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A Lean Agile Christmas

A Lean Agile Christmas

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or whatever greeting is appropriate to you! I sent a version of this out to those of you on my newsletters earlier (New PM, PMP Guide) and received some great responses. And, some new ideas for next year!

My wife and I have 3 awesome sons, and in past years we’ve always wrapped all of their gifts individually at Christmas time.

This year, we decided to try something different. This year, we did ‘Santa bags’ for each child. Nothing was individually wrapped.


Massive time savings

Due to project scope over-runs (my wife bought 500% more gifts than I wanted her to, anyway) I can safely estimate this saved us over 5 hours of gift wrapping time using parametric estimation. :-) (project management geek: confirmed.)

The ‘Santa Bags’

There was a certain ‘special-ness’ with the unique ‘santa bag’ – like santa left a gift sack for each of them. Our family doesn’t really get much joy (value) from the whole unwrapping gifts one at a time thing.


This was certainly more environmentally friendly due to the lack of wrapping paper. We kept the santa bags and will re-use them next year. They are like big stockings, really.

Easier clean-up

Usually there is ripped pieces of wrapping paper shrapnel all over the place, as if we were in a war zone. Not so with this approach.


On some of the smaller toys, we made some last-minute decisions on how to distribute them. Some of these were based on favorite colors of the same type of toy, etc. At one point Tamara asked me between 2 of our sons, which one’s pile was smaller and we gave him that toy. (Sometimes the shop-a-holic in her bought without a particular child in mind)


OK, so there is a slight disadvantage in that we don’t get to see the children unwrap all of the presents. This is mostly outweighed, however by the fact they opened several individually-wrapped gifts last night from their grandparents. And they’ll have some more today when we visit my parents and family.

Lessons Learned

Some of the email responses I received helped me discover ways to improve next time, and some of this is just from our own retrospective.

Make it Easier for the Customer

My friend Alex Brown from Real-Life Projects made a great suggestion to me. He gets everything out the boxes, batteries installed, etc. When the kids come down on Christmas morning, everything is waiting and ready to be played with. I really like this idea and will probably see if my wife wants to try it next year. Imagine, no mess of even packages on Christmas morning. Just lots and lots of play time.

Set a Performance Measurement Baseline (PMB) in the Right Order

Not managing scope will likely lead to budget over-runs. If you start with a budget and only focus on it, you will likely discover scope that is not optional after you’ve already exhausted your allocated funds. At that point, you have to go over budget. A scope-driven planning effort with range guidelines on cost may have been a better approach. A prioritized backlog of scope could have ensured that the most important gifts were procured first, and when we reached the bottom of the barrel only minor ancillary toys would have been sacrificed.

I’m glad my wife isn’t reading this; she’d probably tell me I’m full of it…

Although we did just fine with schedule this time around, a defined goal would improve here as well. We forgot to bring gifts for our nieces and nephews for one family gathering, and that’s what happens when you manage a project like this, from your gut alone.

So, my wife and I bucked tradition in favor of an approach we felt brought more value. Sounds a lot like what I try to do when managing projects; not thwarting the tried-and-true for its own sake, but staying open minded about new approaches that may work better.

We’re happy with the final product. And so are the boys. The key stakeholders are satisfied.

Best wishes from my family to yours, and a great 2011 to you!

Josh Nankivel, pmStudent

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Stephen Peteritas

hmmm I love the one gift at a time approach but as the kids get older it shouldn’t be such a big deal to have them reach in and grab one thing at a time that way you get the best of both worlds.

Gina Robson

I like this idea. My toddler had no interest in opening his gifts this year, so we opened them and threw them into a pile. He then grabbed what he wanted and played. The Santa sack is a definite possibility for next year!

Jay Johnson

Pure genius! 🙂 Especially for those toddler toys with the plastic-wire wrappy things that take forever to remove. Houdini himself wouldn’t have been able to escape from them.