A Very Agile Thanksgiving – Using Personal Kanban

A Very Agile Thanksgiving

Using Personal Kanban To Plan Your Holiday Dinner


Thanksgiving is almost upon us. For many, this is a joyous time of celebrating family and friends and giving thanks. For others (like those preparing for the actual celebration) the long list of To-Dos can seem a bit overwhelming.

One of the easiest ways to cope with this stress is to start practicing agile at home and using Personal Kanban is a great way to get started. Below is a step-by-step guide to taking the list of To-Dos and turning it into something that may give you another reason to give thanks this November.

Step 1 – Set up your Personal Kanban board

If you’ve got a big blank space on a wall near where you’ll be doing the work preparing for Thanksgiving, that would work great. If you don’t have that available, you could use BigVisible’s SeeNowDo or one of the many web based Kanban Tools like LeanKit. If you are working on a tablet computer, KanbanPad.

The easiest way to get started with this is to create a board with 3 columns: Ready, Doing and Done.  If you are really trying to keep with the practice of Kanban, you’ll also want to create a Work in Progress (WIP) limit, at least for the Doing column. The idea behind this is to minimize the amount of things you are working on at one time. If you set a WIP limit of 2 in the Doing column, then it means you can’t be working on more than 2 things at any given time. (Ideally you want a WIP limit of 1, but if you are new to this kind of thing and still believe in multitasking, this may help you keep from trying to do everything at once.

And if you have people helping you with the work, you may want to set the limit a little higher.

Step 2 – Build your Backlog

Grab a stack of Post-Its and make a list of all the things you know you have to do in order to prepare for Thanksgiving. Put one idea per Post-It and place all of them in the Ready Column. This will serve as your backlog of work. You may find it helpful to order (or prioritize) the list of items. If you are going to prioritize the list, you may want to order the items based on what is the most stressful, what takes the most time, or what is going to be the hardest thing to do. You should also factor in some idea of the order in which these things will logically happen. For example, it wouldn’t make sense to prioritize a work item to “Clean the Dishes” so that it reaches the top of the list before you get to “Cook the Turkey”.

Step 3 – Working the Backlog

Once you are ready to get started, pull the top item(s) into the Doing column and begin working on them. If you have a WIP limit, you should only pull in as many items as the WIP limit allows. So, if my WIP is 2, then I can have only 2 items in the Doing column at any one time. If you feel like you need to get started on a new item from the Ready column, you’ll need to complete one of the items in the Doing column first.

Each time you complete an item, move it to Done. It may not seem like much, but you’ll be surprised at the increasing level of satisfaction you get each time you get to move something into the final Done column.

If you’ve got people helping you, they can take and move items as well (keeping to the WIP limit). The idea behind all of this is to limit the amount of things we are working on at one time, get one thing completed and then start on the next item. If you are preparing the Thanksgiving-feast-that-will-be- talked-about-for-generations, you’ve got a lot to do in order to get ready. Staying focused on one item at a time will help reduce your stress, give you greater visibility into exactly what is left, and also help you coordinate the work with anyone on your team.

Step 4 – Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Keep working your backlog until everything is done, moving tasks across the board as you make progress each step of the way. As you move more items to the Done column, you’ll find that the overwhelming pile of things you need to complete is rapidly taken care of, allowing you to spend less time fretting about what has to be done, and more time celebrating with your family members.

Some Tips for Trying Personal Kanban

You may be tempted to skip the WIP limits and just pull everything into Done. This is a tough one – especially if you feel like everything has to be done anyway. Trust in this system, if only as an experiment. It’s been used successfully on projects far more complex than Thanksgiving and it really does work…if you let it.

If you have the ability to set up your “board” space near where you’ll be working (like your refrigerator), you will find it helpful to have it out in the open and easily accessible as you make progress. It will also let others know what you are doing, and hopefully they’ll join in to help.

One of the things I learned from my Personal Kanban experiment earlier this year was that it taught me how incredibly inefficient I have been with my work. If you find the same, just make a note of what you learn and keep it for after Thanksgiving. Once the dinner is over, the dishes are clean and you’ve recovered from the massive intake of turkey, cranberry sauce and pie, take time to hold a Retrospective. If you had helpers for the preparation, include them as well and talk about what you learned during your Personal Kanban Thanksgiving. Try to find some lessons you can take away and improve upon when you begin preparing for your next big holiday meal.