Steve Fenton

Kanban in the kitchen

This is a brief report into how the methodologies I use in my day job as a programmer have affected the way I perform household duties. I used to do a lot of housework when I lived on my own and before I actually started writing software for a living and while performing some chores today I realised the profound effect a decade of programming has had on my way of undertaking non-software tasks.

I had a lot of washing to do. The linen basket was full and I also had a bag full of baby clothes that needed washing. My old system was to create two piles of clothes – one pile of white clothes and another pile of everything else. This was not the case today. My kitchen floor, which is handily divided into square tiles, became a Kanban board of dirty clothes. I prioritised the backlog to ensure the most urgent clothes were worked on first, which was the baby clothes. I then created outfit-based piles in the backlog for the other clothes, so that if I couldn’t complete all the washing both my Wife and I would have clean stuff to wear. There was a very strict work-in-progress limit at all stages, imposed by the size of my kitchen floor, the amount I could fit in the washing machine and the amount of drying space. The drying space showed signs of becoming a blocker to progress, so I looked for ways to stop things building up.

Retrospectives took place at regular intervals – one improvement I made to the process was to perform early organisation of the clothes on in the drying space. I paired the socks as I hung them out, so when they were dry they wouldn’t need to go through an additional matching stage. I also grouped other items that would eventually end up in the wardrobe space together, to save the sorting time. It took no additional time to perform the sorting as I put the clothes on the line, but it would have cost additional time if I had done it in batches later – you will appreciate this if you have ever created a bundled sock-pile of similar socks.

I also noticed that the longest part of the process was the time it took the washing machine to run. Because of this I decided to start the next load before I had hung out the clean clothes to dry. This meant that the time-to-production reduced by the amount of time it takes to hang out a load of washing.

I would have liked to demonstrate my progress to my customer much earlier than I did, but she was out – so there was a risk that I wouldn’t be delivering exactly what was required – I could have later discovered that I had prioritised things incorrectly and failed to deliver a favourite jumper, or pair of socks.

The point of all of this is that I am starting to notice a lot of areas where a radical re-think of process is needed. My housework routine was one of them, but I have also seen many opportunities while out and about recently – Pizza Hut ignored what the Kanban-buffet was telling them about a work-in-progress limit in the kitchen that was too low and Hospitals up and down the country would benefit from a process that would allow them to prioritise the tasks that need to be performed.

Next time – Kanban For Conversations!

Written by Steve Fenton on