My Personal, Itty Bitty iPad Kanban

A few days ago, I realized I had a few too many tasks on my plate, and decided to finally try out a personal Kanban tool.  If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s a Japanese word that refers to those boards in common work spaces that allow a team to manage tasks in real-time.  Most have three columns:  “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done,” or words to that effect.  The object is to create a pool of tasks “to do” by the team, recorded on index cards or sticky notes.  A worker moves a card to the “doing” column, and gets to work.  Most organizations have a limit to the number of items a team member can have in progress; typically one or two.  Some “doing” columns have a section for “blocked” tasks that require some decision or resource not immediately available.  When the task is completed, the worker moves the card to the “done” column, and then moves another card from the “to do” to the “doing” column.

The Kanban is central to the Toyota approach to Lean, and a lot of organizations, including software development teams seeking a more Agile approach, are adopting them to manage work flow.  The advantage, obviously, is visibility.  At a glance, you can see how much progress the team is making.  Managers can also monitor the “blocked” tasks, to take action as needed.  Of course, what works for the team might also work for the individual worker, so a lot of folks have started using “personal” kanbans to keep track of their tasks, chores, and reminders.  I decided to join the movement.  And of course, since Kanban is such a visual and tactile metaphor, I had to have it on my iPad.

So after a quick review of the products available for the iPad in the App Store, I thought I’d try All Stuck Up.  It uses a cork board background, and little colored stickies just wide enough for notes like, “Set up meetings to discuss questionnaires” or “Draft workshop participation sched.”  You have a choice of pastel colors – yellow, green, red, light blue, and violet – and three fonts, including Helvetica, Marker Felt, and Typewriter.  You can set up as many cork boards as you need; I set up one for each of my projects, one for administrivia, and one for travel.  The cork board doesn’t have any lines for columns or swim lanes, but the developer’s web site says that’s planned for a future release.  Side note: I love iPad apps, because all I have to do to apply an update is to tap the App Store icon, and then tap updates.  If I see an update for one for my installed apps, I just tap it and wait a minute or two for it to load.  Did I mention All Stuck Up is currently just 99 cents?

After creating the first project cork board, I created a bunch of tasks and placed them in an imaginary “to do” column, on the left.  I made all of them green, and sorted them in the order I wanted to tackle them.  Then I moved the first one to the middle, “doing” column and got to work.  When I finished it, I went back in, changed the color to blue, dragged it to the right side “done” section, and pushed the next task to the middle.  I had one task blocked, “contract signed?”  So I moved it to the middle column and changed the color to yellow.  I’ll go nag the account executive on Tuesday if I don’t hear anything.   Simple, elegant, and I can adapt it to pretty much any project or area of responsibility.

In the few days I’ve been using it, I’ve already developed the habit of adding tasks to my Kanban and maintaining them throughout the day.  Since my personal work space includes a stand for my iPad, it’s even more convenient than a real cork board.  And of course, it gives my wife one more reason to roll her eyes.  Priceless.

You’ll Have to Pry My iPad From My Cold, Dead Hands

I’m not an Apploid.  You know – those people who have owned a continuous and overlapping series of Macintosh computers dating back to the Reagan administration, are carrying their third iPhone, their sixth iPod, and have a Bill Gates dartboard.  Those people are a little scary, even to the folks who voted for Sharron Angle.  No, I’m just a guy who uses a wide range of technology to get things done (and goes camping with a butane lighter, matches, and a firesteel – never have only one way to make a camp fire!).   I have two desktop PC’s, a laptop, a netbook, a Kindle, an Android phone … and an iPad.  But it’s that iPad that my wife refers to as my “mistress.”

If you haven’t spent a few minutes playing with (or “fondling,” as the Missus calls it) an iPad, I won’t try to describe the user experience.  Let’s just say it’s as different from a Wintel laptop as the laptop is from an IBM Model 29 card punch.  Just big enough to see everything without eye strain, just small enough to carry like a paper notebook – I still want a keyboard for “serious” writing, but for anything else, the iPad is more inviting.  From the preloaded Maps, which leverages the internal GPS, to the Calendar, Contacts, Notes, and Email, you get perfectly good applications included.  Or you can pay a few bucks to get even better ones from the App Store.  And as I adopt more useful business apps, and a new stylus, I’m starting to neglect my other devices.

Penultimate is just one of many sketching applications for iOS devices; I like it because it’s simple, cheap, and uses a sort of “lab notebook” metaphor.  I won’t try to review it, because there are already reviews on YouTube that do an excellent job.  It’s just a really cool application, like nothing available in a Wintel experience.  Similarly, Kindle for the iPad is a remarkable improvement over the native device, not just because it adds color, but because the user experience is so much more like reading a book.  Even PMI has delivered an iOS app for PM Network, which makes it feel like a magazine always wanted to feel.

Specific to project management, FourthFrame Technologies recently released SG (Simple Genius) Project Pro, a $40 app that might justify the purchase of an iPad all by itself.  With most of the most commonly used functions of MS Project, and the ability to read XML files exported from Project and other tools, it’s got the potential to change the way we present to and collaborate with our stakeholders.  For the Agilistas, Dar-Soft has just released Agile Project Manager; more accurately, it is a Scrum sprint planner for $10.  BetterApps offers iKanban; it allows you to manage your backlog, work in progress, and completed for only $3.  And if you’re studying for the PMP exam, PMChampion offers PMP Processes, a PMBOK study guide for $12.  There are even several different versions of Docs To Go, for you to create, edit, or just view MS Office documents.

So I find I’m using my iPad for far more than Email and surfing – I’m actually using it in all the ways I’d use my laptop, if it came up immediately and was easy to hold in one hand, re-orienting the screen as I shift positions, and … OK, maybe I’m comparing Apples to oranges.  But I’m now officially hooked.