Saturday, January 12, 2013

Kanban At Home

As Jen mentioned in the previous post, kanban has crept into our home. Here is a quick post to tell you how we build our board, how we use it, and the results.

While some families create a permanent board, we've found that temporary boards serve us well. If you stop by some Saturday morning you'll probably find us in the act of putting post-its on the mirror in our front entrance. It is true that occasionally our board is created in the kitchen or even sometimes the hallway, but the front entrance is currently our favourite location. We have three columns across the top - "Ready", "Doing / Work in Progress", and "Done". You can probably simplify the middle column name to "Doing" or "WIP" but our kids have decreed that we should use both terms.

We populate the "Ready" column with everything we'd like to accomplish that weekend. We're careful to make sure the tasks are clear and not too big. For example, instead of "Clean the House", we create post-its for "Clean the Kitchen", "Vacuum the living room", etc. Our board will have a mix of post-its that are specific to one person ("C practice piano", "A practice drums", "M clean room", "Daddy pay master card") and cards with no names that anyone can grab ("Shovel the snow", "Organize the front closet"). More recently we've also started to add post-its for doing fun things together ("LEGO!", "Family Movie").

Once the board is populated the process is quite simple. Everyone selects a post-it, moves it to the "Doing / Work in Progress" column and goes to work. Once they are done that task, they move it to "Done" and select another. By the end of the weekend, the post-its have made a large shift towards "Done" as seen above.

For our family this board works because it is simple, transparent, and requires little to no 'management' (i.e. nagging). Once the board is populated each person has a clear view of their expectations and can make their own decisions about when to do chores and when to play. On most Saturdays our kids (ages 7, 9, 11) do their chores earlier in the day so that they can spend the rest of the day relaxing without worrying that more chores will be added to their list.

A board we created this holiday season is a particularly great example of the peace that a board can bring in our household. We had just returned from a road trip through Nebraska (Car Henge!), South Dakota (Rushmore and Jewel Cave), Wyoming and North Dakota. The level of grumpiness as we unloaded all of our luggage from the van into the house was historic - we were all tired and the mood was tense. As we stood around the pile of luggage now clogging our front entrance we reluctantly decided to create our board. Among the post-its for "Laundry" and "Unpack Luggage" were reward post-its like "Sleep" and "Spend my $10 Claire's gift card". After agreeing to take care of all the chores before starting any of the reward post-its, we moved our post-its to the "Done" column in record time with zero nagging. In parallel, the spirit of our household moved from grumpy to peaceful with the same efficiency.

Well, it's Saturday morning. I'm being beckoned...


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this experience, Steve!

    I've wanted to try this approach with my family for a while now but been somewhat unsure how to introduce it. Jen's post last week and this one have helped and I am excited to report that we have our first visual work board up in our dining room.

    The experience was a bit rough as we explored some new concepts together and I tried to share the creation of what it should look like and how we would use it. My only real goal this weekend was to try something new, from which we can now look at what worked and what didn't and start to evolve it towards something that will really work for our family.

    Every (Agile) journey begins with the first step, eh?

    1. It sure does David (re: first step). There was certainly some resistance and 'roughness' the first few times we did it here but it has now become part of our weekend routine.

      If you write your experience up sometime I'll add a link to it from this post (the same is true for anyone else!)