Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Family Kanban

It was a lovely vacation I just finished with, and while I want to type about that, for this journal I would focus on one big outcome. My family has agreed, amazingly, to be part of an experiment - a bold experiment of bringing agile into my family life with greater energy.

Understand – in our family my wife Julie generally runs things. She’s got the planner, she’s fabulously organized and networked, and does a great job of it. Interjecting myself into this working system is a bit scary for me, and a bit out of my “defined role”.
However, there are a few things that I think I can help with. Agile, and the many roots it has in OD and systemic thinking, finds its specialty in managing goals in environments rich with change, and as any family of almost any constitution can attest, there’s a bunch of change out there. I see the labors Julie has put into planning meals, planning trips, planning schooling, planning events – its staggering.

More than that, I feel that really we’re a team and as they get older (I’ve got one teenager, near to two) they need to take more ownership in the tasks and goals they want to accomplish in their young lives.
And then there’s me. I’m like an uninformed CEO of my family. Julie will run things past me. Usually I nod and agree, or try to say something intelligent about whatever event we’re talking about. We get by, but I do not feel that I’ve really added much value since I don’t have the big or little pictures in my mind. I generally don’t put things on the calendar (google’s calendar has helped), but I certainly have things, and on occasion that will be a source of friction.

For example:
“Hey, can you be home by 5:30? I’ve got book club.”
“Oh…well, I was going to meet Erik at Starbucks…”
Or another…
“Hey, what are we doing this weekend?” Julie asks.
“….” Joe has no response.

Then the space gets filled with other tasks. Eventually I realize I had other things, but I never mentioned them. So to make my role a more active role and to have the whole tribe here see what’s happening and get them to focus on things, I sold to them an experiment. I plan to use Agile and Lean software development techniques to help run the family’s goals and accomplishments.

Notice how I framed that – goals and accomplishments. I do not intend to take from Julie the daily efforts of planning every action in our lives any more than I think she wants to hear about every meeting I go to. One good change technique, perhaps the core change technique, is to simply show the tool, and this tool will be focused on those things above and beyond the daily grind. Or will it? I’m not sure.
Of course, as a good agilest, I have tried some of this already,. I was able to install Retrospectives into my family. We do them every 6 months, and I think they’re starting to enjoy them. It’s difficult work to look back, think about what we’ve done, and think about what we want to do. I sense that it doesn’t come easily to children.

I’ve also had a bunch of sticky notes by the fridge, but they’re wrinkled from age. They’re definitely the epics, and we didn’t manage on the list other than lament the fact that we haven’t done many of them for more than a year. So it lacked commitment.

My kids are cautiously agreeing to this.  When I told topgun, my 12 year old, the full plan (my hopes to make this into a book or at least a talk and a white paper), he got excited. This experiment, as you will see in future posts, has been launched around a whiteboard. Everyone got their own sticky note color, and the board is just two weeks, so really, this is more of a family kanban. Perhaps that’s what I’ll call it.

The journey has started. I intend on doing this for at least 6 months, and will be blogging about it often. I have no idea how to map all this. Is it Kanban, or Scrum? If the later, who is product owner? Are there user stories? Burndowns? Hours? I mean a lot of this won’t apply, right? I’m keenly aware of the differences between managing adult professionals in software and the dynamic of family.

In the end I hope, as I do at work, to add value by leveraging the perspectives of a change agent and in this context, a dad and husband.  :)

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