January 29, 2012

Permanent task boards are nice, but they aren’t the point!

What do we do with all the permanent tasks? The ones that repeat themselves again and again? Those that we’ll be moving across the board every day?
One of the ways of creating Agile boards in the house is to reverse the columns.
What do I mean?

Well, instead of moving tasks through the columns, as we’ve shown in the book and previous posts, we put up a board with pre-defined tasks per family member, which are seen throughout the week, and add a ‘Doing’ note to the task in question.
I can see these boards posted everywhere. They are colorful, delightful, and some even have every possible task you can imagine that you would ever do around the house.
And that’s EXACTLY what bothers me.

People, don’t forget. The task board isn’t the point. The point is the way we treat tasks!
The point is communication, around the tasks at hand, with an emphasis on empowering the child, developing his responsibility and his commitment to the tasks, together with a healthy family dialogue, like I show in the Agile Kids book and in previous posts.
The family dialogue pulse is what matters. The task board is just an answer to a symptom, which can be disorganization, or not doing the chores around the house. The task board isn’t the goal.
We have to understand that setting up a board is just a means to more important goals.

And so:

1. Talk to your kids and build the list of permanent tasks together. This simple activity creates the initial understanding of tasks, and enables us to hear what our children think about the tasks, and you’ll be surprised at what they have to say. You might find that just from these conversations you can already agree on ground rules that will prevent arguments in the future.
Don’t force them. Don’t come with a pre-defined board and present it to them as a given. There can be some tasks that may cross some undetermined line (such as when to go to bed), but in an open discussion you’ll be able to present them as part of all the tasks.

2. Be prepared. Think in advance what you want to achieve. You can’t just pile a whole lot of tasks on the board, which makes it difficult to see who is doing what and when.

3. Focus is important. Choose the really important tasks first. With time, you’ll be adding more tasks anyway.

4. The children can create their own schedule from tasks that they are each interested in doing during the week. We’ll keep track of the schedule, and mark each task as done.

5. Put the tasks on the board together with your children. Visibility gives a sense of control, and is the first step towards taking responsibility for our tasks. This means that the children have to be part of creating the task list.

6. Put the board in an easily accessible part of the house, where everyone can see it. A task board that’s put in a drawer is useless. You can’t see it, and it doesn’t create any awareness of tasks and responsibility.

7. Meet once a day, and talk about the tasks. 

8. Make sure that the children are the ones that move the tasks on the board, not you. Let them choose and mark the tasks - not you.

9. Make sure that the tasks are more or less balanced, and that the brunt of the tasks fall on one family member.

10. You need to put your tasks on the board as well. This creates trust.
After we mapped out this week’s tasks, each task can be marked with a check-mark, a smiley, or any other mark that you choose. :)

And don't forget to have fun...

January 22, 2012

'Homeschooling' - making it easier with kanban

Sometimes Scrum and your task board can be the easiest way to handle your daily homeschool activities.
Take, for instance, one of the families I worked with developed a home schooling curriculum in using Agile and Scrum.
How did they accomplish that?

Well, it went like this:
First, they put up a task board in the learning area, a flet covered board - the notes had scotch on the back.
The task board held the entire home schooling tasks for the next week. For example, addition and subtraction for Ben, and learning Gensis for Liz.
Each child wrote their name on the back of the relevant tasks for that week.
Each child knew what his tasks where, and both knew, after the tasks were divided into smaller tasks, how to take the task himself, and move it around on the board, according to its status, of course.

For example, they had a task to learn about the creation of the world, which was divided into each Day of Creation (in the Biblical sense). Each Day they learned about, they took the relevant note and moved it across the board. They even added an extra column for a drawing :), which was the definition for ‘Done’. Once the child drew in the Day of Creation they studied that day, the task was considered to be complete.
Each morning, the family had a daily meeting, which made sure everyone was up to scratch about the material they were learning. Yes, including the parents, but the meeting was mainly about the children. The meeting created the daily agenda, with goals and tasks that the children needed to complete by the end of that day.
 During the day, the children would move their tasks across the board according to their lessons, and the daily chores when they started or completed them.
This way, the children can see for themselves how their studies are progressing, and they even take part in planning how, and how fast, their studies will advance.
The daily planning sessions enabled the family to plan their home-school schedule ahead one or two weeks, and of course the retrospective session that they had weekly helped the family continually improve.

This is EXACTLY how Scrum works. Scrum/Kanban is a powerful tool, that develops empowerment and goal achievement, with a healthy dialog on the way.

So start using Agile to manage your homeschooling today - Get the Agile Kids book!
By the way, if you want to learn more about homeschooling, heres an excellent resource.

January 16, 2012

In agile, we teach our kids to Pull instead of get pushed

The ‘Pull’ system is a key principle in the Lean and Kanban world.
We’ll talk about it a bit more later, for those of you who are interested in Kanban and the Toyota assembly lines, but, in the simplest possible way, ‘Pull’ is when we actively choose and pull tasks instead of receiving them passively as instructions.

