One of the fundamental lessons I’ve learnt since starting to use Personal Kanban, is that there is no “one size fits all” approach. The traditional whiteboard with stickies may work for some, but in many cases you want to – and need to – mold your Kanban to the way your life rolls.
As our use of Personal Kanban has evolved, so have our boards. And no, it hasn’t cost me an arm and a leg. For Kidzban, in particular, nothing beats using the material in your environment creatively!
The Round Table
Our first “board” was temporary. I’d been thinking of using Kanban with the kids for a while, and one weekend impulsively decided to just jump in and do it. The most visible item in our open plan living area is the dining table. So we cleared everything off the top and stuck all the To Do stickies on the left. Cards simply moved across to the middle once they were In Progress and ended in Done on the right.
Since we do need our dining table for the odd family meal, this couldn’t be a permanent setup. By the next weekend, I’d realised that the object which is most central to our lives is in fact the kitchen fridge. It’s the first thing you see as you walk into the kitchen, and all of us open it at least once in the morning, afternoon and evening. It also came with a ready-made metal surface and a myriad of magnets we could use for our cards. The cards themselves are cut up squares of printer paper that I would usually recycle. Who could ask for a better information radiator?
The further beauty of the fridge, is that it has natural boundaries that separate the Backlog (below the line) and Work In Progress (above the line). Work again moves across from the left (Next Up) to the middle (Doing) and eventually to the right (Done). The WIP limit in each of these phases was initially three (since dad was travelling when we first started out with kanban). I have since rearranged everything “above the line” to have space for four items in each phase. When work starts piling up in Done, it moves around to the right-hand side and into the Archive. The archive is cleared out on a Sunday when I count our points.
Some specific family work patterns started emerging after the first few weeks of using the fridge. One of them, is that I tend to take on work as The Mom that can best be described as “epics”. These jobs can easily run over a few weeks and often require me to work on them at home, work or even on the road. A classic example is Boy One’s recent birthday party. As any party planner knows, putting together an event for 20 grade schoolers involves a lot of planning, preparation and execution!
In a software project I would break these items down into more granular blocks of work and track each item individually. If I did that on our fridge, however, my cards would quickly overwhelm all others, completely defeating the purpose of giving visibility to everything we need to do as a family.
Enter my mobile kanban. Inspired by a foldup school kanban done by Jill Reed (@jlindenreed on Twitter), I used a spare notebook folder and pasted an A4 poster board inside to create my “whiteboard”.
The top third of the board is my WIP. Each phase has a WIP limit of 1, with phases broken down into Next Up, Blocked, Doing, Done. In the Backlog, I limit myself to two parallel projects. Depending on the priority, I can pick a card from either project to go into the WIP lane.
The cards typically also vary in granularity. In the initial phases of The Birthday Project, for example, all the main steps like Arrange Venue, Design Invitations, and Send Invitations were visible on the backlog. With two days left to go, I further decomposed items like Buy Party Stuff into separate cards for trips to specific stores. This ongoing process of decomposition really kept me focused on doing the right thing at the right time.
As for the epic cards themselves, they are still visible on the family fridge, so everybody else knows what I’m working on and why I’m not pulling any other items.
So far, the mobile board has been my biggest breakthrough in personal productivity using Personal Kanban. Redesigning our home filing system? Bring it on!