After some great comments and questions on last week’s post, I thought I’d spend some time on our family’s planning and organization system as a whole. Here the focus is on two key mechanisms that we use to augment Personal Kanban – checklists and calendars. Look out for a separate follow-up on the rewards systems that we are using for the kids.
Fundamentally, agile software development is underpinned by a number of practices that support the team’s efforts to produce software iteratively. These practices include continuous integration, automated testing and the use of conditions of satisfaction coupled with Done criteria.
As our family started to get more organized, we found that we needed a number of mechanisms to know what value to produce and to establish regular, foolproof habits and routines.
Our school-going son has a fixed school schedule for certain subjects and extra-murals. Some extra-murals also need to be practised for, like karate and violin. By putting up two large, visible calendars, we can all see clearly what the weekly school cycle requires of us.
Successfully completing and remembering all the events and practices stipulated by the calendars, means we have a defined scope of what it means to be “Done” for the week. Since term sports vary by season, it is also likely that requirements will change. By putting the current requirements on the visible calendar, nobody has any excuse to say “I didn’t know”.
Some time before reading about Atul Gwande’s The Checklist Manifesto, I realized that some things we do are of such a routine nature, that we would spend more time creating story cards for them than doing them. Ideally, these are also the things we want to become habit for the kids (and ourselves) so that no reminders are eventually needed for them. To this end, we now have two checklists for the kids, and two for us.
The kids have Morning and Evening lists, and we have Evening and Weekend lists. Their Evening list has things on like “take out lunch boxes”, “check practice schedule”, “check homework” and “bath, brush & bed”. Ours continues where theirs leaves off with “check clothes for tomorrow”, “prepare lunch boxes” and “check school schedule for tomorrow”. (Incidentally, as they become older, some of what’s on our list may in fact move to theirs when we feel the other habits have already become ingrained and don’t need to be on the list anymore.)
The really great part of using the lists, is that nobody has to nag about the same thing anymore. All we need are trigger questions like “Have you started your list?” and “Are you done with your list?” The same applies to us adults. It’s enough for one of us to say “Let’s do the list” before we get involved with other more interesting evening activities.
These checklists have become our equivalent of a set of automation tests that we run at set intervals to ensure that something we have done (or haven’t done!) has not broken the system.
From List to Backlog
The individual items on the calendars and checklists don’t make it to our kanban backlog as stories, since they are specifically designed to be background processes that keep the system running smoothly. We mainly use our kanban board to keep track of household chores and those non-routine things that come up like “collect World Cup tickets”.
However, often the checklists or calendars trigger stories that need to go on to the backlog, e.g. “buy new winter school clothes” or “arrange lift to karate competition next week”. In this way, they act as regular feeders into our kanban backlog.
Thanks to our checklists and calendars, with kanban acting as an overall visual tracker of the “other stuff” we need to do, I feel positive that we are starting to leave our days of being “code cowboys” behind us.