Just like everything else, ‘Pull’ in Agile at home is far simpler. And I’ll insist on keeping it that way, without over complicating matters.
So, if we follow this principle, I expect my child to be active, take tasks that belong to him, and not wait until I give him his tasks, or tell him what to do. That’s all. I want him to pull tasks, rather than wait for them to be pushed to him.
Excellent! We’re all happy!!
But hang on a second. How exactly do I do that?
I mean, it’s all simple and easy to write down (look above, I just did that), but many parents prefer to either do the tasks themselves, or worse, tell the kids what to do as they see fit. The children aren’t participants, just observers. I mean, I would rebel against that.
Being active is part of being empowered. When I control what I do, I develop my confidence, a sense of being able to do things.
For example, if you tie your six-year old son’s shoelaces, how would he learn to do it by himself?
You have to encourage him to do it by himself. Of course you need to be there for him, guide him and give him the tools he might need. I would also expect him to tie his shoes as part of putting them on, not wait for me to tell him.
Obviously, this doesn’t work for everything. I won’t do away with rules and limits completely. But within those limits, I will allow freedom of choice.
When we set up a task board with plainly visible tasks, we are already half way towards setting expectations with our children. What are the limits, what are the tasks that need to be done, and what tasks the child can add by himself. (I’m not talking about when you first introduce the board, when it’s recommended that you only put tasks that are easily completed, of course, but after a week or so.)

The board will also include tasks that you, the parent believe should be completed. Brushing teeth, tidying up the room and so on.  The ‘Pull’ will show when your child goes up to the board by himself, takes a task from the ‘To do’ column, and moves it to the ‘In progress’ column. You’d be surprised at how quickly they start choosing tasks that we think are important (brushing teeth, reading a book), and it is completely different from when a parent goes to the board and chooses a task for the child.
It’s exactly like when I’m at work, when I complete a task, I go to ‘pull’ the next task myself from the board. No one tells me what to do. True, the tasks are limited in number, and I know my work boundaries, but I choose my own tasks. My manager is pleased, and I’m in a constant state of work.
Take the opposite situation - I complete a task and go to my manager, who then assigns me a new task. My manager owns all tasks, and he is the one who assigns them to the employees.
In this case, I’m not really committed to the task - as it isn’t mine,  I start feeling that I get all the crappy tasks, and of course, when the manager is away, there’s no one to assign the tasks. I’m not in control over what I do, and I’m completely dependant on another to guide me.
You may think this is an extreme example, but you’d be surprised at how many companies work like this.

 OK, back to our home. Now do you understand why your kid comes home from school, drops his bag on the floor and goes to watch TV in the living room? Because he has a secretary called Mum, who owns all the tasks, and she will remind him what he needs to do. This is ‘Push’, and this is exactly what we want to change.
Agile and the task board are an excellent way to do exactly that.
The tasks are visible to all, the task pool is in clear site, and every one knows what their tasks are. All we have to do is create a mindset of ‘Pull’ rather than ‘Push’.
When someone is in charge of their own tasks, they’ll probably do them better. It starts by asking our child what his tasks are. Don’t be surprised when he says exactly what we want to hear (like tidying his room), and he’ll probably add more. It continues by having him write his tasks on a note, and adding them to the task board himself.
We might want to add a few tasks of our own at this stage, as it’s important that we set an example and have some tasks of ourselves on the board.
We’ll continue, and have the child pick his own tasks (I have to insist on this), the ones that he can complete over the next day, or the next week. These are the tasks that we’ll talk about in our daily meetings.
It’s important that he moves his tasks around on the board according to what he did that day - we want them to be active participants, right?
Every day we’ll look at the board again, and ask our children to tell us what’s going on with them and their tasks. You’ll see that very soon they’ll be adding more tasks, and problems will start coming to the surface.
A lot depends on us parents. When something is important enough, then it happens. For instance, if you need your kid to take his medicine, he does, right? So you CAN insist when you have to.

 To put it simply:
     ‘Pull’ is when we actively choose and pull tasks instead of receiving them passively as instructions. it means ,An active child is responsible for his own tasks.
     The task board is an excellent visibility solution . it is where we put things that we expect to get done.
     The child writes down his tasks, pulls them and moves them around - not the parents.
     The children participate in deciding what the next is going to be.
     A task is only pulled when the previous one is complete.
     We don’t flood the child with tasks, but allow him to set his own pace.
     We must provide the tools to complete tasks, and be there to guide our children.
     As parents, we must be the role model. Be there, place tasks on the board, challenge them to complete their tasks, add goals and encourage them.

