Communicating Personal Goals with Kanban

When we started our agile family journey back in 2009, my initial concern as Chief Family Officer was to keep track of household chores and personal administration tasks in a way that would engage our kids in a fun way. Last year, the focus moved to reinforcing personal routines and self-organizing behaviour, again with a focus on the kids.  But with chores and the kids’ routines now mostly under control, my use of agile and lean techniques at home has become a lot more personal.

This year has been one of significant personal change for me. After pulling the line and acknowledging that I had allowed my work in progress to spiral out of control, I have continued along a path of introspection and reinvention, both at work and at home. In the past, I have often documented intensive personal growth phases through journalling.

But this time around, I continually find myself drawn to Personal Kanban as a vehicle – and quite a creative one at that –  to express this journey visually to myself and – more importantly – to my family.

Sharing yourself with your family

I can’t count the number of times I’ve read (or said myself) how important it is for families to communicate. But that doesn’t just mean talking about chores and tasks. That’s just operational stuff that has to get done. All too often, we neglect to talk to our families about things that really matter to us – things like who we are and where we’re going as individuals and as families. We dream and plan and think, but we don’t share what’s in our heads with the people around us. And then we’re surprised or frustrated when they don’t understand where we’re coming from when we do eventually share the outcome of months of silent growth.

Keeping yourself accountable

A comment by leansimulations a few months ago on my “Dealing with a Line Stop” post came to mind when I started writing this section:

I think one reason personal kanban is hard, is because kanban is primarily a communication tool. But when you communicate to yourself, you are only accountable to yourself. And we know how that ends up.

This is such a fundamental truth of human nature, that it’s easy to just nod and keep reading.  But it really hits at the core of agile and lean practices and why they work. Through transparency and visibility of information everybody in the system is held accountable by everybody else.

Even if you’re an individual using Personal Kanban, you’re still using Personal Kanban within a group context, whether that group is your family or your team at work. If you’re keeping your Kanban visible only to yourself, then you’re missing out on a huge part of the value in Personal Kanban.  By keeping your kanban visible to the whole group, you’re inviting conversation and triggering shared learning that would otherwise not happen. You’re also holding yourself more accountable because you’re not only communicating to yourself anymore, but to others.

Leading through example

Off and on, I have felt that our Kidzban experiments were getting too much and that I was forcing my views of managing life on my family. At about the same time, my need to visualize the changes in my own life became so strong, that I found myself focusing more on creating visual indicators for myself, rather than for them.  Soon after, I realized that I could achieve more as a parent by inspiring my children to adopt change, rather than trying to manage the change actively in their lives.  Do as I do, and not as I say, right?

This is another one of those fundamental truths of change in organizations. Trying to actively change behaviour as part of a 10-point plan is usually doomed to failure. Allowing people to discover the benefits of a particular change by observing it in practise and then adopting it themselves has a much more sustainable long-term impact than forcing people to switch to a new way of doing things.

Practical Example – Creating a family dream board

A board with pictures of our family's hopes and dreams

Dream Board - just getting started!

I have started a family Dream Board where every member of the family is encouraged (not forced!) to stick pictures of a particular dream they want to achieve. Dream boards (or vision boards, as they’re also called) fit in very well with Personal Kanban. They are information radiators and a great way to trigger family conversations about shared values and dreams.

We’re just getting started with ours, and it’s still quite bare. But I’m very excited about the possibilities it holds for our family to talk and share more deeply about our plans for the future and what we need to do to get there.  A possible challenge I see here, though, is how to enforce having regular conversations about the board, without it feeling like a family meeting. All suggestions welcome!

Practical Example – Keeping track of reading habits

I love reading, and I read a lot. But over the years I’ve fallen in to a pattern of reading more for learning about work and parenting than reading for pure enjoyment. I’ve felt the joy of reading starting to slip away as the list of books I felt I “have to read” piled up.  As part of rebalancing my life, I created a new kanban for myself to keep track of the kinds of books I’m reading so that I could see when I was short-changing myself.

