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Personal Kanban

This post is part of a series on Agile Learning Center tools and 2015 ALC Everett #debrief

The kanban is one of the most iconic tools in the Agile Learning kit. It is both simple and capable of great complexity. Kanban is a Japanese (看板) word that translates to signboard. At its core it is a to-do list that limits its user’s work in progress (WIP).


Each student used a personal kanban to track their tasks. Their kanban typically had four columns:

  1. “On your mark” or “possible” or “backlog”
  2. “Get set” or “ready”
  3. “GO!” or “doing”
  4. “Finish” or “done”

student-kanban-smallTasks are written on sticky notes and enter on the left and move right across the board. These tasks are possible things that need to get done at some point. Every day we choose some tasks from the pool of possible tasks and place them into the ready column. These are the tasks that we are prepared to do today. Any time you are working on something it is placed in the GO/doing column. By limiting the number of things in the ready and doing columns we keep our work-in-progress at a manageable level.

By splitting out projects into bit sized tasks and tackling them only a few at a time big projects seem more manageable.

Once a task is completed it is moved to the done column. Keeping finished tasks on our board allows us to reflect on what we’ve done.

This tool forms the visual underpinning of our cycle of intention, play (doing), and reflection.

The student kanban is a tool which helps keep track of work in progress
The student kanban is a tool which helps keep track of work in progress, this one has too many tasks in GO! They aren’t limiting their WIP

The personal Kanban is used as part of the morning meeting’s intention setting phase and the afternoon meeting’s reflection.


By adding extra columns and rows a kanban can be personalized and modified to go with many different workflows.

One common column addition is the “penned” or “blocked” column where tasks that can’t be moved forward are placed. As an example consider my task “print document” is blocked because my printer is out of ink, so I can’t move that task forward until I complete the “refill ink” task.

Adding rows can help focus tasks that are part of similar topics. For instance my personal has a row for self care. These are sometimes called “swim lanes” because tasks will “swim” down them to the “done” column.

The kanban can be modified into really wild configurations to complement unique workflows. For instance let’s say your trying to go camping. You might make kanban with the following columns:

  • I have – list of items that are currently owned
  • I need – list of items that are needed
  • optional – list of optional things that can be packed if there is room
  • Packed – list of things that have been packed

Here’s my highly modified personal kanban for some inspiration:

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