Apart from Personal Kanban, our family has also been using checklists quite effectively as part of our organization strategy. At least, I believed that we were using them effectively, until very recently.
The First Inkling of Trouble
Some doubt crept in as I finished Cheryl Carter’s book on the F.I.R.S.T technique (at last!). A point she made about parents having to find other ways to repeat instructions to children with AD/HD, other than nagging that is, struck a chord. She specifically includes checklists as a valuable mechanism to do this, stressing that the checklist must “speak”, not the parent.
I realized that our checklists to get the boys through their morning and evening routines were not speaking very loudly at all.
Although they have helped us to create a regular routine very successfully, I can’t remember how many times we’ve had to ask “Have you done the first two on the list?” or “Is your list done?”. This was starting to feel like nagging, and affecting the boys’ willingness to stick with the checklists.
It appeared that the checklists had served their purpose and it was time to evolve.
The Friendly Suggestion
Enter Jim Benson of Personal Kanban 101 fame. On a recent brainstorm on Personal Kanban with other kanban friends, he suggested turning these checklists into a kanban with swimlanes for each of the boys and actual check boxes that they can check off to show progress.
With one fell swoop, he had solved our “speaking” problem!
This past weekend, I set to creating two kanbans based on this idea. I settled on using poster board covered with clear plastic film. This way, the boys could easily check progress with whiteboard markers and erase again afterwards. The boys also added their personal touch. Instead of naming the tasks, I asked each of them to draw or paste pictures to represent the tasks visually.
Here’s the end result:
The Visualization Revolution
The boys took to the boards like ducks to water. Being creatively involved resulted in complete buy-in, and they barely needed an explanation of how to use the boards. Suddenly we all know exactly who’s supposed to be doing what, and if there is a potential resource conflict (1 bath, 2 kids).
I also realized after one day that this kanban is completely wrong for our purposes.
When things took much longer to do on the first evening of using the boards, I thought that I had broken our well-tuned routine. Things should have been going better and faster with the kanban, not slower. Then I realized why.
The checklist had hidden the fact that the evening and morning routines are not by nature linear. Various constraints in our environment dictate a more fluid approach. On any given evening, these constraints may include availability of the bath, the exact time of dinner, which parent is needed for homework supervision and whether the nightly glass of milk after dinner has been drunk yet or not. Tasks don’t have to be done in order at all.
By changing to the visual kanban, I had exposed the actual flow. And by expecting linear completion of the tasks on the first evening, I had indeed broken the system and introduced waste in the form of delays and unnecessary waiting times. Once the boys were told that the order of the tasks is irrelevant, as long as all boxes are checked, things went back to their pre-kanban efficiency.
Visualization of actual flow truly is the secret to the success of kanban!
I’m itching to redo the boards. A non-linear flow requires a non-linear kanban. Watch this space.