Kanban for Chores

Today’s post is a lot more practical than most. It’s fun to mix things up now and again. I really enjoy it when work related activities can improve the home. I feel like the time invested in learning pays off doubly so in those cases.

Today I am going to share a new chore system that has been rolled out in the Jensen family. So far, I’m very happy with the results. To give credit where credit is due: months ago, in one of Alan Page’s blog posts, he told a story about how he introduced his family to Kanban. His kids, in particular, really seemed to dig it. I would share out the link to the post, but, sadly, I cannot find it. I think it lies in one of Alan’s older posts. If somehow it shows up, I will post an update here. (EDIT: as pointed out in comments, it was a series of tweets) As I recall, Alan’s system was to put the chores up on a kanban-related taskboard and everyone works together to get the chores done on the weekend before heading out for family fun.

As you may recall from my last post, I have moved recently. The new house is much bigger than the old one and we have an active after work/school life, so chores were going to the wayside at times. This, to me, was annoying. I remembered Alan’s post and said “hmm, that actually sounds like fun and with a few tweaks should work great for our household”.

Here’s how I did mine.

First, I acquired several supplies:

  1. A 4′ Magnetic Dry Erase Board
  2. A set of Dry Erase Pens (Although, I will probably change this to Painter’s Tape later… It looks cleaner.)
  3. 4 sets of Planning Poker cards by using the PDF available here.
  4. A set of Ink Jet Magnetic Business Cards by Avery

The board will serve as a base for the taskboard. Since both the cards and the board are magnetic, the cards will be a perfect medium for being task tickets. The dry erase pens will mark out the columns, WIP, and flow.

Next, I sat with my wife and we worked through the chores that we felt should/could be done by anyone in the household. Things like doing the dishes, taking out the trash, cleaning your room, etc. are not on the list. These chores we felt the kids should just do anyways… Family Tax. I then took each of those chores and printed it on its own business card. These ended up looking really sharp. Had I the patience or the time, I would have put pictures or decorated the cards so they showed the image of the chore. One of my sons really likes that type of work, so I may ask him to do it when these cards wear out. Plus I find if you get folks to help to work on the system, they feel more vested in its success. Can’t hurt.

At Dinner, I brought out the magnetic cards. This was the first time the kids had seen them and since all of the cards had work items on it that they recognized they were immediately suspicious. I trudged forward fearlessly and walked them and my wife through a variant of planning poker (without them realizing that what I was doing had that name).

Planning poker process we followed:

  • Ordered the chore list from easiest to do to hardest
  • I picked the one in the middle “Vacuum Downstairs” and announced it was worth 5 points. (My eldest, still suspicious, protested the use of points, claiming that it further proved that doom and gloom was coming his way… Teenagers!)
  • I then took all of the chores and put them into a single randomized stack.
  • I wrote a “5” on “Vacuum Downstairs” and kept it out of the stack
  • Then starting at the top, I asked “if Vacuum Downstairs is worth 5 points of difficulty, how many points is ___________________?” (for example, “Clean Refrigerator Door” or “Weed Front Yard”)
  • I told them how to use the Planning Poker cards I had made and iterated through all of the chores.
  • After we agreed on a point total for the chore (as well as got clear agreement on what Done meant), I wrote the final number on the card and went to the next card.

There was some discussion from the kids regarding the available point values, but I stuck to Fibonacci numbers. (they wanted a 4 and a 7)


Now I had all of the chores with points assigned, I went and made the simplest of taskboards (see below). Since I wanted the board to replace the current (and totally failing) allowance process, I then figured out the point to $ conversion by figuring out how much I would be willing to pay weekly and dividing that by the total of all of the chore points.

Then I told the kids (and my wife) the rules:

  • Only mom and dad can move tickets from the Backlog column to the Ready column. We will do so when we think that chore needs to be done.
  • Anybody can grab a chore they want from the Ready column, if they have available capacity.
  • Each person can have, at most, 2 tickets in the Doing column. They are not required to have any.
  • No one else can take that ticket as long as the owner completes it in 2 days. If they do not, then someone else can take it with notification.
  • At the end of the week, each kid will get paid according to the sum of their points.
  • Then the Done tickets will be moved to Backlog and my wife and I will re-fill the Ready column as needed.
  • Also, at the end of the week, we will as a family talk about the chores and adjust points up or down. I will adjust the point conversation rate as necessary, so that I am paying a constant amount each week.

The Results

Truly amazing. For those who have deployed similar things at work, it really shouldn’t surprise, but it did me. My kids really picked it up excitedly. The first day half of the chores got done. It was kind of a whirlwind. Both kids viewed it as a game and had a blast just moving a ticket to done. They both are eager to get the big ticket items, but when one figured out that he could get the smaller tickets in faster time than the big ones, he quickly surpassed his brother. Right now, it is definitely a situation of everyone wins. Kids are in charge of earning what they want and when. Mom and Dad are in charge of prioritizing the work and the house is staying clean and spiffy and as another positive note an unexpected “bonus” has popped up: The kids do not want Mom and Dad doing tickets. Why? Because then *they* don’t get paid. Brilliant, I say! Might just give me more time for blog writing!




11 thoughts on “Kanban for Chores

  1. As a big fan of “Kahn-Bahn”, I support this post!

    As far as I recall, I never blogged about this. I tweeted about it a few times, and although we’ve become inconsistent in our kanban usage, I can vouch for the excitement and productivity of the approach for family chores.

  2. Well-timed! My oldest daughter is going out of the country for a few months so we have to reorganize our chore list while she’s gone. I’ll propose kanban and see how it goes.

    • You are welcome. Please circle back and let us know how it worked for you. I’ve noticed a lot of parents are finding it useful; they’d be interested in hearing what your success was.

  3. Pingback: How To Use Kanban To Get Organized At Home | Sockets and Lightbulbs

  4. Reblogged this on TheHappinessBucket and commented:
    As a Certified Project Manager I am always amazed at how we can apply our work world to our home world. As a born organizer and planner I am so excited and overjoyed to hear of the success someone has applying this to their home life. I encourage everyone who has trouble getting their family to assist in doing work around the house or getting a project done to try Kanban for Chores!

    • WOW! Very kind words indeed. Thank you.

      Even after a year, this process is working *very* well for my family. My eldest son said the other day, “Dad, there’s no more chores. Can you add some please?” How many times have most parents heard those words, I wonder?

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