Visual Management for having a baby

Hello! I am Laura Quesada Allue. I was born in January 2010. Maybe you were wondering why my daddy hasn’t written anything on this blog for the last 8 months? Well, now you know!

This blog post tells the story of how my parents used Visual Management to coordinate the tough project of preparing themselves for my coming to the world. I leave you with them now…

Project initiation

When we learned we were going to be parents, the first thing we did was to think about the main characteristics and constraints of this project.

  • There were two main tracks. One had to do with making sure the pregnancy and delivery went well. Tasks in this track were for example periodic visits to the doctor, finding a good hospital, etc. This track was high priority and almost all tasks were “must have”.
  • The other track dealt mostly with things we needed to get ready before the baby was born, such as the baby room, the baby card, having enough clothes, the Maxi-Cosi, etc. Tasks in this track were spread all over from “must have” to “nice to have” so they were very good candidates for prioritization.
  • We can think of the customer of the project as Laura, and the team as us the parents. Other stakeholders included the doctors, family and friends.
  • This project was going live no matter what. Like the Olympics, you can’t change the date one month before launch just because you’re not making it! An interesting note is that we didn’t know the exact go live date, we only had a range. We would be told the exact launch date by the customer (Laura) with aprox. 24hs of anticipation :). So we had to be ready with all must-have functionality by the earliest possible launch date.
  • For some tasks the acceptance criteria was very negotiable. For example: buying a crib was a must-have. But that the crib should be the coolest crib on earth was nice-to-have. ‘Coolest on earth’ was part of the negotiable acceptance criteria of that story.
  • Some tasks had to happen at a certain fixed date, others were flexible. Typical fixed-date tasks were doctor’s appointments for example.
  • The team members (us, the parents) were not working full time on the project. This means that at certain moments, if necessary, we could scale up our efforts on this project to the detriment of other parallel projects we were doing (for example searching for a house, or our day jobs).
  • We wanted to delay doing things until the last responsible moment, but we also wanted to do things at a sustainable pace.  The challenge was to balance our workload evenly.

Based on these characteristics, we chose the following Visual Management strategy:

  1. Since the project was time driven, we would build a physical taskboard that visually represented the project timeline.
  2. We would populate the board with tasks and metadata (important information we had about the project).
  3. Tasks would have a different color based on their nature: orange for normal tasks, pink for fixed-date tasks (appointments), blue for special events such as Agile conferences or other travel.
  4. The pink and blue tasks were fixed on the timeline by their nature. The orange tasks could be moved around. We would balance the load by changing the position of orange tasks so as to spread work evenly throughout the project.
  5. What to do with tasks that got done? First we thought on crossing them out and keeping them there, but we quickly learned that it was visually confusing. So finished tasks would be removed from the board.

Building the taskboard

Note: you can click on all the pictures for a high-resolution version.

The timeline represents the 9 months of pregnancy (blue lines) and the first 3 months of Laura’s life (green line). We didn’t know if we would need the green line, but we had space left over so we put it in anyways.

We wanted to visualize calendar months and pregnancy weeks at the same time, because certain tasks or events are commonly associated with the week number, while months gave us the big picture.

A detail of months and weeks. What you see in blue is all electrical tape.

We got these cute clip magnets at XP Days Benelux; they would come in handy.

Running the project

This is how the board looked when we got started, in week 5 (June 2009). The board was populated with all tasks and information we had at the moment: our initial planning. We adorned the board with some cute baby-themed magnets we got from cousin Flo. Tufte would not like them, they were pure decoration.

Once the project got underway, the following activities were typical:

  • We would remove post-its (tasks) as they got done.
  • We would add new tasks as new requirements came up.
  • Sometimes big tasks got broken up into smaller ones, or one task being completed triggered more to be created down the line.
  • We would re-prioritize tasks if they were not done by the original planned date.
  • Reports generated by the project, for example the ultrasounds (ecografías), were placed on the timeline.
  • Any other relevant information was either stuck on the board with magnets or written with whiteboard marker.

We would regularly make small improvements to the board. For example we added a green “you are here” arrow. Some people asked us what the board was about, so we added the title “Baby Board”.

The board was both an effective planning tool for the future, and a living recount of the past.

You can see that as the green arrow moves along, the post-its disappear with it. The fact that post-its were not accumulating further down the line meant we were proceeding at a good pace. If we would notice a cluster of orange tasks accumulating, we would know we were behind schedule and would react by putting in more time, or dropping requirements.

