Report Back: Visualizing Family Ties with Personal 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 third (and currently last) post in the Scrumfamily Report Back Series on how some of these contextual kanbans have worked out for us. In each post, I look 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 – Staying in Touch with Family

Our little nuclear family lives in Cape Town, South Africa. My husband and I moved to Cape Town shortly after marrying, and this is the only home that our boys have ever known. However, all our extended family live up-country, spread across various smaller and larger towns and cities, from the metropolis that is Johannesburg to the coastal haven of Gonubie.

This state of affairs makes it significantly more challenging for us to maintain close ties with our respective families. No Sunday lunches at the parents for us, or dropping in for a quick visit at the cousins unannounced. We make a point of visiting the grandparents at least once a year, planning things well in advance to coincide with school holidays and work schedules.

But apart from that, we have to rely on long distance mechanisms to maintain family relationships. In this age of Skype and texting, you’d think that’s not so difficult, but I have often feared that we don’t do enough to keep in touch. Between the demanding schedules of work and school and the precious short breathers that are weekends, it’s easy to forget when last you actually sat down to write great granny a letter. Yes, great granny still prefers letters, and refuses to deal with mobile phones or any other modern gadgets.

So after the umpteenth time of my mother jokingly saying “she’s just called to check if we’re still alive”, I decided to see if a contextual kanban might help us be better communicators.

The Experiment – Family Treeban

Having a bit of an interest in genealogy, I came up with a slightly different take on the usual “family tree”. One afternoon I roped the kids into cutting out and painting a cardboard family tree. We attached pictures of those  family members we want to keep in touch with regularly.

Cardboard family tree with pictures and stars

Family Treeban with stars

It was a challenge finding a simple, yet effective visual indicator to show the state of communication with that particular person.  I received some great ideas from readers, and eventually decided to stick with stars. Every time we communicate with that family member through whatever means, that person gets a star attached to their picture. The fewer stars, the more attention a specific relationship needs.

The Learning – Staying in Touch is not Enough

In the nine months of using our Family Treeban, I have certainly learnt a few valuable things about the nature and depth of how long-distance communication works in our family.

  • Seeing Stars: The star approach really works well here. It’s easy to see in one glance who it is that we need to spend more time on. And because we’ve placed the treeban  in our family control centre (more about that in another post!), there’s no way to miss it.
  • Women’s Work: Although I am mostly the one who updates the stars once a week, it’s usually based on a quick conversation with my husband to find out who he’s spoken to recently. This is one kanban where The Boys are not taking the lead. Then again, that’s no surprise. In most families, it’s the women who tend to be the ones who nurture family ties.  And since I was the once most worried about this aspect of our lives, it also makes sense that I’m the one gaining most from it.
  • More or Less: There’s always one person in a couple that we tend to speak to more than the other. Who exactly that is, depends on a whole range of factors too complex to go into here. That said, although I speak to my dad a lot less than I speak to my mom, I tend to speak to him longer and more broadly when we do speak.
  • Out of Sight: Although the treeban has shown that we’re not quite as bad with staying in touch as I previously thought, it has also made me realize that merely staying in touch is not enough to build meaningful family ties.  Just because you call, write, Skype or text (fairly) regularly, it doesn’t mean that you’re close. Closeness is born from regularly being able to be together and do things together. When you live 1000 km away, you don’t often get invitations to those events – both big and small – where families bond through shared experience.

Is that sad? Yes. It especially makes me sad for our boys, because I realize that they’re not getting to know their cousins the way I know some of mine. And that one day, when we’re gone, they will only have each other to rely on.

But before you think this is all getting too depressing … there is some light! Because I’ve realized how much we’re missing out, I’m inspired to make more of our family visits. I’m now actively looking for ways to combine school breaks with mini-vacations in different parts of the country to make sure that we make more of our family connections.

In the meantime, I’ll keep using the Family Treeban as a colourful visual reminder to not get lazy about staying in touch. We might not be all THAT bad, but we certainly can be much better.

Other Posts in the Report Back Series

Personal Kanban for Exercise

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.

This entry was posted in Personal Kanban, Report Backs and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Report Back: Visualizing Family Ties with Personal Kanban

  1. Jim Benson says:

    Wow. Like … wow. 🙂

  2. Thanks. Like … thanks. 🙂

  3. Quite an original way to apply Kanban principles to stay in touch with family and friends. A very practical PK idea for people today who live far away from loved ones. Great post!

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