Family Kanban board

Kanban boards have really grown in popularity on business teams.  Kanban was originally created by Taiichi Ohno in Japan, and was originally developed for manufacturing applications.  Today, dozens of applications other than manufacturing are benefitting from Kanban’s ability to make the work “visible.”  We use Kanban at work so regularly, it seemed inevitable that it would leak into home life.

We brought the concept home, and even got our older son into using it for some of his school projects.  Lo and behold, it’s sticking, we’ve been using it for a couple of months and we’ve successfully moved a good handful of to-do items all the way to DONE DONE!

Here are our learnings that we wanted to share with everyone to see if it will help your Kanban-at-home implementations.

Learning one: make it fun

Just like at work, any process is fun and exciting when it’s new, but can quickly devolve into a rote, boring, uninspiring task that has to happen.

Our family has been on major Disney crack for years, so we used our Kanban board as an excuse to introduce Disney in yet another way.  If you look closely at the images next to our backlog, work in progress, and done, you’ll see Disney Tsum Tsum’s, Avengers, and Mickey himself, relaxing after getting all the awesome work done!  Since we’ve been brainwashed into associating anything Disney equals fun and happiness, we’ve found that we choose to look at the Kanban board a few times a day.

We’re planning on regularly rotating the images themselves, but thanks to Disney, there is no shortage of images we can pull from!

Learning two: Make it obvious who’s got what

For the adults in the family, we use Kanban at work enough to know the drill, but for our son, he’s still learning the ropes.  So one of the practices we brought home from work is giving everyone their own post-it note color.  That way, it’s easy to see at a glance who’s got what.  Particularly helpful when our son says, “but I finished everything, I’m ready to go play!”  One quick glance at the Kanban board confirms, or refutes, that statement pretty quick.

Another learning is putting the Kanban board in a location that’s central to the daily activity flows in the house.  Our first location was in a hallway, because we knew that everyone would walk past the board every day.  While this was true, we found that we don’t dwell in a hallway, we walk through the hallway.  So the Kanban board was essentially out-of-sight, out-of-mind.  Now, it’s right in the middle of a wall in the family room, where we hang out every day.  That’s visible.

Learning three: Teach intent, not just process

We’ve been using Kanban for so long at work that we intuitively understand the intent behind the method.  So when we first showed it to our son, we taught him the process, and assumed he’d grok the intent.  Alas, we forgot.  He’s nine.  Process improvement behaviors are just not high on the priority list.  At first, he was mostly going through the motions, most likely because “Mommy and Daddy said so,” but we could tell we weren’t moving the needle on actual sustainable behavior change.  Then, we started describing benefits to him, and the why’s of the the post-it notes, and for the moment, it appears he’s buying in to using the Kanban board more.

  • The Kanban board makes it easier for you to remember things, because as soon as you think of something, you write it down, put it on the backlog, and forget about it.  This way, you can focus your memory skills on new Minecraft mods and the various evolution paths of Pokemon.  That seriously got his attention because his workload’s been growing at school, and he’s always conflicted between getting better at Minecraft over schoolwork.
  • The intention for each post-it note is to remind you just enough of what you need to accomplish.  There’s no hard and fast rules, but we gave him these recommendations
    • Write the post-its as action phrases.  “Finish my States project by the end of the week.”  That’s a lot easier to figure out than, “project.”
    • Write out things that will take you a few days to finish, or you can’t get to within the next few days.  At first, he’d write every little thing down and found he was bogged down, so we’re helping him find a good middle ground.
    • Your post-it notes are much more valuable for things you need to do once, not things you do every day.  He has his routine for getting ready for school, and those are well practiced, so they don’t necessarily warrant a post-it note.  But school projects, special events on the weekends, those are golden opportunities.

Two months in, and so far so good!  Even for us, I’m a bit surprised we didn’t start doing this at home sooner, because the benefits at home are basically the same as work.

  • We can share the load more.  As parents, it’s easy to get into a mode of feeling like one parent is carrying a disproportionate load of taking care of the family.  Using the Kanban board, we see who initially is responsible for what, and when the overload in work-in-progress is clearly on one parent, we simply readjust.  Because it’s visible.
  • We actively minimize the work-in-progress.  Just like at work, it’s better to carry a few things all the way through than to carry ten things at once.  When we’re raising kids, it always feels like we have a million things to do.  The recurring tasks are often inescapable, but the one-off tasks are the ones that create the mental energy tax, and the Kanban board helps to keep that in check.

Have you started a Kanban board at home?  What have you found?  If you do start one, share your experiences with us too!

Kevin Miyashiro on sabtwitterKevin Miyashiro on sablinkedin
Kevin Miyashiro
Principal at Agile Gurus
I drink Agile Kool-Aid and help others drink it too.