New Year’s Resolution

Planning Kanban Adoption for Home Task Management

New year. New decade. Cue the numerous social media posts outlining unachievable resolutions that people have absolutely no chance of keeping. The majority of my friends set typical goals such as new gym routines and healthier eating habits. However, the Richmond family have a more unconventional ambition in mind.

Throughout my eight years as a Software Engineer, I have grown to be strong Agile advocate. My experiences working in both Waterfall and Agile focused teams have fostered a strong preference for the latter model. To the extent that my status as an Agile evangelist is known far and wide. Furthermore, it is also a source of jest, as emphasised by the Scrum notebook I received as a baby present, illustrated below. Apologies colleagues, I thought evangelist was more suitable than geek!

I’ve always been far better at organising work commitments compared to my home responsibilities. To the extent that work is consistently prioritised above home. When I return to work in a couple of weeks, a better balance needs to be maintained for the sake of my family life. As well as for the sake of my own sanity. I must find a better way of using my strong organisation experiences from work in my home life. To this end, here I set out the initial thoughts on creating a Personal Kanban process, and set the initial goals for one of my 2020 resolutions.

Business Never Personal

To ensure this is not yet another lost resolution that’s committed to the rubbish heap, it’s critical to outline the justification for using Kanban in this unorthodox setting. Our current home organisational model is flawed due to a simple lack of visibility. Myself and my husband currently use a generic TO DO app inspired by post-its. Features such as cross device collaboration and reminders are fantastic for small urgent items. When it comes to longer term items that require more effort and planning, they often become lost. Furthermore, progress made on these items is difficult to track. Especially over the last few months with the arrival of Baba and the resulting mutual sleep deprived baby brain.

A second consideration is grouping of items into themes is problematic. The vast majority of TO DO applications provide colour coding and labelling capabilities. However, the agreed formats or labels are also challenging to track.

Use of a personal Kanban board to track my own work items has proven to be a helpful tool for me for several years. As a team we use Jira for our work items on our products. Regardless, for my own additional work items such as paperwork and goal setting, I use my trusty personal Kanban board to plan out my week, presented below. This is definitely the best and most practical gift I’ve every received from a colleague.

Of course we could simply use this board at home. From a selfish point of view, I would require another board for work. There are also some practical considerations worth noting. Firstly, with my son’s impending weening and current focus of sticking everything in his mouth, falling post-its are bound to end up being eaten. Therefore a board out of reach with cards that won’t wall is definitely needed.

Additionally, the time slot swimlanes do not help with this current issue of tracking progress on these tasks. We’re not even sure which states we require. To that end, it’s time to consider a medium with configurable columns to give us flexibility of states. Finally, given the constant reprioritisation and context switching present in the current process, adoption of Kanban over time-boxed paradigms such as Scrum to reduce WIP seems most appropriate.

We Need a Resolution

In committing to this resolution, there are a few setup considerations that we need to evaluate. Just like adoption of any Agile methodology within the software development domain, details of the adopted setup must be agreed by all parties using the process. In this case we’ll exclude Baba from discussions, mainly because he’s yet to speak. Nevertheless, all attributes of this model must have full backing of both Mr Richmond and myself.

To address visibility concerns, a physical medium may be more effective than a virtual tool. Certainly I intend to conduct research to identify any Kanban applications that could solve our state and visibility problems. However, the notion of finally having a physical whiteboard for Agile activities over the typical online tools is rather thrilling. There are three key items that we required for a simple magnetic Kanban board, with configurable swimlanes.

  • Whiteboard
  • Magnetic Story Cards
  • Whiteboard markers

Yet it’s not only the existence of a board that must be assess. Board location is also of vital importance. Elaborating on the visibility issue of the aforementioned app, notifications and reminders are required to trigger your attention to particular items. Hiding the board in a far off corner of the house doesn’t call tasks to mind. The board should take pride and place somewhere prominent. Perhaps somewhere you spend a lot of time. Or even somewhere you always frequent when returning home from work. For us the kitchen definitely sounds like the prime candidate. The added bonus is there’s also a free wall already available.

Agreement must also be reached on the nuances of the board itself. Our initial thoughts of states are the simple TO DO, IN PROGRESS and DONE. However, depending on our progress and the number of outstanding items at any time a PENDING state may also be required.

The scope of the item population is another consideration. The initial population can obviously be obtained through the current pending items within our application. The results of a joint brainstorm are another potential capture mechanism. There is also value in agreeing items suitable for exclusion as well as inclusion. For example, adding the nightly post-dinner task of washing the dishes is definitely overkill. Dishes and bottle sterilisation have become as second nature as Baba’s sleep routine.

Measure for Measure

As stated previously, adoption of Kanban is intended to address several challenges with organisation and execution of home tasks. In the spirit of continuous improvement, we must evaluate whether Kanban adoption successfully solves the aforementioned issues. Just as I found in adoption of Obstacle board by one of our squads back in 2019, that warm fuzzy feeling of subjective improvement is not enough. Even for personal adoption, establishing quantitative metrics is imperative for measuring progress.

We can easily track the number of completed tasks per week. The advantage of adopting a whiteboard is that single metrics can be written in the top corner. I would suggest that the ratio of completed to uncompleted tasks will assist in establishing our work in progress, or WIP for the who are familiar. In formal work settings, time to completion would be effective in establishing the work rate.

Simplicity is key to ensure adoption of Kanban serves to benefit the household and improve task management. It must not negatively impact our family life. However, multi-week trending of any agreed measures requires regular documenting of metrics along with the week on week delta.

The Adventure and the Resolution

The idea of Personal Kanban is certainly not novel. A simple Google search provides articles documenting usage for organisation of personal work tasks and home use. Learning from their experiences is indeed important. Nevertheless, what is novel is the assessment of whether it works for addressing my current home organisational trials. Personal Kanban is very personal in that regard.

Like any resolution, there is a chance this endeavour will be abandoned without significant effort to establish Kanban usage at home as a habit. Blogging my experiences is my chance to force a longer term commitment. Look out for a future update on our successes and failures. 2020 is the year where work and home shall collide, hopefully in a positive way. It is the year where I finally attempt to balance the organisation scales of home and work using a method from my working life. Wish me luck!

Thanks for reading. Do look out for future revelations on this resolution. Claps, comments and feedback is always appreciated!

Lead software engineer with a strong interest in UI, UX, Usability and Agility. Lover of cooking, tea, photography and gin! All views expressed are my own.

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