A kanban that shows books I'm reading, colour-coded by category

My Bookban

The board on the right represents the backlog of books waiting to be read, with the books in the arrow representing Work In Progress. The colours represent different categories of books (Work, Inspiration, Parenting, Literature and Fun)  The cloud on the left represents books that I’ve completed since starting to use the new Bookban.

I don’t have explicit limits for how much of each category I should read. That would be insanely prescriptive and defeat the purpose of putting more joy back into my life!  But the shape of the arrow does provide a natural WIP limit, preventing me from trying to read too many books at once. The colours help me to see when I’m reading too much or too little of a specific category so that I can choose which book to finish next from my WIP – without feeling guilty about my choices!

Now I don’t except my family to get too involved in my Bookban on a daily basis, but it’s up where my kids can see it, and I’ve already answered questions about what the colours mean and how the cloud represents my brain and how what I read becomes part of me.  These simple questions have already made it possible to share more of myself with my children. And, who knows, it may sow a seed of something that will emerge later in their own consciousness.

Powerful change, not just organization

For me, Personal Kanban has become a powerful tool to inspire meaningful, value-based change in myself and in my family, not just another organizational tool that helps us get stuff done.  Has Personal Kanban done the same for you? How are you using visualization and limiting work in progress to achieve your personal goals?

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5 Responses to Communicating Personal Goals with Kanban

  1. Dirk says:

    Great idea, I’m going to propose something like this in our family as well!
    I can imagine it will not stick though if it is no more than a far away -non-measurable (sorry about that but it’s my comment :-))- dream stuck on a board that you may or may not talk about.
    In my mind, to be a real driver, it would help if you can set intermediate goals or communicate intermediate success experiences. These could be measurable such as “I want to bike to the office at least 75 times before the end of the year” as part of the health goal, but for becoming a world class piano player, it might be nicer to be able to just indicate when you personally feel you have made an advancement towards your goal.
    This could be a conversation starter (“I saw you stuck a star on your baseball picture, kicked *** at training today?” or “nothing moving in the dream department? need help?”).

    • Hi Dirk,

      Your comment is spot-on! That’s exactly what I’m afraid of happening if we don’t share progress or intermediate successes. Although we have a family kanban for chores that need doing, I don’t want to track these dreams in a very formal way. They’re there to inspire and remind, and to serve as conversation starters. But I like your idea of stars on the pictures. That’s nice and visual, yet low key, and nobody has to pitch for a family standup. You put up a star when you feel you’ve made some progress, e.g. achieving a new karate grade. Or maybe we could start a ritual around “Dreamtime” when we retrospect on dreams together in a relaxed way, e.g. after story time and before bed time.

    • Hi Dirk

      Thanks for taking time to comment on this post. You’re absolutely right – turning these dreams into tangible goals is an important part of making it stick. Right now, the type of conversations that you suggest (great ways to ask I think, without making it feel like an inquisition!) are not happening enough yet. In addition to our family treeban, this part of our agile adoption is getting the most attention from me at the moment. I’m definitely going to be trying out some of these ideas and report back on how it’s working out.

  2. Patty says:

    Personal Kanban has gone way beyond organization for me. It is as much a part of life now as my hands or my head. I do it without even know I am doing it, it’s second nature, a way of life, my lifestyle.
    Saying goals is important because you acknowledge it,and give it to the world, but seeing them everyday in front of your face on your kanban is not only saying it, it’s seeing it. Seeing it everyday for me is taking steps toward it becoming reality.

    Another great post!

  3. I feel just the same, Patty! I now often turn to Personal Kanban without thinking about it. And I believe very much in being the change you want to see in the world. So if I want my kids to embrace fun ways to motivate and inspire their lives, I can think of no better way than to do it myself.

    I read about something else today that may come in handy to couple with this. It’s called the “Check In” protocol and it’s part of the Core Protocols. I don’t know more about it yet, but this article showed how you can use it with kids to find out what their mindspace is. I like it!

    http://blog.scrumphony.com/2011/09/food-for-thought-11-checking-in-with-the-kids/

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