Do you Kanban Kids?

Rafa Garcia — №23 with Mike St. Pierre

Do you have kids or work with them? I am sure my own ones – Dulce, aged nine and Miguel, aged four – are not very different from yours in the sense that they are mainly lovely… and occasionally not so much. “Dulce, please, do your homework.” “Kids… make your bed,” “Put your pajamas on,” “Prepare your schoolbags,” “Brush your teeth!” Noooo way! They are usually completely absorbed in their own worlds and getting them to do anything is a hard job. Can you relate to this? If so, you have to “kanban them.”

One of the things I like to spotlight, when helping other knowledge workers to better organize themselves, is the somewhat surprising fact that the stuff I work on (7+1 habits, GTD, Pomodoro, Personal Kanban…) is unknown at schools or colleges. Had I been taught about Peter Drucker, Elyahu Goldratt or Stephen Covey before leaving University, my professional career would have been quite different.

How to improve our home life AND prepare our children for their future… in an enjoyable way? I guess the answer is… Kanban kids.

The Kanban mess

Kanban has already been discussed in Productive Mag! Though, in my opinion, some remarks must be made about it.

Summarizing briefly, Kanban (看板) is a Japanese word, with 7 different meanings, which is used in 4 different productive senses:

This said, I bet your children don’t give a damn about this abstract concept, though the above frame of reference should help you a lot as everybody just talks about “Kanban”, without distinction.

So Kanban Kids is…

A method for assigning, coordinating and tracking your children’s tasks in a visually, participative and funny way. It is based on a board (a Kanban) with at least three columns: Pending, WIP (Work In Progress) and Done, though this ultrabasic design may (and surely will) be evolved as you and your mini-team use it. Changing titles, adding columns or even different boards (maybe for teenagers) is possible and desirable.

The board can be installed in kids’ room, in the kitchen or in any place previously agreed with them. One of the two main principles of PK is visualizing your work. So the point is to choose a busy location. It can be made of wood, plastic or even using a glass door or a wardrobe.

Now, instead of repeating orders dozen of times, you just stick a colorful sticky note (or magnet) on the first column. A higher position means more priority. When a boy or a girl finds it out he/she will stick it on the WIP column. And when it is done, on the last one. At the end of the day (or week) parents and their lovely disobedient progeny can explore the done jobs and — maybe — they can even negotiate some kind of reward.

The second of the two main principles I introduced before is the WIP concept. Remember the objective is not making our kids work. This is just a sweet extra benefit of the process. The goal is to smoothly introduce them into the importance of facing milestones and commitments in a responsible and organized way. Learning to concentrate on just one or two things each time, and then another one, and another one… Learning to feel happy and pride of finishing things. And introducing the habit (so important word!) of attending and maintaining their kanban.

The next step

You’re probably thinking, “Ok, Rafa, I think this stuff is great. I wanna Kanban my kids, it sounds pretty easy… What is the next step?” I’ll show you three for the price of one:

  1. Have a look at the chore card offer. Chore cards are a kind of responsibility charts for children. Definitely a chore card is not a Kanban; aside from the fact that they look like and are sold as toys, I think that they limit the freedom to be designed and adapted to your very unique home. Anyway… we have an option there or an inspiration to pick some ideas for our own boards.

  2. Explain, build and design your Kanban with your own kids. I’m sure they’ll be delighted participating in it and feel involved with the concept from the very beginning.

  3. When the physical board is not cool enough as they grow up or just feel bored about it, we can explore a software solution. But, this requires another article, I’m afraid :)

Photo: Janice Linden-Reed © 2009

Rafa garcia

Rafa Garcia

Rafa García helps knowledge-workers improve their self-organization. Inspired by the best classical authors in combination with cutting-edge technology and his engineering background. Committed to a practical and realistic approach. Rafa and his wife Bea, work hard raising their children Dulce and Miguel in the beautiful city of La Coruña, Spain.

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