Finally the date was approaching! We knew the project would be a success because almost all our tasks were done.

Going live

The release to production took 11 hours, and was quite tough for one of the team members (guess which one)… but eventually it was successful and the project went -very literally- live. Welcome, Laura!

In Belgium, people exchange cards when a baby is born. As cards started to arrive, we put them on the taskboard, turning it into a “celebration” board.

At the end, we almost didn’t have enough room! One of the best cards we got was a mini-taskboard baby card from one of the teams we coached. Thanks guys!

To close, a big smile from Laurita dedicated to all the friends in the international Agile community. Isn’t she cute?

  1. Olaf Lewitz’s avatar

    Thanks for sharing this…
    Visual management at its best;-)
    Take care

  2. Mike Cohn’s avatar

    Great story, Xavier. And, yes, Laura is very cute.

  3. Vicenç’s avatar

    Congratulations! She is really cute.

    Don’t you have a video with the evolution of the task board?

  4. Michael James’s avatar

    “This project was going live no matter what.”

    –mj (also a new father)

  5. Reza Farhang’s avatar

    Job well done.
    Very cute baby.

  6. Diego’s avatar

    ..y pensar que para Michelle (12 anios atras) usamos waterfall… ;)



  7. John Stoneham’s avatar

    As a recent father myself – this is beautiful.

  8. Sergio Leal’s avatar

    My gosh!! I came to this link through my boss’ twitter and I must say it is really fantastic!! ;-)

    Well done and such a lovely baby girl, BTW :-)

  9. Fernando’s avatar

    Felicitaciones ! Una excelente planificación y el resultado no podría haber sido más perfecto y hermoso. Congratulations papá.

  10. Angel Medinilla’s avatar

    Absolutely brilliant post… But just a fraction of bright than those on your daughter’s eyes… Congratulations! :_))

  11. Harald’s avatar

    Great job with or without methodology :-)

  12. Gustavo’s avatar

    Amazing Xavier!!! amazing, Did I say this was amazing? :-)

  13. Angel Agueda’s avatar

    Congratulations! Great project, great board and excellent result!

  14. Martín Alaimo’s avatar

    Hey X, great story and baby. :P
    Congratulations for you and your wife, and thanks for sharing this.

  15. Patty’s avatar

    THIS is hands down the BEST PersonalKanban board I have ever seen!! I am a very visual person and this is just fantastic!!

    Congratulations and thank you so much for sharing!

  16. Stacia Viscardi’s avatar

    Xavier! Congratulations on a beautiful baby girl!! As my husband and I are currently ‘release planning’ I’ll keep your taskboard in mind once we know we’ll be going live. :-) it’s been so much fun watching you do all these cool things!!! All the best to you and your beautiful family!!!

  17. Aaron’s avatar

    Congratulations, Xavier!

  18. Pablo RF’s avatar

    Congratulations Xavier and Joke. It’s a shame not have known this earlier in order to tell my sister about it. My nephew born (or “went live”) yesterday. :D (cute daughter, by the way)
    Congratulations again!

  19. Pablo Tortorella’s avatar

    Felicitaciones, Xavier :)
    por la idea, por la bebé y por la forma de contárnoslo…
    nos vemos la semana que viene!

  20. Xavier Quesada Allue’s avatar

    Gracias Torto. Lamentablemente no voy a poder ir a la conferencia este año, por el bebé. Nos vemos la proxima!

  21. Tomek’s avatar

    Cute. Both story and Laura. Of course Laura much more :)

  22. Adrian Eidelman’s avatar

    Excelente X!!! Es una nena hermosa, felicitaciones por Laura y por compartir la historia.

    Un abrazo.-

  23. Hamer’s avatar

    A eso es lo que yo llamo tener todo bajo control…!

  24. Carlton’s avatar

    Que preciosa! Escuché de tu blog de Rowan Bunning hoy.

  25. Adrián Anacleto’s avatar

    Xavier! felicitaciones por la niña. Preciosa ella. Me imagino que se te caerán las babas no?

    un abrazo!

  26. carlos’s avatar

    LLego a tu blog desde un curso de Kanban. Estoy muerto de risa. Y sin palabras. Si señor!!!!

    Felicidades, por tu cria y porque ahora si que tienes un proyecto largo por delante.


  27. Aniello Petillo’s avatar


  28. mrugen’s avatar

    Simply great and innovative use of the Agile planning method.!!!

  29. jayesh’s avatar

    wow. well done. she is superb cute