May 20, 2012

The Definition of Done - How to use Agile to help our kids do their homework

I’ll start off this post with a revelation. Ready?
Children aren’t born knowing what we expect from them.
They aren’t telepathic. Just as we aren’t born knowing how to be parents, children don’t know what we want them to do. If we want our family tasks complete, we need to define the rules and boundaries.

Think about it for a second. How many times did you ask for someone to do something, and when they say they’ve done it, we find that what they did, and what we THOUGHT they should have done, are two different things?

I managed a team myself, and I know that sometimes I need to be specific, and make sure a task’s DOD (Definition Of Done) is clear. I find myself many times working with the team and with management to define the work procedures to follow in order to produce a quality product - procedures such as safety rules, delivery procedures and so on. One of my unwritten rules is that the riskier the task is, the clearer the definition of done needs to be.
The same thing goes for our homes. For example, when you take the car to the mechanic, you expect the car to meet safety standards. You pay your bills when specific DOD terms are met - the oil is checked, the car is made ready for the winter, etc. In this case, failing to meet those DOD terms can cost us our lives!

Of course, there are tasks that I personally categorize them as risky tasks, but of course, have nothing to do with safety. Tasks that can result in unnecessary arguments, for example, should also have clear definitions of done. For example, if you ask your kid to tidy his room, make sure you understand together what ‘tidy’ means. Otherwise your kid will tidy his room to his satisfaction - not to yours.

So, homework, for example…

How do we take everything we’ve just learned above, and apply it to helping our kids with their homework?
Homework can be the source of endless arguing around the house, so applying the Agile mindset to getting homework done, just aims to make things happen.


See what you want to achieve by visualizing it. First of all, you know that it should be on the task board. Even if you don’t use Agile, the ‘homework’ task has to be out there. Don’t hide from the fact that your child needs to do his homework. When we see it, we relate to it, and we increase the probability of the task being completed.

 Take it seriously and be consistent:

If you don't, they won't. You are the parent and if you think it's important, then it is - and your kids will pick up on that. 

Be specific:

What does ‘Do your homework’ mean?
Does it mean sit in your room?
Does it mean write in your notebook, and not solve questions without writing?
Does it mean that your notebook has to be tidy?

Set the rules:

You are the parent. The Definition of Done isn’t just for our child, but for us as well. There are rules beyond the task that we as parents need to keep as well.

Take, for example, a factory that builds airplanes. Every day they need to construct 50 airplanes - but no one is in charge of making sure that broken tools are replaced. Do you really expect the factory’s workers to be able to churn out a consistent number of airplanes when their tools keep getting broken, but aren’t replaced? You don’t. The same goes for your children. Just as an example, expecting them to work four hours a day, doing their homework, is just unreasonable, and won’t do much for future motivation. Not having a suitable place to do their homework, will also affect their ability to complete the task.
Here are some examples of rules from my own personal experience that can help define the homework tasks and help our kids achieve them.

1.    Have them start doing their homework around the same time every day, and in the same place (that’s suitable for homework, of course).
2.    Be around if you are needed.
3.    Don’t make comparisons. Some kids have an aptitude for math, others flourish in History. Comparing the two is not just unfair; it also means that they will both under-perform. Just the same as when you interview new employees - they might have the same qualifications, but they are two different people with different personal advantages.
4.    keep a tidy notebook
5.    And more...

 Don’t forget the ‘continuous improvement’ maxim. 

Don’t just deal with the ‘here and now’ aspect, talk over the homework issue at your daily family gathering and weekly retrospective meetings. Talk about how your child plans on visualizing his homework in the future.

Talk it over. Agile is all about mindset, and Agile at home is all about dialog.

Understand the difficulties in doing the homework, and be there to help (when needed only). The daily meeting is the place to talk about the homework - just like any other task, and not as a focal point for the entire family, a problem with the ‘why don’t you ever do your homework!’ kid.

The bottom line is that a good Definition of Done is one that is specific enough to understand what results are expected, and has rules, boundaries and surroundings to make sure that things get done.

The fun way :)


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