I posted last month that I'd set up a kanban board for my fibre arts projects in anticipation of getting clarity on what I do and how, so that I could improve my efficacy. Efficacy, producing the right thing at the right time, is something a person can't get enough of. It's right up there with being healthy, wealthy, and wise. I set up my board the way I'd been shown and was happy, putting my task cards in columns for backlog, to-do, doing, and done.
Then I read David J. Anderson's Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business. Turns out kanban is more sophisticated and more capable of making workflow visible than I thought.
I was particularly struck by his use of cost of delay and classes of service to prioritize tasks. Certainly we all know the four classes of service. We are taught them as children and we are told to mind the cost of delay. There are some tasks we must do on time, some we do roughly in a first-in-first-out manner but not on a deadline, some we do whenever we like, and some we expedite when the cost of delay is exceptionally high.
For me and my tasks–I make yarn, make things out of yarn, learn new yarn skills, and pass on what I learn–whatever the cost of delay, it will be arbitrary. No one in my household will go cold if I fail to knit mittens before winter sets in. No one will set herself down on my stoop and wail because she can't learn the obscure art of språng until I help.
I'd been posting for ages here that my goal is to make handspun clothing for me. I'd been wanting to wear clothes made with my own handspun, preferably un-dyed and local, for a number of compelling reasons. And I hadn't made any. I'd hardly spun any yarn to the purpose. I had to figure out why.
Across the three columns of to-do, doing, and done on my kanban board, I put four rows for the classes of service which Anderson names expedite, fixed date, standard, and intangibles. Then I put my task cards in their places.
Of my works in progress (WIPs), I had one expedite, one fixed date with two pending, no standard, and six intangibles. Two of the intangibles had red Xs on the cards to show the tasks were blocked by difficulties I hadn't resolved yet. They'd been blocked for a long time. The fixed date card had recently become unblocked, and hadn't been around that long. The higher the row, the faster WIPs were progressing toward completion.
Also, the higher the row the more the WIP involved a third party and thus an extra cost of delay, loss of face.
I didn't see my goal of handspun clothes reflected in the expedited or fixed date tasks. The standard class was empty. I had an unrecorded expedited WIP, "search museum collections' databases for språng items." That search might move me closer to my goal if I find an item I'd like to imitate or interpret, but the search has more to do with intellectual curiosity.
I had an unrecorded fixed date WIP: post daily one blog entry about fibre arts, with the exception of Sundays and days when I travel or fall ill and my capacity contracts. It contributes a little to my goal because my blog is where I record my progress and think through what I do and learn. But as they say, fine words butter no parsnips and time writing on the blog is time not spent spinning yarn. I had an unrecorded standard WIP, correspondence about fibre arts. It's a chance of coming across information that will aid me as I spin yarn and make clothes but it's more about my goal to pass on what I learn.
I looked in the intangibles class, trying to find a practical WIP like "spin wool for pullover." However, even there I found all but one of the WIPs were tasks way off in the rhubarb like "read textile history book" or "knit small object with yarn I didn't spin and won't use myself but give to someone who can get along with store-bought."
There was one intangibles class WIP that related to my goal. It had recently been a fixed date class WIP: I was going to make something in time to wear it to an event. The event passed, so the cost of delay dropped to almost nothing.
Some productive friends were kind enough recently to talk to me about their fibre arts projects; I realized most projects were fixed date class while the rest were treated as standard class, given sustained attention. Moreover, their projects were congruent with their goals.
As a side note, the Tour de Fleece on right now is an example of a fixed date commitment that handspinners make. For Tour de Fleece, you spin yarn daily while the Tour de France race is on. Miss a day too many times and the delay costs you something to show, making you ineligible for the prize drawings.
Many fibre artists arrange their year around fixed dates for project completion. Examples include an agricultural fair needlework competition, guild challenge or competition, gift-giving holiday, conference, fibre festival, commission work, gallery show and sale, charity collection of knitted goods, knit-along or spin-along, and month-long or year-long cold sheep resolutions. In a knit-along, people knit projects from the same pattern in a given period of time. Cold sheep is like cold turkey except you avoid the yarn shop instead of the tobacconist's shop.
Intangibles class tasks have no deadline. In the backlog I had more intangibles-class tasks than any other class by far. Some related to my goal. My capacity was allocated to expedite, fixed date, and standard class WIPs with no room for intangibles, so the good tasks weren't moving from backlog to priority queue. All of those faster-moving WIPs, they bypassed the backlog. I need to tell them what we used to say in school, no budging.
I've been saying that deadlines are good. And research is good and so are projects done in the public eye. But they're counterproductive if they move you toward a lower-priority goal.