Using Kanban at home for the last 3 months. Can agile work for households?

Having operated a Kanban work system for the last year and seeing how it enabled more of a continuous development delivery process, I wondered if it could be useful at home.

The use-case

Like everyone, as a household we have birthday’s, shopping, holidays to plan, school event to attend, costumes to make, bills to renew and DIY to mess up. All these things if not handled in the moment start to build up and then it becomes overload. We have routine like most households but it is not optimised to get the best value, so I thought could we bring Kanban to the household or at least give it a try. As of today, we have been running a Kanban process for three months with mixed results but overall with a positive impact.

How we started

Firstly, on a large sheet of paper we brain dumped everything in our heads that needed to be done. We then labelled items by common themes “House”, “Trips”, “Garden”, “Family”, “School”, “Misc”. Once we had the items we had to validate they were the true problems we wanted to solve by applying five why’s.

The item — “We need to buy a tumble dryer”

Then we asked are selves, Why

“We need to dry clothes faster” Why

“Room is getting damp and low on clothes on Monday before get busy” Why

“Not opening the windows currently and washing on a bad schedule” Why

Answer — Need to better schedule washing

We followed this process with everything on the sheet of paper until we got to a list of about 40 items that we wanted to resolve or investigate further to identify the true problem. We defined “A card”, a card is colour coded by its label (House, Trip, School, etc). Each card includes a single sentence describing the thing to be completed, who is responsible for it, estimated financial cost if required and space to add notes as the card progresses through its stages.

The Board

Like all agile type tools, the key is being able to see your board so you can add/remove/update quickly. We created a physical board, we tried Trello but didn’t use it, a physical board we saw every morning when waking up. We split the board into five stages.

· Backlog

· Planned

· In Progress

· Blocked

· Completed

All cards must go onto the backlog when imagined, that card remains on the backlog as information is accumulated and is moved to Planned when it is believed to have enough information to start the card. Cards are moved back and forth between Backlog & Planned as things change, as they do in life. Budgets get adjusted, services no longer needed, people not being around to action for weeks, etc.

When a card is ready to start, it moved into In-Progress, where notes can be added as things develop on the card. Blocked is used as a last resort, for example, your order for garden waste collection has been booked and paid for and you have to wait for it to be collected which could take five days, you move it to blocked until the waste has been collected and it be moved to Completed.

To ensure cards get completed, a Work In-Progress Limit needs to be enforced; this means that any person cannot have more than X cards in In-Progress at any one time. We set this to three for In-Progress and a max of two in blocked.

Ok, sounds great, what is the catch?


Starting

Don’t try and start your board with distractions around, making the board itself and picking post-it notes is a great afternoon craft game for the house hold but trying to five why’s your backlog and teach the concept of agile (if everyone isn’t aware) can results in everyone not being happy, especially those under the age of ten.

It is much better to flesh out the board over a few evenings, it will take time to start and is not something to rush. It will feel annoying to start but is well worth the process. We created the board, got halfway through, and then something happened, and then something else and the board stayed behind a cupboard for about three weeks.

Location

Position the board somewhere you will see it every day, ideally at eye level for all those who will use it. After a few weeks, the board will become furniture, so it needs to not be easily missed. Have a pen and post-it notes close by, so when you think of something to add, you want it to be easy so you add it to the board rather than you diverting to a to-do list on the kitchen table that only you have visibility of.

Monthly Refresh

At the start of each month we review the board completely, removing the completed cards (that is a nice feeling of progress) and allowing for a reset of the existing cards, typically we remove five or so cards as they are no longer relevant.

Weekly check-ins

One area which will feel the strangest part is having a household board review for 10–20 minutes at least once a week (this can change as you find your desired cadence of check-ins). This weekly check-in is to collectively review; evaluating all blocked cards to see if/how they can be moved forward, update on the In-Progress status’ and decide if any more cards can move from Backlog to Planned.

Check-ins are a new-ish function for us which we introduced after the summer as we found the busyness of life we did keep the board up to date, so things just stayed there. Seeing the same cards in the same states every day can then hurt the purpose of the board in the first place, so you need to manage it to ensure it adds value to you and your household.


The wrap up

Since we started the process we have completed over 80 cards, freaked out many guests with our persevered organisation and indoctrinated two friends into trying the system themselves. The process has given us a continuous working backlog that is working well.

If your thinking about giving it a try, just do it and please let me know how you got on. you can email me via leemallon.com if I can help in any away.

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Our board (minus the details)