Oct 072012

Thanks to Jill Morelli (Genealogy Certification: My Personal Journey) for raising the question about using a Kanban to assist genealogcial research.

A Kanban is “A visual process management system that tells what to produce, when to produce it, and how much to produce.” (see Wikipedia)

the condept was developed by Toyota.   The Wikipedia article lists six core principles identified by David Anderson. The first three seem relevant to a genealogy process tracker (research log) – “Visualize” (make the workflow visible – e.g., a Kanban board); “Limit Work-in-Progress” (do not exceed available capacity); “Manage Flow” (monitor, measure, report).

This seems inherently obvious BUT, for one who likes to chase rabbit trail after rabbit trail while doing genealogical research, the core principle of limiting work-in-progress is the very thing that seems most difficult for me to do. After reading briefly about Kanban development I realize that part one of the reasons that I follow rabbit trails is that I have not conceptually visualized my research process. Will a Kanban approach help? I don’t know, but I am willing to try.

Interestingly, while I had never heard of Kanban boards, I found that my son and I had used the concept as we were setting up our website. In our research wiki (a private MediaWiki installed on our website) we had a “Development ToDo List.” It contained three sections:

  • “To Do” (a fluid listing / tracking of tasks to be accomplished);
  • “For Consideration” (a list of items / issues to be considered before listing as ToDos or dropping);
  • “Explore!” (a list of web sites to be explored as possibly containing information / procedures / ideas that may, at some later time, be added as ToDos).

Each section was populated with an expandable list of tasks. The ‘description’ area for each task was also a place to append notes. Each task was assigned to either my son or me. The ‘status’ area for each task listed:

  • “Pend(ing)” = not yet begun;
  • “InPr(ocess)” – begun, not completed;
  • “Done” = task completed.

It’s nice to know that we were using a ‘tried and true’ process that had a name of its own! I guess we were using a 3rd generation Kanban process (Gen1 = cards; Gen2 = a wall board with ‘sticky’ notes; Gen3 = digital, Wiki). I haven’t done anything with the Gen3 Kanban since we got through the initial process of setting up our website. Jill Morelli’s question (“Can I use a Kanban effectively to improve my genealogical research? ”) has now become my question.

I considered setting up a Kanban log in my Research Wiki but quickly realized that multiple column charts are not easy in MediaWiki markup language. I’ve done it before, but would have to re-learn the task. Not impossible, not even overly difficult, but not necessary when I can set up the exact some process in a spreadsheet. So, I opened LibreOffice and got to work.

 ToDo List:

I created the beginnings of a ToDo List that incorporates the process I am currently pursuing to “tidy” up my RootsMagic 5 data base before I import it into our TNG website.


 For Consideration List:

Last February I visited the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and began my work on German church records for the Baden communities of Adelshofen, Kuernbach, Ittlingen, Sulzfeld, Waiblingen and the Wuerttemberg community of Leonbrun. Now I will have to order copies of microfilms to be delivered to the Lindemann branch of the St. Charles County Public Library for further work. I have listed all these microfilms in the list of items to be considered.


Explore! List:

This evening I visited the Ohio Genealogical Society website and looked at the list of member databases that can be searched online. While I could have put these items in the Consideration List, I have chosen to put them here, as a beginning,


It should be noted that these lists are all fluid. They are to grow as new possibilities arise. Items will be moved up from the “Explore!” and “Consideration” lists as my research takes me in the indicated directions.

This is a trial balloon on my part. Is it enough to keep me from pursuing research “rabbit trails?” Probably not! In fact, I find a lot of pleasure in the serendipity of rabbit trail “finds.” Hopefully, following this Kanban tracking process will help provide a crisper focus for my research. We’ll see. I’ll report on my successes, shortcomings, failures, and learnings in later posts.

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