Eat, Drink and Be Thankful for a Kanban Thanksgiving!

keep-calm-gobble-onThis blog was the result of collaborative effort between myself and my partner Don Subert, so I’m sharing attribution with him.

It’s that time of year again: Thanksgiving! Every year my family takes this time to do things we have been putting off to make sure our home is hospitable to those we invite over. The last couple years we’ve just kept the details of what needs to be done in our heads. This resulted in forgetting that we needed to buy or do something, causing us to have to shop the day before Thanksgiving. Anyone who’s ever suffered through a trip to the grocery store the Wednesday before knows that you can never find exactly what you want — if you can find anything at all. Overall it increases your stress and reduces the fun of the holiday weekend.

But this year, my partner, Don and I decided we would do it differently. Since both of us work for companies that employ Agile frameworks and have had some experience setting up and working with Scrum and Kanban in our own teams, we thought this would be the best time to try out Personal Kanban for ourselves. While this isn’t a new concept (we’ve even covered this topic before in a popular blog from a few years ago, “A Personal Kanban Thanksgiving”), it is worth pointing out how helpful such an easy-to-use tool can be in mitigating what can be a very stressful event. After all, the goal is to have fun and eat good food with family and friends.

Our first task was to brainstorm as many things that needed to be done to make Thanksgiving dinner a success. By defining success at the beginning, it helps you figure out exactly what needs to be done, by whom (everyone knows your turkey’s only as good as the gravy you put on it, so you have to figure out who makes the best gravy!), how long it could take and what you need to make it. We knew this list would not be an exhaustive lists of the tasks that were ahead of us but instead a good start to setting up our board. Once we laid these tasks on a white board, certain categories emerged. For example, here are the color-coded categories we came up with: home improvement (yellow), shopping (pink), food preparation (orange), cleaning (fluorescent green – little hard to see in the photo)and overnight guest-prep (blue). (Color-coding made visualizing the work easier.) What we realized was that the categories made it clear that certain categories had to be complete (or at least begun) before another category could be started. That meant that there were dependencies both between tasks and between categories. For example, before we could jump into the cooking category, we had to finish the shopping category—or at least we needed to finish shopping for the ingredients in any particular dish. If you only have one store to go to, the shopping category may just be a task, but we needed to go to several stores to pick up many different items.

As we started putting tasks in the Backlog column, we realized that not all tasks were ready to be pulled into In Progress. This is where we had the idea to start a Not Ready column specifically for tasks that either have not been defined or can’t be started because another task in the Ready or In Progress columns needed to be finished first. We then drew lines from the Not Ready Column to dependences in the Ready or In Progress columns. At this point we could start breaking down tasks were too big. For example, we needed to steam clean the carpets. Since it would take more than a day to complete both upstairs and downstairs of our townhome, we prioritized the downstairs over the upstairs, deciding that we wouldn’t have time to clean the upstairs carpet. Breaking this into smaller stories made the task more manageable.

Finally, we created a column for tasks we decided not to do. This helped us visually capture what we had been worried about doing but had deprioritized before doing before Thanksgiving. While it’s small, it was a relief for me and Don not to have to think about these particular tasks until after we were done with Thanksgiving.

Here’s what our Kanban board looked like:


This is how it looked after prioritization, which was itself eye-opening. We decided that I would act as Product Owner for the “delivery” of Thanksgiving dinner. That means that I’m responsible for prioritizing the tasks, whereas we both delegated the tasks according to our strengths and availability. Doing it this way made everything really transparent, even though we still had to do all of the work. Thanksgiving is in just a few days, but I do feel better that Don and I were able to put a structure around it that will help us get stuff done in time for the festivities.

And speaking of eating…


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