June 30, 2012

The Feeling of ownership and quality time with our kids .

Agile@Home :

How many times have you told your kids to stop strewing stuff all over the living room? And how many times have you wondered, when would you be able to stop repeating yourself?
As you can imagine, it happened to me too.
Now, for a pop quiz. How many of you have taken over these tasks for your kids? You might get angry with them from time to time, but YOU are the one tidying the room, getting their bags ready for the next day - you are the task owners.
All of you? Yeah, I know the feeling.
But how did it happen?

First, lets all agree that we want our kids to own their tasks. Second, lets agree that we want to stop nagging them. Third, lets agree that the kids want to stop being nagged too. Now that we’ve agreed on all that, lets continue.
After all, i believe, we all want quality time with our kids, meaning we all need to free our valuable time with our kids to more important stuff than the same old nagging over and over again.

So how do we do this with Agile? It’s simple, really. By the way, some teachers have already used this method in their classroom to get the kids to perform better and own their tasks.
We take Kanban as a tool and Agile as a mindset and we manage to reduce the nagging and increase ownership. Doing that, we free up valuable time for a healthy family dialog.

I believe that Feeling of ownership means that you are the one that care about this task. You do it because YOU think it is important and not because someone commanded you to do it.
So how do we empower our kids, how do we help them become owners of the task?
What benefits are we looking for?
1.       How to get to the stage where the child does his task on his own (answers our needs as parents).
2.       How to make sure it's not a one time thing.
3.       How to make the child feel in control.
4.       What values should we pass on, and what does the child gain by completing his tasks (involvement, parental communication, attention).

We’ve written about real life examples before, but here’s a short list to achieve our goals:

A : Visualize the family chores.
  1. Introduce Scrum to your kids the fun way. Use colors, sticky notes and a board, and show them its fun. Fun helps us connect better to a concept. Once we are emotionally connected we will be more cooperative.

  2. Build the task board together: Sit down with your kids to build a task board as a family. Let them be part of it. Don’t build it for them. When we do something ourselves, we relate to it better and we start to develop that sense of ownership toward it. Having the children build the board is also easier for us as parents. I mean, what can they possibly get wrong? And don’t forget, this way they have our undivided attention.  So, just Draw the three columns, and let them do the rest.

  3. Everybody puts a task on the board - even Mummy and Daddy. Not too many, one or two each.  Let them pick their tasks by themselves. ‘Helping’ them pick tasks just makes those tasks yours again.
B : Initiate the first step of a healthy family dialog
  1. Suggested that it would be really fun to meet every evening and talk about the tasks, and move them on the board according to their progress.
  2. Meet every evening and talk about the tasks. Let the kids move the tasks around the board themselves.
  3. From time to time , suggest adding more tasks.
Over time, your kids will take ownership over their tasks. They get to the board from time to time, and especially on times agreed they need to do their chores and move the tasks from one column on the board to another.
It works in so many families these days, and its so simple.
And … don’t forget to have fun.

June 23, 2012

Translating a Book With Kanban

Just like everything else, translating a book using Kanban methodology is about the mindset, good communication and good team work.
We’ve just translated Agile Kids to Spanish.
The complications?
Over 200 pages, images, photos, graphs and what have you.
Two teams on opposite sides of the Mediterranean Sea.
Two different native languages.

The result?
In just a few short weeks the whole book was translated and published in Amazon. Amazing.
When we started work on the Spanish version translation,  Evergreen (Ángel Águeda Barrero & Maria Jesus Jimenez )  made the call to manage this process using Kanban. They created a simple Kanban project using Swift Kanban software (which we’ve reviewed before). What could be more obvious than using Kanban to translate a book about Kanban?

As you can see, the flow was pretty simple. The WIP limit was followed and close communication was applied as a policy.
The user stories were all related to books chapter, which is a reasonable size.
The team translating the book sat in one location (Spain) and the customers - that’s me, and my publisher Avi Kaye, from A2O Marketing - were in another.

The bulk of the work was performed by the Spanish team, while we acted mainly as advisers committed to give early feedback when required.
The initial draft was done extremely quickly, and the final version was approved a few days later.

Thanks a lot Angel and Maria, you did an amazing job, and it was great to work with you guys.

June 16, 2012

The difference between developing software in Agile and implementing Agile at home

Agile@Home :

Talking to a fried made me realize that many software engineers struggle with the same questions.
“OK, so we know Agile and Kanban get things done at work. But is it really a good idea to do this at home?”
“It might work, but it feels too much like turning the family into a company - and we’re the management”.
Kelly Waters, from All About Agile, reviewed the Agile Kids book, and had a similar issue with bringing Kanban home.
According to him, although the concept is interesting, he “think(s) it feels a little awkward applying a management methodology with your kids (although my kids certainly need managing!).  So I couldn’t quite decide what I thought in the end.  I think it might be one of those things you either love or hate.”

