Report Back: Teaching Kids Timekeeping with Kanban

Apart from mapping general family activities, chores and tasks in a linear value stream, our family also uses Personal Kanban to address specific challenges in our lives. These contextual kanbans are typically not linear and tend to be more creative and innovative.

This is the first post in the Scrumfamily Report Back Series on how some of these contextual kanbans have worked out for us. In each post, I’ll be looking at the specific challenge we are trying to address, the original experiment, how it has evolved and what we have gained as a family along the way.

The Challenge – Not Being Late for School

Punctuality has always been a challenge for our family. You know those people who are always 15 minutes early for an appointment? Well, that’s not us. For us, it’s a major achievement just to be on time consistently.  With four family members all to be found somewhere on the distractibility and hyperfocus spectrum, being time-challenged really is a given in our family.

The biggest of our punctuality challenges has turned out to be getting to school in the mornings. It’s one thing when one of us has to be on time somewhere. It’s an entirely different matter when all of us need to get ready for the day and out the door within the space of two hours.

In time for school. Without forgetting anything.

The Experiment – Our Weasley Kidzban Clock

In June 2011, I wrote about our Kizban Clock. The clock was inspired by the Harry Potter universe and the idea that a circular kanban mapped to their daily activities, with avatars as tokens, could help us to teach the kids the importance of staying on track and doing things within a certain timeframe.

Our Weasley Kidzban Clock - Inspired by J K Rowling.

Kidzban-Weasley Clock

This fun approach worked really well, for the most part.  The boys enjoyed moving their avatars and jockeying to see who is ahead. More importantly, school mornings were running increasingly more smoothly. In fact, by the start of the last school term (three months after we started using the clock) I felt confident enough in our improvement that I challenged the boys to a goal:

No more than 10 late days for the new term, as counted in the school register. We made it with 1 day spare! 🙂

The Evolution –  Introducing the TimeTurner

But I knew that our Kidzban Clock needed to change. Some aspects of the clock had turned out not to be that useful after all and were not being used. We had also started using other time games and techniques to augment the clock, and I started thinking about ways to combine them into a single visual indicator.

Notably, the original clock was designed to be subtle and had no explicit time links. With both boys now older and more time-conscious, I thought it was time to make the time link more explicit.

By making some changes to the existing Kidzban Clock, I was able to capture our changed context quite well, and we have been using our new TimeTurner since January 2012. Naturally, the name is inspired by Harry Potter, but also by the TimeTimer that we used for a while until it fell and broke.

The TimeTurner - Revised Kidzban-Clock

There are significant changes to the way our revised visual kanban clock works:

  • Focus on Mornings Only. The new clock zooms in on the time between 6 am and 8 am, with the other 22 hours of the day visualized in broad segments only. The sections of the original clock dealing with afternoon and evening activities were hardly ever used, and as the main challenge is the morning with its “hard stop” at 8 am, it made sense for our visual clock to focus on that period. At some point, we may want to do something similar for the evening period between 6 pm and 8 pm, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet.
  • Use of Game Concepts. During 2011, while still using the original Kidzban Clock, I starting referring to certain times in the morning as Go Time (7.20), Injury Time (7.30) and Penalty Time (7.40). Both boys like motor sport, and our eldest is a big soccer fan. Connecting our departure times to their interests, in the same way time runs out in a match or in a car chase game, has helped to raise awareness of time running out, while still keeping things fun and (mostly) light. Very recently, I’ve also given our eldest a whistle to blow if we ever hit Penalty Time. He loves making lots of noise in the morning. Instead of trying to get him to quiet down and becoming frustrated, I have made his behaviour part of the game. It makes him very happy, and reduces my stress levels remarkably.
  • Integrated Traffic Light SystemI strongly believe in colour to convey information indirectly. As a Product Owner, I’ve often used a simple traffic light system to show release progress.  I extended the usual three-colour system to tie different colours to the phases in our morning routine. Late!! is naturally red …
  • Different Use of Avatars. The clock arm is now a real clock arm, so the boys’ avatars are now placed next to the clock next to the Up & Go phase to show it relates to them.  To keep the boys involved with moving the arm, we now have an assigned Timekeeper job that the boys can choose to swop from time to time. So far, it’s mainly fallen to our youngest, since he gets up a lot easier in the mornings. The incidental benefit of this has been that it’s helped him to read analog time a lot better.

The Learning – Could We Be Early?

In the past term, our late day count has dropped further from 9 to 2. Two! Although I do suspect the gate guard missed a couple, my gut tells me we did fare better than the previous term.

Of course, “not being late” is somewhat of a second prize. Ideally, I want to leave the house by no later than Go Time, so that the kids can have 10 to 15 minutes to play with their friends before the school day starts. It’s better for their social connections, and would help them both to start the day in a more settled fashion. And it would mean that I can get to work earlier so I could leave earlier to spend more time with my family in the afternoons.

Three years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that it’s possible for our little family to be consistently on time. Now, thanks to our visual clock, I’m starting to believe that we could, just maybe, be consistently early. That would be a huge win for us!  That might mean more changes to our visual clock, of course. But that’s just how continuous improvement works. The moment you level up, you see a new goal that you couldn’t even have imagined before.

Other Posts in the Report Back Series

To be updated as new Report Backs are published.

Other Series on the Scrumfamily Blog

A series on knowing when to pull the line in your personal kanban, and dealing with the subsequent line stop.

Care to Share?

Using Personal Kanban? Finding it a challenge to stay on top of your life? Or just want to share your thoughts about the way I’m using agile and lean thinking? Leave a comment below, or find me on Twitter to connect.

If you’re new to the concept of Personal Kanban and my blog, use the Getting Started page to find your way around the site. It also has links to other excellent Personal Kanban material to help you on your way.

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