Nov 29, 2017 | 3 min read

What I Learned About Leadership From Applying Kanban Process at Home

By: Patrick Emmons

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity. So, why did I spend most weekends yelling, threatening, bargaining, cajoling, and pleading for chores to get done instead of enjoying a peaceful respite from work and savoring quality time with my family? We spend so much of our lives with work and life comingling and yet, it hadn’t occurred to me that there could be lessons from the workplace that could be applied at home and vice versa. I started to wonder, how can I use what I know about employee motivation and project management techniques to make Saturdays less chaotic and more enjoyable?

Kanban Process at HomeAnd that’s when the light bulb moment occurred. Why not try to apply a Kanban process and a bit of gamification to the household chores? Much like in scrum, this was a way for me to prioritize work and assign a level of difficulty to tasks while divvying them up amongst my kids. It also created a visual representation so they could monitor their own progress.

When I considered my goal and a corresponding reward for this exercise, I contemplated what I would trade at the end of the day (that would also be a motivating reward for my kids) for having everything done and being able to remain calm in the process. In the end, I decided I would rather spend my Saturdays doing something fun with my family rather than chasing kids around.

The Process

  • Create Kanban board (collection of sticky notes) of all the things that need to get done
  • Assign point values to tasks
  • Determine reward
    • If everyone hits 40 points, everyone gets ice cream
    • If you exceed 40 points,
      • The person with the most points gets to choose the venue
    • Clarify what “done” looks like and how it would be inspected



The kids took to this gamification of chores immediately. They found the visibility of tasks and progress extremely motivating. Everyone hit their points goal and the struggle to get chores done was eliminated.

My wife and I remained calm and spent our energy taking our kids out for a fun family ice cream night. Bonus - we didn’t have chores to come home to either!


The kids went above and beyond. The visibility of points progress created a little bit of healthy competition. It got to the point where they kept asking for more chores because they had exhausted the pre-defined list (or backlog). Eventually, I had the kids detailing my car and doing my taxes (not really).

In the end, two of the kids went so far beyond expectations that I came up with a new reward that was more fitting for their effort. They got to go out to dinner and bring home ice cream for the rest of the brood.

Lessons Learned

Whether this is a generational thing or a human thing, I learned that transparency and gamification can go a long way toward motivating people to accomplish goals. This exercise made me realize that setting clear expectations and painting a picture of your desired outcomes are integral to leadership and management skills. Additionally, to motivate employees (or anyone for that matter), rewards must be meaningful and aligned with the level of effort. Also, a little extra surprise recognition goes a long way towards motivating for future projects. My time is much better spent setting clear expectations and outcomes up front rather than micromanaging throughout - or worse, saying nothing while secretly stewing. On the flipside, my kids showed that their happiness and growth increased in correlation with the level of autonomy they were given. I dare say this is a lesson that can be applied to humans of all ages!

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About Patrick Emmons

If you can’t appreciate a good sports analogy, movie quote, or military reference, you may not want to work with him, but if you value honesty, integrity, and commitment to improvement, Patrick can certainly help take your business or your career to the next level. “Good enough,” is simply not in his vernacular. Pat’s passion is for relentlessly pushing himself and others to achieve full potential. Patrick Emmons is a graduate of St. Norbert College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and Mathematics. Patrick co-founded Adage Technologies in 2001 and in 2015, founded DragonSpears as a spin-off dedicated to developing custom applications that improve speed, compliance and scalability of clients’ internal and customer-facing workflow processes. When he is not learning about new technology, running a better business, or becoming a stronger leader, he can be found coaching his kids’ (FIVE of them) baseball and lacrosse teams and praising his ever-so-patient wife for all her support.