You may be surprised, but I completely agree with him.
Our kids are NOT a project (although some parents will disagree with me ). We should NOT manage our home using a rigid “software project management methodology”. Just saying that makes it feel that the family is just a collection of resources, that have to give quality delivery results, and make sure we get a nice profit.
Doesn’t sound much fun now, does it?
Now, although a family does live within certain rules and boundaries, I think most of you will agree that there’s more psychology involved than project management.
(and there are many interesting psychology theories that compare families and organization managements, showing how management techniques are strangely similar to parenting techniques, and vice versa).
In a family, managerial skills like creating a healthy dialogue, self motivation, the ability to communicate, share ideas or act as a group are valuable, and of course, far more important than ‘delivering a project’.
But even a family needs to get things done, such as chores or tasks, that if not completed, will cause problems down the road.

Come back with me to the Agile software development world for a minute.
Here , our statement is: We aim to deliver something that can go live, in a relatively short period of time with the highest quality while answering customer expectation.
The short short version (and keep in mind, guys, that Agile software development is a long road with lots of engineering practices, tools and principles) is that we coach the teams to collaborate, to work as a team, to be self motivated. We coach the managers to empower their employees, to think about motivation and communication as a key to success and delivering a quality product. We use scrum and Kanban as tools. We coach to visualization and communication above all as powerful tool of getting things done.
Or, in a more simple form: We use the task board, which helps us visualize the project tasks, as a tool. We use the backlog to manage the release components. We use the daily stand-up meeting as tool of communication and collaboration and as a mean for self organization; we use the retrospective as a mean to improve.... and many more Scrum and Kanban mindset tools. Because we want to improve our delivery and quality.

But the bottom line of software development with agile  is that the mindset and tools are just the means to a better delivery (in this case, money)! It’s not the goal.

We teach all those soft skills because we believe they are key to delivering something that can go live, in a relatively short period of time with the highest quality answering customer expectation. 

At home, it’s exactly the opposite

The mindset and the agile attitude ARE the goal. The means are the project management tools. The Agile mindset is used to improve the family dialogue, and the tools get things done along the way.
We just use the Agile project management tools (task board, daily, retrospective) as means to reach empowerment, to elevate self motivation, to teach healthy communication and to elevate improvement culture. 

It’s a modern family; we have tons of tasks to complete, parents working all hours of the day, and we don’t have as much time to talk to one another as we used to. And along comes Agile, and offers an amazing tool to get things done AND improve communication in such a simple way. So why not use it?!
Of course we use the task board as a way of managing the family tasks (which need to be done) , but the real purpose is to start talking over those tasks. We use the daily gathering when we talk about tasks to create a period of quality time, where we can talk and be heard.
It’s not the delivery of the house chores and kids tasks that matter (well, OK, they do, but they are not the goal), it is the ability of the child and family to understand the goals, to be heard, to get feedback, to communicate with the parents, to make mistakes and correct them and to be able to see the way using visualization tools. Completing the tasks is a by product (a very important one!).  It’s the same mindset tools we use for software development, but here they become the goal.

We believe that Agile self motivation and communication tools will help our kids get things done in the future, and they will also make us a better family and those happier. And most of all, they will lead to a self and family growth!

Spoiler: it really works. Using Agile techniques at home, at school, with our kids just works. And the reason it works is that it is not at all project management, it’s all about soft skills.

June 09, 2012

A mother creative solution for helping her girls with their homework

Agile@Home :

“ I do believe in Kanban, it did help my daughter in school big time!

2 years ago, she used to bring her homework, put her agenda on her desk and start crying :) she didn’t know where and how to start. At school, they give them lot of tasks to perform every Thursday. They write them in their agenda, and they have to perform all of them by the next Friday (they have one week).
Schools and teachers expects kids to manage their tasks by their own, but in reality,  I see all parents around me managing the homework tasks for their kids. Some parents and kids are great working with the traditional agenda, but for my daughter, it was a big a challenge.  One day she forgets her agenda at school, the other day she starts multiple tasks same day, another time she forgets that she didn’t finish a task etc.

The agenda was not working for her, I tried to help her with it, but couldn’t, it was simply not for her! I had to find  another way, a better way. I wanted a solution that will help her structure her homework tasks by her own, without me asking, did you start your task, did you finish it, how many tasks left etc…
Both my husband and I are software engineers, my husband is a scrum master, he knew about agile mythologies and Kanban. My husband suggested to use Kanban as an alternative for her task management, because he knew that she was very visual, and Kanban will be perfect for her.  I loved the idea; we started using Kanban as a physical board with stickers.

