Two nights ago I had a great discussion with my son, Justice Berteig, about how we have been managing to do house cleaning every week. We have been using a very basic Kanban system. I have created about 100 stickies each of which has a basic cleaning task such as “tidy the kitchen counters” or “vacuum the office floor” or “clean the powder room toilet”. If we do all of the tasks, it represents a fairly complete cleaning of the whole house. Every Saturday morning, all six of us (myself, my wife and our four kids) choose one task at a time and put the sticky for that task in the “In Progress” column. When we finish a task, we move it to the “Done” column. When all the tasks are done, we all are finished. We reuse the stickies each week. Sometimes if we want to do a quick clean, we won’t put out all of the stickies.
It works well in one specific way: everything gets done!
But Justice was complaining about the system because he works a lot harder and one of my younger kids has admitted to doing less than she could… because she can get away with it with this system.
Last week we tried a modified system where each person has a task allocation. For example, Justice had an allocation of 25 tasks. Our younger daughter had an allocation of just 5 tasks. We then took turns to choose one task at a time (although there were a lot of exceptions to this) until all the tasks are pre-allocated (similar to how teams used to do Sprint Planning). But, although some people finished all their tasks, not everyone did and so there were a number of things left over that never got finished.
In other words, we stopped using a Kanban system, and we stopped reaching the overall goal of a clean house.
So Justice and I had a long conversation about this problem. In the interests of continuous improvement and experimentation, I didn’t just force the issue back to the old Kanban system. Instead we decided to try the following changes:
- Limit the tasks to only those in common areas. Private areas such as bedrooms would be taken off the master list.
- Each task would get an estimate from a scale of 1 to 3 to represent their relative difficulty. We will talk as a family about the estimates and maybe use a simplified “bucket system“.
- Now, instead of an allocation of a specific number of tasks, the allocation would be for a total amount of effort. We agreed that our youngest would get a smaller allocation still, but she could take any number of tasks to fill it up.
- We also agreed to be more disciplined about taking turns to choose tasks.
I’m going to add one more thing which is to do a specific retrospective on how it worked to see if we can come up with further improvements. I have to admit that I hope we go back to the Kanban approach!!!
Check out our new Kanban training offering: Kanban: Gentle Change currently available for public enrolment in the Toronto area and for in-house delivery wherever you might be!