Visualize Your Work So You Can Say No

Most people I know—even the people supposedly using agile—have too much work to do. You have project work. You have support work, formal for customer support or sales, and informal for your colleagues. You have reports to write or file, time cards to fill out, or other periodic events.

You need a way to say no to more work.

I wrote an article for Better Software, which is now online. See Saying No to More Work. (You need to register for the site to see the article. No charge for registration.)

One person wanted to see the kanban boards I referred to in the article. I am happy to show them to you here.

These are two potential kanban boards. The one on the left is the basic personal kanban board. Note that there are no WIP (Work in Progress) limits (yet) on this board. I would add WIP limits. Especially if I wanted to convince my manager I was doing too much work.

On the right,  you can see a disaster of a personal kanban board. There are many items To Do, three in Progress and a total of six stuck in various Waiting states. Yes, I had a board that looked like this many years ago. Then, I made a picture on a piece of paper and explained to my boss I was just one person. What did he want me to do and not do?

Now, given what I know, I would add WIP limits to each column.

If you want to see the project portfolio images for how I start at the organization level: the calendar view and kanban view, see Manage Your Project Portfolio at the Prags. At the end of the blurb, there’s a link to the quick start guide, which has just two of the images in the book. (I included many possible ways to visualize the project portfolio in this edition of the book.)

Here’s the key idea: Don’t take on more work than you can complete in a reasonable amount of time. Don’t multitask. Instead, see what your work is and how you might discuss it with your manager.

Update: This turned into a series. See

If you have questions, please ask in the comments.

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  1. Barry Hodge

    Thanks for sharing this. I think it is great idea and one that I am going to use. As a team we have struggled to show what we are working on and how much work is stacking up on the to do list.

    • johanna

      Barry, excellent! I do find all these kanban boards quite helpful. You might consider adding WIP (Work in Progress) limits to each columns, as you see where the work is. Oh, let me know if you would like a post about that. Sometimes, it’s a challenge to find just the “right” WIP limits.


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