People Management

Did you know Kanban can improve your own life?

Photo by Kelvin Valerio from Pexels

I’ve been trying to change my life at all levels, in the past two years.  At some point, all people do. I’ve been doing it wrong and chaotically, trying to fight on 5-6 fronts at once. Needless to say how that went. It was against any life / ancient philosophy (not religion!), even strategy (Sun Tzu) or other form of wisdom. I’ve also been doing it right recently, by doing less and doing it just in time. It took me a while to get that. That’s because less means focus and by keeping focus you achieve more.

As I was recently preparing for a Kanban Coach certification, I came to realize that the Kanban principles can apply  to our own personal lives when we want to improve.

Briefly put, Kanban is an empirical process made famous worldwide by Toyota and largely applied nowadays or aimed at by many companies. However, its essence is really a bit philosophical (it’s Japanese, ok?). I will present you The Four Principles of Kanban and how they can map to improve our own lives.

1. Begin with the existing process

Whatever you are trying to change, from a company process to your own diet or emotional reactions, you need to honestly assess how things are right now. Exactly how they are (facts only!), not how you wish they were, nor why they are that way. This is also the first step towards improving things.

2. Make incremental, positive changes

This is the core of Kanban: making only small changes at once. People don’t like changes. They don’t like big changes, nor too many changes. And not all changes are good, but we can all agree on certain small modifications that we are 99% sure they are for the best. One small step that we could take and do it better, without hindering us.

For example, if you want to change your diet and cut down on sugar, cutting it all at once will work maybe for 24h, because there is no underlying foundation for this habit. But starting with a change that you can bear, like taking out just the soda, not even all of it or all the time, just one type of soda or at least during lunch, that might be something you can do for now. This will be a “work in progress” item, until you consider it done and pick another small change. You should start with only two “work in progress” (WIP) items, can be even from different domains and see how it goes. If it’s too much, have just one item in progress.

3. Respect current process and roles

Sudden or significant change increases resistance in both organisations and individuals. You need to build healthy habits, convince yourself they are good and enjoy the results. For a lasting transformation, you can’t shift everything you were doing, tomorrow at 8am. It will not last, because the change will shock you and it has no solid foundation. The good news is that as you make small changes in different areas, the overall result, the whole, starts to improve. If you love yourself (which you should), you don’t have to whip yourself into it and pretend you enjoy it.

4. Empower yourself at all levels.

There is a Japanese concept called “kaizen”. It means “continuous improvement”. The word itself translates as “improvement”. In companies having a kaizen culture, improvement can and must come from every worker, at any level: from janitor to CEO. In our lives, we all have multiple roles: we are at the same time employees or entrepreneurs, lovers, parents, brothers, friends, sport mates and more. In some roles we follow instructions, in others we make the rules. This fourth principles demands to try to improve, no matter which hat you’ve put on. That small improvement you’ll find can range from moving your secondary display from your right to the front, to avoid neck strains or making your kid’s lunch a bit healthier. It could be just adding a hyperlink in a meeting invitation that participants can click instead of giving them a simple id or name.

Some things enter our life only when we’re prepared to understand them or maybe we heard them before, but we didn’t really listen. At first, you will not see a major improvement, because the changes you make, are small. Applying this constantly and pulling in new small changes all the time, once you feel you’re at ease with the previous one(s), will make you suddenly realize that your life has improved.

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