software developers. I’d spoken with him about his startup a couple of times, but had never managed to achieve a full understanding of what they (Nik and Tosh are also on board!) were trying to do. I knew that they were into the whole Kanban thing, but had no idea what that meant for them as a team, and how it was shaping their product. Listening to him explain what he does to a couple of people around the table, I was intent to take another stab at it.
Here’s my take: Blossom is a tool, there is no question about that. But Blossom is also a silent, mutual agreement for any team that wants to get serious about creating amazing products. Any team using this tool, has already taken a fundamental step towards success. They’ve decided to flatten their hierarchy and truly focus on the most relevant tasks at hand. Time is actually secondary. Though the goal is surely to ship, it’s not the number one priority. Instead of having a backlog, Blossom wants to you to think about and reflect why you’re making a feature, and only then do you add it to your board. Forget the concept of a conventional stack, and try to see the process as more of a self-reflecting, self-informing, and self-improving system that is designed to make you and your team incrementally better at what you do. You also have to want it, because the tool isn’t a cure-all. It’s an option that, if accepted, implemented and continuously reflected upon, can and will take you and your team to the next level. Forget deadlines, forget project managers breathing down your neck. Blossom, which is no doubt rooted in some of the principles of Kanban, but a new manifestation in it’s own rite, is shaping the future of how we get things done. The right way.
Thanks to Allan for getting my gears turning again. I look forward to doing some personal Kanban, getting my life in order, and embarking on a few new startup ideas of my own. The right way.