Can you use visualization in the form of a Kanban board to plan your wedding?
It's not every day you get the chance to conduct an experiment that can answer that question, so naturally, my then-partner and I jumped at the opportunity.
Spoiler alert: We are now married, and the conclusion is clear: Yes, you absolutely can. The deeper insights lie in why wedding Kanban worked so well? You can read about that in this blog post.
Visualization, to a greater or lesser extent, is a part of everything that rhymes with the word starting with "A" and ending with "gile", such as Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, LeSS, etc.
In all cases, visualization is a part of the package, either as a direct requirement or as best practice.
In many cases, the visualization is a board with some columns and post-its that (hopefully) move from left to right, becoming the de facto standard. Almost as if it's the only way to visualize.
I am a strong advocate for visualization, so I created my own visualization in connection with planning a certain wedding where I was one of the two headliners – my own wedding.
My then-girlfriend, now wife, was fortunately on board (pun not intended) with the idea.
This is often also the case in a workplace, in a team, or elsewhere in the organization. Most are on board with the idea. They want to create some columns, and if things get wild: some swimlanes, and fill them up with post-its.
In most cases visualization is digital, unless you are especially lucky and have a real, physical board.
For the wedding, this method of visualization worked excellently, just as I had hoped (and kind of expected). In the workplace however, my experience is that it does not always go that easily.
After the wedding, I pondered why the 'simple' use of visualization at a workplace is so hard, when it worked so well for my wedding.
I’ve arrived at 5 key points: 3 derived from the visualization and 2 taking it a step further. All of them I hope will help you get the most out of visualization in your work, and surprisingly enough, the latter points,have nothing to do with the visualization itself.
But first a few notes about our visualization.
Visualization of a wedding - a wedding board
To set the scene, here is a snapshot of our visualization about 4 weeks before the wedding date. It's a very simple board:
These columns and fields might remind you of something you've seen before:
As you can see, there's quite a bit in 'Done' (fortunately!), a little in 'Waiting', and some in 'Next'. Nothing in 'Doing'(!) and about 10 items in 'Things to do'.
The board was foldable cardboard in A4 size and was bought from Nomad8. Unfortunately, they have since closed their merch shop.
So, why did it work so well with that board?
As mentioned, I have thought about this a lot after the wedding. Why was the board such an effective tool for visualization when it often causes challenges, difficulties, and minimal yield in companies and groups, despite all their good intentions?
There are some obvious and easy points:
The observant reader may have noticed that these three points go from something very visual and physical, to something that requires something from the people using the visualization – namely discipline.
These points can undoubtedly give a group a boost in their workday and life, but there were two other elements that really moved the needle in the case of our wedding.
A focused team
The first point is that we were a focused team, my then-girlfriend and I. It was just the two of us, so it was easy to divide who did what, when it should be done, and what should be done together.
We could talk about how and why, whenever needed. We could change the plan, we could change the content, add, or remove as we saw fit. Or in other words – we had autonomy.
It's important to point out that we were a focused group and not a dedicated group (or dedicated team as we often hear in connection with Agile), because we also did other things. Went to work, exercised, read a book, watched TV, met with family and friends, and whatever else one does in life.
But the wedding was important to both of us.
In the workplace dedicated teams are often created, at least on paper. But often it's dedicated with modifications, for example, 50% on one task and 80% on another. A team torn between different tasks or – horror – even worse, individuals are torn between multiple tasks. Tasks that, at least on paper, are equally important.
This means either that there is no focus, or it is weak, or there are too many things in focus. And is something really in focus if it isn’t the only thing? Consider a camera trying to maintain focus on multiple things at once — it rarely goes well.
Creating one, and only one, focus is hard, if not nearly impossible. But it can be strived for, which brings us to the next takeaway.
How did we maintain the aforementioned focus? Besides the physical visualization, of course.
It’s because our wedding was so important to us, and we could articulate why. The entirety of the focused team,i.e., my now-wife and I, was invested in creating a fantastic celebration of love,family, and friends – it wasn't a goal others put upon us.
And that it was important to us made all the aforementioned points and insights much easier.
In the context of a workplace, the importance of a task is not always clear. Perhaps its importance is not communicated clearly enough, if at all. Maybe the distance between those who find a task important and those who are handling the task is too great. Or maybe the team has lost sight of what we are trying to achieve, entirely.
Ultimately, this affects the understanding of the task, the desire to do it well, to be part of changing, shaping, and choosing the task.
So how did the wedding go?
The wedding turned out to be as fantastic as we had hoped for, and in addition to saying ‘YES to visualization’, more importantly, she said yes to me!
The board looked like this a few days before the wedding. Another smart thing about visualization is that it can be reused. So now the wedding post-its have been replaced with post-its preparing us for a new addition to our family!