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.


  1. I can see this working well for weekly tasks like cleaning up room. But how about daily tasks, or even tasks you have to do on a daily basis. Brushing teeth for example. Do you put like 3 brushing teeth in the board on a daily basis? Isn't that a lot of maintenance to have to create these daily repeatable tasks over and over again?

    Also, do you have WIP limits?

    1. Hi there,
      There are many ways to deal with ongoing and permanent tasks. I am referring you to an a answer I just wrote on LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Using-Agile-get-your-kids-81780.S.89983903?qid=8bbc85f9-ebc2-4dc7-a12b-950d25ac1478&trk=group_search_item_list-0-b-cmr) . Furthermore , you may also find interest in one of latest blogs over the permanent task management. http://agileandfamily.blogspot.com/2012/01/permanent-task-boards-are-nice-but-they.html

      Anyway, as for WIP limit, it kinds of advanced. We use it in more personal management and older kids when we teach them to manage a project, like a study project. But usually with smaller kids we find it to be too mach. We try to keep it simple as possible and remember that the tasks board is only the beginning and a mean to a family dialog.