We all strive to be the most effective in both our professional and business lives and there are plenty of ways to get there. To do lists, sticky notes, a constant flow of e-mails as well as methods to reduce our stress levels and increase productivity. Getting Things Done is a method that does just that and aims to create a work pace that frees up the mind and lets you focus on what is actually important instead of just being stressed. And while the original GTD talks about a filing system and physical lists, it is hard to miss the similarities to Kanban approach and wonder if it could enhance this process.
Getting Things Done or GTD is a concept introduced by David Allen in the early 2000s. In his quest to minimize the stress levels created by the constant flow of work, projects and emails, Allen developed a system to get us concentrated on just one thing at a time instead of keeping a running tab of things to do. To achieve this, he suggests one simple thing – taking the tasks out of your head and writing them down.
Most of the stress in our lives comes from uncertainty of the outcome and having a running list of things to do in our heads is the epithamy of that. Therefore GTD says you should get rid of that and instead write all of your tasks down, understand the desired outcome and then write down the next step that is going to help you achieve the end goal. This way, you can focus on one thing at a time, while knowing nothing will be forgotten.
From this perspective, GTD is very similar to Agile methods such as Kanban, which require you to write down the list of customer requests, understand their end goals and importance and break them down into clear and achievable tasks to be added to your backlog.
Even more similarities can be found looking at the workflow of both approaches. GTD workflow is made up out of 5 stages – capture, clarify, organize, reflect and engage, which then repeats itself indefinitely, just like Kanban iterations. The first GTD stage is capturing the tasks, which means getting all of your tasks into one place, whether that would be a physical list, an inbox or a special to do list. Kanban does just that at the beginning of each iteration by recording all of the customer requirements.
The second and third stages of GTD talk about understanding and organizing the tasks. Once there is an overall list, you are required to look it over, understand the end goal and organize them accordingly to the next action required. Some of the tasks would be immediately delegated, others, would go to trash, while most likely the majority would end up in you next action and to-do lists. This is again very similar to what Kanban practitioners are doing. Once there is a requirements list from the customer, the team looks it over, identifies the necessary steps and adds the tasks to the backlog.
Next, both GTD and Kanban comes the prioritization or reflection, all of the tasks are prioritized based on their importance. While with GTD this is done daily and Kanban usually prioritizes once per iteration, there is still a clear parallel between the two methods. Lastly, both methods talk about engaging with the tasks and starting the actual work. Which by having a clear list of priorities is now stress free and easier.
Enhancing GTD with Kanban
While the two methods come from quite different places and purposes, there is a clear parallel in how they organize work and achieve the end result. So why should a GTD practitioner switch over to Kanban? There are a couple of good premises for that.
First, Kanban adds a great visual aspect to the task management. Having multiple lists all around can get difficult to manage, especially if you have several projects running at the same time. In which case using a Kanban board with instant visual cues such as due dates, color coordination and related tasks can be a great asset to navigate the overload of tasks.
Secondly, GTD is essentially a solo practice. It could work for couple of people, but practicing GTD with a team will be burdensome and difficult as it was never intended for that purpose. You will simply not be able to coordinate everyone’s lists on the daily basis, while keeping the overall project vision in mind. While Kanban will provide you with clear responsibilities and assignments for each team member and make it easy to manage.
Lastly, with Kanban you will be able to easily track and report teams progress on various projects to the upper management. Your board will be the best reflector of your progress, velocity reports will provide a great insight into how well the project is going and when it would be finished and review meetings will inform the clients of the achived results.
To sum up, GTD and Kanban are both great methods oriented at achieving the best results in the shortest amount of time. And while they do come from quite different necessities, they both practice a similar routine. Therefore for those looking for better visualization of their tasks or ability to carry a similar workflow from their personal task management onto their team, Kanban would be a great approach to consider.