Want to read more about Kanban and pull systems?
The need to maintain a high rate of improvements led Toyota to devise the kanban system. Kanban became an effective tool to support the running of the production system as a whole. In addition, it proved to be an excellent way for promoting improvements because reducing the number of kanban in circulation highlighted problem areas.
Pull / Kanban is a method of controlling the flow of production through the factory based on a customer’s demand. Pull Systems control the flow of resources in a production process by replacing only what has been consumed. They are customer order-driven production schedules based on actual demand and consumption rather than forecasting. Implementing Pull Systems can help you eliminate waste in handling, storing, and getting your product to the customer. Pull Systems are an excellent tool to use in the areas where cellular or flow manufacturing can not be achieved.

January 11, 2012

The fun of Kanban

Do you know what Kanban is?

Are you using agile kids at home? If so, You are doing some sort of Kanban! (And a bit more)
Kanban is a Japanese word meaning display card or instruction card and it is used as a tool of improvement within organizations/ factories. 

Just as we are visualizing our home tasks or chores, workplaces visualize the teams or employees tasks. The visualization is end to end , meaning, from the creation of a task till it is completed and steeped to the customer.
We already wrote a lot and explained about the benefits of visualization and other Kanban principles in this blog and in the book .  This time , I have decided to bring to your attention  other uses of Kanban. Maybe, this will inspire you to initiate some new ideas in your own family.
This great slideshow , although technology oriented , can be useful for family and personal management as well.


January 03, 2012

I still have time to do it, or ‘The Student Syndrome’

We’ve all been there. You’re in college, you’re having the time of your life, and you don’t have a care in the world. Then one day, you are told that you have three months to get ready for your final exam. Three months? That’s ages away! You’ve got plenty of time! And what do you do over the next two months and 29 days? You go out to parties, try to drink at least three pubs dry, and brush up on your guitar skills - you do anything and everything, in fact, other than actually sit down and study for the exam. Then the last day “suddenly” arrives. All of a sudden, you realise that you might have made a slight miscalculation, and that the three months AREN’T as long as you thought they were. Like it or not, now you have to get through a year’s worth of studying in 24 hours, or you might very well have to start the whole business all over again. Panic sets in, and you start cramming like mad.

Unlike what most Hollywood college movies have taught us, there’s no guarantee here. You may get lucky and scrape through your exams, or you may very well fail and have to start all over again.

This is called the Student Syndrome, or “putting things off until the very last possible minute”. There were three whole months to get ready for the exams, but you just kept putting it off. ‘I’ve still got plenty of time’, or ‘Tomorrow I’ll start for sure’ are just a number of excuses we tell ourselves to avoid sitting down and actually doing what we were supposed to.

Funnily enough, life is just the same.

Think about it. As a family, you have chores to do, and you need to get them done by the end of the day, or week, or whenever. A new chore just came in, and you have to get it done quickly. But you have tons of chores. And you need to work. And you need to take the kids to school. And you need to make sure your kids do THEIR chores. Starting to sound familiar? So, do you start on the new chore? Put it on one side, to be dealt with ‘later’? And when exactly is this ‘later’?

I’ve seen so many cases of chores and tasks being put to one side, or even completely forgotten about, until the last possible minute. Then you realise that you’ve got this task to complete right now, and you start working on it feverishly, and usually, you don’t manage it as well as you should. Some of these tasks are vital - say, you have one night a week to sit down with your son and play a game. This isn’t a task that you want to leave to the last possible minute - but when you do, the results aren’t good, are they?

So, because you put off everything to the last minute, your efforts aren’t as good as they could be. For parents, that’s a make or break kind of deal. Especially if you are trying to get your kids into Agile at home - leading by example, remember?

Luckily, it’s a surprisingly simple situation to solve. Really. All you need are two things:

Priority. That way you know what’s more important to do right now, to get the best possible results and avoid pressure in the future. Do you REALLY need to play the guitar right now, or can it wait until you make sure that you have enough time for your son??

Focus. Working on just the task at hand makes it easier to complete, and complete properly. Playing with your son while checking your email every five minutes on your phone isn’t exactly focusing on him - and believe me, he will notice right away, even if you think you’re being really discrete.

So how do you achieve focus and priority?

Well, as you’ve started practicing Agile at home, go to your task board. Make sure that you not only put the tasks on the board (sticky notes are your friend), but that you’ve also got them sorted by priority. Don’t think too big - ‘family time’ won’t really help you, but ‘do a puzzle with Ben’ will. The most important tasks go on top, the not-so-important in the middle, and the ones you will-do-one-day-but-aren’t-urgent down the bottom.

Easy, right?

Now, when you suddenly have a new chore - a light bulb needs changing, you need to take the kids to the dentist - you don’t just put it on one side, leaving it to the last possible minute, nor do you have to start working on it straight away. Just look at your board, and decide. Is the task THAT important? Are there other tasks that you can postpone a bit to make room for this new task that has just come in? Do you need to start working on something else?

Of course there are always going to be more tasks than you can handle. You will ALWAYS have to postpone some to another day, or next week. But having all the tasks out in front of you helps you manage your time much better, and you won’t find yourself checking your email while changing a light bulb while playing with your son.

Which is a good thing :)