Owning the Work

As our use of Personal Kanban has moved beyond dealing with the mechanics of boards, cards and lanes, I’ve been pondering aspects of the Systems Thinking underlying Kanban and how they play out in a family context, as opposed to software development.

It all started with some role and boundary issues we’ve been experiencing in our team at work. Against this backdrop, I started observing the division of roles and interactions between roleplayers that were emerging in our family.

I came to a fundamental conclusion: 

A family is a bit like Open Source software development.

Multiple Product Owners

In a commercial agile software development team using Scrum and/or Kanban there is usually a single Product Owner. This role is key to the success of the team, since it is the Product Owner who decides what the team must work on, and in what order. Although these priorities are the result of engaging with actual users of the software and stakeholders in the wider business, the Product Owner is assigned the duty and authority to make the final call on “what’s in, and what’s out”.

Although I may have been the Single Product Owner for a short while in the beginning, this changed quite quickly as our family embraced the system. Depending on the domain we’re dealing with,  different family members step up and make the call to determine what’s important.

Although that is mostly either me or my husband right now, Boy One has also stepped up on occasion with valid work that deserved preference, like putting up a shelf in his room for his “special stuff”.

The Users are The Team

Once I realized that no single person in our family “owns” the work and gives direction, I realized something even more fundamental to our dynamic: We ALL own the work.

This is because the people who are doing the work (The Team) are the same people who are requesting the work (The Users).

We are the creators of our own Product Vision. We are doing things that matter to us and that we have chosen to do. Between ourselves, we negotiate the importance, value and timing of work. Any pressure that is placed on getting things done comes from our own goals and dreams. And of course from some unavoidable technical debt we sometimes have to take care of, like car maintenance and getting the plumber in.

We also determine exactly how that vision is implemented, right down to the nails that we use to attach the shelf to the wall.

The Responsibility

There is tremendous freedom and joy in building your own dreams. When you’re building your own dreams, you take responsibility for the whole process, from inception to delivery. You also take responsibility when things fail. And in our family, since there is no Single Wringable Neck to shoulder the blame, we must all take the blame for failure.

This may sound depressing, but I find it inspiring and exciting. Because of this shared responsibility, it’s in the team’s interest for everyone to be helping, whether that helping is the doing of a task, or teaching skills to help the others grow and learn.

And ultimately, that is what successful families are about.

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3 Responses to Owning the Work

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Owning the Work « Becoming an Agile Family -- Topsy.com

  2. Jim Benson says:

    “Once I realized that no single person in our family “owns” the work and gives direction, I realized something even more fundamental to our dynamic: We ALL own the work.”

    This is an awesome quote. We talk about this a lot in our kanban / personal kanban talks. It’s a strange dynamic – but depersonalizing work actually seems to make it more personal. When we remove direct assignments to individuals (in which work is punitive and a conduit for blame) and turn it into goals for the group (in which work is a means to an end and part of the natural flow of life) – people really seem to get into building systems that reward good behavior. Work ethic is no longer something imposed or equivalent of martyrdom – it’s actually fun.

    A lovely post, my friend.

    • maritzavdh says:

      Thanks, Jim. It’s really incredible actually how using kanban for our personal lives is causing a revolution in how we think and behave in our house. It has taken the concept of collaboration and reward to an entirely different level.

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