Celebrations with Kanban – Applying Agile Practices to Party Planning

Nov 1, 2019

With the holidays around the corner, you might be on the verge of hosting an upcoming celebration. Oh, the stress! You know what it’s like pulling together a party that everyone can enjoy. As the host, you tend to get wiped out before the party even gets going!

What if I told you that there was a better way to plan and execute your parties, based on personal experience? If I were you, I’d consider using Kanban for one of your upcoming celebrations. Not only does it help with organization, but it also provides more opportunities for fun—for both you and your guests.

Intrigued? Below, I will share with you my story behind “Celebrations with Kanban,” as well as some tricks and tips for your next party, so you can enjoy it as much as your guests.


The Story Behind “Celebrations with Kanban”

Four and a half years ago, my daughter celebrated her “Sweet Sixteen.” With 15 out-of-towner family members due to arrive at the celebration, my husband Randy Smith and I had so much to do and hardly any time to do it. On top of that, our family members were from different sides—many had never met, and I sensed a lot of potential for awkwardness. Randy (being the dedicated Agilist that he is) asked, “Why not set up a Kanban board and have our family contribute to the work that needs to be done?”

Now, I can hear the traditional hosts and hostesses out there saying, “No! Guests are supposed to just come and enjoy the event and then go home! Make your guests work? How gauche can you be!?” True, true, but remember:

  1. This was a family party, and our family is always asking what they can do to help (sound familiar?).
  2. People like to contribute! Scientific research provides compelling data to support that giving and contributing are powerful pathways to happiness.
  3. Agile Manifesto Principle #11: The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. If we wanted to make this a fun Sweet 16 for all our guests, then Kanban was a great way to get everyone involved. Plus, it would give people something to talk about, alleviating any stilted conversation.

And so, the Kanban Board went up with sticky notes for the activities we wanted help with. We had a brand-new grill that needed to be put together, gassed up, and grilling so that dinner could be had at a reasonable hour. We had a fire pit that needed sand, fuel, matches, camp chairs, marshmallows, roasting forks, graham crackers, and the all-important chocolate. We had a birthday cake that needed finishing touches; a fruit salad that needed to be cut up and put together; a green salad that wasn’t going to toss itself; etc, etc.

When the family arrived, they predictably asked, “What can we do to help?”

Cheerfully, I pointed to the sticky notes on the Kanban board and said, “Take your pick!”

Celebrations with Kanban

Our family members jumped right in and selected their tasks. It was fantastic! Rather than having anxious or bored guests sit on the couch while frazzled hosts ran around like crazy, everyone collaborated and got to work. No task was left undone. Four people swarmed on the grill; two people built the fire pit; the kitchen was a flurry of activity as salads popped into being and the cake was assembled. There was laughing, conversation, and love everywhere! Everyone had a part in creating a memorable and special event for our sweet 16-year-old.

There was no superhero in our Agile/Kanban experiment—just a super team working together to make a super event. My husband and I were able to truly enjoy our loved ones that had traveled so far to get here.

Since that day, my family has used Kanban boards for various events, including weddings, birthday parties, and even a 50th wedding anniversary. If you want a spectacular event put together efficiently with minimal work and lots of fun, then “Celebrations with Kanban” is the way to go.


Practical Tips for Using Kanban for Events

As a “Celebrations with Kanban” veteran, I thought it might be helpful to share some tips and tricks I have learned over time.

  1. To begin, you have to have an idea, a plan, and a goal. A Kanban board only takes you so far. You must have a vision.
  2. You have to have a vision, but don’t be bound to the details! Your family, friends, and other guests may have new, fantastic ideas of their own as things start coming together. Your celebration could very well turn out to be much better than you thought.
  3. Make sure the tools and resources are available to the team. If work must stop because someone has to run to the store, then that puts a damper on the tasks.
  4. Thank everyone for their help, and I mean this! Show gratitude. Make sure everyone’s contribution is recognized by sending out Thank You cards a week after the event. Not only is this good etiquette, but your guests are also more likely to come to your next party and help you again.
  5. Don’t leave out the “Done” column on the Kanban Board! This is very important for a few reasons.
    • Everyone can see what is done, so tasks aren’t unnecessarily repeated.
    • From an emotional perspective, knowing that the job is done feels amazing! There is an immediate, satisfying pay off when you watch little sticky notes progress from “To Do” to “In Process” to “Done.” That’s why we don’t just take it from “In Process” and toss it in the trash.
  6. Have a variety of sticky note colors on hand so you can color-code different types of tasks. By using multiple “swim lanes” for your various task types, you can keep your tasks well-organized and the information clear.

Think of the entire Kanban board as a progress bar, like the ones you see while you wait for a movie, game, or software to download. Once all the stickies are in the “Done” column, the progress is complete and it’s time to play!

Every time I’ve used a Kanban Board for an event, feelings of camaraderie, fun, love, and appreciation have emerged. Who doesn’t want those feelings associated with their celebrations?

Practical Tips for Using Kanban for Events

Good luck with your Holiday Celebrations and Merry Kanban everyone!


Written by Wendy Smith