Checklist + Kanban = Visualization²

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!

The Boards

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:

Morning Routine Kanban

Evening Routine Kanban

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.

This entry was posted in Kidzban, Parenting and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Checklist + Kanban = Visualization²

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Checklist + Kanban = Visualization² « Becoming an Agile Family --

  2. maritzavdh says:

    Note to all my faithful readers. I have expanded the section on The Visualization Revolution to include the lesson about our flow being non-linear.

    At first it seemed a good idea to write a separate post about this, but as I started the post it quickly became clear that it belonged in this one.

  3. Jim Benson says:

    Awesome post!

    Great to come home to after a long biz trip.

    I love the huge checkboxes. Visible from a distance, glaring reminders of what needs to be done.

    • maritzavdh says:

      Thanks, Jim! The kids are having a lot of fun with this. Instead of multiple nagging questions, I now say “What am I going to see when I check the boards?”. That gives them a couple of minutes to update status if required. If not, I get there to find a clear picture of what’s going on.

  4. Pingback: Delicious Bookmarks for August 17th from 09:55 to 11:00 « Lâmôlabs

  5. topsurf says:

    This is a fantastic post. You don’t know what an inspiration you have been to me in my thought process with bringing more PersonalKanbans into my classroom this year. I love those board your children made, simply fantastic.

    I had a great time chatting with you and look forward to doing it again very soon.

    It has been great following your progress with your family. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • maritzavdh says:

      The beauty is how we inspire each other! 🙂

      Someone recently asked me why I chose Kanban to monitor the workflow for a Help Desk team and I gave the standard answer about limiting WIP and the flexibility to reflect the actual workflow of the team.

      But the more I think about it, the reason I enjoy Kanban so much is the continuous learning and evolution that comes out of it.

  6. I love the idea of a Kidzban! Our son, who just started Kindergarten a week ago, needs something like this. Though I’ve been using a task board for half a decade, I’ve been using a Kanban consistently for the last year. It helps filter what I would best describe a task noise. I seem to have 1,000 things in my head at any given moment. Until it gets onto my Kanban, it is merely an idea, void of form.

    My son, bless his little heart, appears just as challenged as me. Perhaps if we introduced the Kidzban, he could see what needs to get done and dinner, the bath, and even Wii time would have a home.

    I’m glad you were able to find something that works for you and your family. Now I know there is hope for the rest of us. 🙂

    • maritzavdh says:

      There is definitely hope! Although I had instinctively developed a number of organizing strategies when I was in high school and studying at university (mind maps, coloured notes, tactile study schedules) to manage my “task noise”, I realized about two years ago that I had never successfully translated those techniques to my working environment. I had become stuck with To Do lists and notepads and they were taking over my desk and my life! As a parent, I also felt I was coping well enough with my somewhat more fluid approach to routines and schedules, until our eldest went to grade school. When he started getting into trouble because we were chronically late, I realized I had to find a solution but quick.

      Enter first Scrum and then Kanban. I’ve been using Kanban at work and home for just over a year now, and I have never felt more in control of my life or so relaxed at home, knowing that things are taking care of themselves.

  7. Jim Benson says:

    Derek and Maritza both doing Kidzban would be awesome.

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