 It was great for the last 2 years, until my other daughter needed the same thing. They didn’t want to share the physical board J  Instead of having 2 separate boards (eventually I will have 3 because I have a son who is in Grade 1 and will certainly use Kanban as well), I wanted to build something reusable, fun, easy and made specifically for young kids, so as an agile developer, decided to make a fun app for my kids. Android was the first step because tablets are less expensive and we could have one tablet for each of our 3 kids :) 
I started developing the app , kids enjoyed the experience, because they participated, they asked for features (task becomes red when it is due next day,  earn points when they finish a task etc…), they have chosen colors, pictures etc… They have been using it since March 2012, and they just love it! Even my 6 years old son is using it for his homework which I didn’t expect, thought he was too young. I realized that kids nowadays are born in a modern era, with Ipads, tablets, smartphones etc. They naturally love using devices, so why don’t get even my son a tablet for his homework and teach him managing as well!  He loves earning points and practicing maths on   KanPlan .

It’s not just the tablet and the board, it’s the way they own their task that makes this whole deal worth a try. The Kanban is a minded approach, it teaches them visualize what they need to do , moving tasks around the board , making decision  and getting things done.

The app, was designed for them, it had to be easy and fun. It holds a neat look and feel and an easy way for the kids to add tasks drag them around the board and see the completion. I also added predefined tasks, that are quick to add and run on   KanPlan . Something like practicing times table. Instead of my daughter entering manually a task for practicing her times table, she browses a selection of tasks (KanQuiz), picks the one she wants, and running it directly in KanPlan. It avoids me of writing some multiplications on paper to practice. It is integrated, and gives her a report at the end how fast she was and her score.  I see KanQuiz as reusable tasks, that can be done several times by one kid, and are there for my next kid once they reach the KanQuiz grade level.   I am also adding KanWord to the selection (tablet will speek to kids), to practice spelling and grammar soon. 

Anyway, my kids are 100% self-managed now, I am so proud of them, they come at home after school, they go directly to their desk where their tablets are, and enter their tasks and manage their work. My daughter went from being an average student who was unable to focus, was lost in her tasks to do, to an efficient and  very organized student, now she always finishes a task before starting a new one and never forget a task to do. She was able to manage her tasks to practice exams for entering  private schools. She did that using   KanPlan by her own.  She applied for 4 private schools, we were hoping to get 1, and she succeeded all of them! We were so proud of her!

My daughters wish to bring their tablet  at school and avoid the “agenda” step. Instead of writing their tasks in the agenda and enter them back again in KanPlan once at home, why not entering them directly to KanPlan in the class?  Schools are too strict right now, they don’t want electronics in their classes. I am positive that it will change one day.  I just hope that they will allow students to use different solutions for their task management, because the traditional agenda is not a solution that fits all students.  I definitely see KanPlan as a solution for teachers/tutors who want to teach kids how to manage their tasks.  I have few comments from some teachers who are waiting for the admin tool (we are working on it) that allows them to create KanTasks and assign them to their students. Students will automatically see their tasks in the TODO list!  I would love to talk to more teachers/tutors to get more comments about how we can use KanPlan in a class environment that fits and embrace how teachers/tutors work.

My challenge now is to continue improving   KanPlan and keep it interesting and fun for all kids. Don’t hesitate to contact me for any comment, any feature request or change request !

Houda Hamdane the owner and developer of  KanPlan .

June 02, 2012

How not to set tasks on the family Kanban board

Agile@Home :

Before we start, I want to distinguish between backlog tasks  and operative tasks.

Backlog tasks are our basic wish list. We can have as many of them as we like, in whatever shape and size we want, as long as they are on our backlog. When we actually get around to them, then we’ll break them down into proper tasks, but for the time being, we can leave them as is. Of course, when we DO decide to tackle them, we’ll start with those we want to tackle first.

Operative tasks: Tasks we want to perform. Now, it doesn’t really matter if the task is ours or our kids - something like ‘go buy groceries’ is too vague. Having a specific budget or a specific list makes things much easier. Even at work, when your boss wants you to get a presentation ready, you need to know what’s the presentation for, when are you expected to deliver it, and so on. The same goes for your children. When we want them to do something practical, we need to make sure it is defined.
So we’re talking about the operative tasks here, of course.

So, how not to define them?

1.       Make them too big. Bigger isn’t better in this case. Limit the task by time or actions if you have to, but break the big task down into smaller, achievable bits.

2.       Hide them. Hidden tasks don’t get done. When you see it , you can get it done.

3.       Overload the board. Don’t have too many tasks at once. Even adults have a difficult time with someone barking a long list of things to do at them, so you can just imagine how your children feel.

4.       Vague. Don’t be vague. If you don’t explain what you mean by ‘tidy your room’, how can you expect your kids to live up to your expectations?