#PMSkillsAreLifeSkills: Should you Kanban your life?

Editor’s note: This week, Heather Savatta continues our series entitled #PMSkillsAreLifeSkills by describing how the Savatta household uses Kanban to stay organized.

Kanban View of Monday.com, from their Press Kit

Answer from Heather Savatta

Heather Savatta is Director, Concert Solutions at Vox Media. You can find her on Twitter at @heathraff

Introduction

You can (and should) Kanban your life! By applying your practical Product skills outside of work, you can improve the efficiency of your everyday life.

What is Kanban?

Kanban is a practice and a framework that was originally used in manufacturing and was later adapted to software development. The practice emphasizes real-time communication with your team and improves transparency into the team’s capacity so that software can be built quickly and continuously.

As a working mom, I’ve found that you can also apply Kanban to your life outside of work to ensure that your partner, family, and support system are all working together in organized harmony. Like many working mothers, I have a lot going on: a full-time job with Vox Media working on our digital ad marketplace offering, two young children with lots of needs, a husband who wants to help but isn’t sure where to start, and support coming into our home to keep it all functional (and clean!).

How we started using Kanban

We started using Kanban in our personal lives right before our wedding. We wanted to ensure that we didn’t miss anything as we tracked against the many tiny milestones leading up to the big event! It helps that my husband is an engineer and I have worked in product management; our work backgrounds made applying Kanban in our day-to-day life a pretty seamless transition.

When I later transitioned into mom life, I also became very aware of how mothers take on much of the invisible workload around the home. The use of Kanban makes it easier for me to be the project manager of the Savatta home so I can share and delegate the tasks while ensuring they are also done correctly.

Four Simple Steps to begin to Kanban your life

1. Pick the tools that work for your family

We use a combination of tools that meet our needs.

  • Trello is our main Kanban board, and we use it with these columns: On deck, Working on, Finalizing, Finished, and For another day.
  • Monday.com is used to track tasks by date and deliverable action items.
  • Google Docs is where we put all our “project” write-ups (note: it’s important to give access to the whole family!) and anything long-form that needs to be written out.
  • Google calendar is combined with a real calendar that hangs on a wall in our kitchen at home. We note every single important date or reminder, invite each other to shared events, and block off time for tasks on both the digital and physical calendars so we can easily see it each day.

2. Manage big events as if they are major projects

We use Google Docs and a good project framework to handle the big events, such as buying a house or picking a new school. By using Google Docs, we keep all our milestones, thoughts, feedback, and research in one neat place.

I like to link back to the relevant Google Doc from Trello and Monday.com while using it as a place to make big decisions by tagging my partner for his attention. Things get lost too easily over quick text messages, and you sometimes forget the main thing that you’re working towards. By placing all the information in one place, we’re able to quickly get up to speed and on the same page. More importantly, having a record of our value propositions and agreed-upon requirements that we can refer back to helps keep the family in a good place.

For each of these big events, we agree on the OKRs (objectives and key results) for the project, which I will write that down once they’re finalized. It’s also not unusual for me to link to a doc when I need my husband’s input on something that I am taking immediate action on. To stay on track, I will ask for his help to resolve open comments by a certain time. This practice of documenting things in a central location keeps important projects moving along between us and helps us to stay aligned and avoid the “I told you that when!” argument.

3. Set bi-weekly or monthly meetings to talk about the big projects

We set aside a pre-agreed time at least once every two weeks to talk about and make progress on the big things. This activity usually happens on Sunday evenings, when the kids are (finally!) in bed.

We use this time to input the cards into Trello, assign owners, and pick due dates. We also make a point of reviewing the docs and resolving open comments before the week starts. We update the calendars if we have events for work or with friends. Knowing as early as Sunday night that you’re going to be solo with the kids for dinner makes for a smoother experience than finding out the same afternoon!

I also like to use this time to go over our big “projects” like vacations, school plans, big-ticket purchases (such as car shopping), and consolidating any feedback for our quarterly check-ins with our nanny.

4. Retro, Review, and Learn

When we finish a big project or complete something, I love to look back and reflect on what we’ve achieved. My five-year-old loves to join in and help us talk through the things that went well, what we can work on, and the things we shouldn’t ever do again. Retros usually open up a big family discussion and help us keep improving. For example, we recently took a big family vacation to Disney World. Even though I had planned every activity down to the hour, looking back we found some really interesting aspects that we could have done better to have an easier trip. I was also surprised to hear my family’s favorite parts — aspects that we will be sure to have more of on our next trip! I put these retro results in our “Disney Vaca Planning Doc,” which I’m happy to say has already helped many friends.

Closing thoughts

Kanban’ing your life is supposed to make it easier, not more difficult. I encourage you to test different approaches with your support system to find the approach that fits your goals. You may need to try different tools before everyone else starts to see the value of this approach.

Also, while Kanban offers many benefits, don’t try to force it on your family. Give it a good try, but not at the expense of your family time. You don’t want to be creating a process just for the sake of creating things to update.

If your partner isn’t on board with using the Kanban approach for your life together, that is okay too. In such a scenario, I would simplify the system to something like a simple Trello board, with movable cards for myself that I can copy and paste into emails/texts to keep them updated as needed.

If like me, you love having everything organized and buttoned up in your life, Kanban may work for you. I hope that learning a bit about my family’s experience will be enough to make you want to give it a try. Good luck!

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