Kidzban/Personal Kanban 2nd grade elementary school class experience report

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
The purpose
As a parent to a 2nd grade school girl I want to deliver a personal kanban / KidzBan class in a school show & tell parents activity so that kids are exposed to this interesting approach to plan & navigate their activities that can help them take ownership. Desired side effect – for her princess to be proud of her father.
Preparation
Well, I’m not a Kidzban or Personal Kanban expert. Far from it. We’ve played occasionally with Kidzban at home but we are certainly not practicing it on an ongoing basis. Far from it. I’m also much more of an Enterprise Kanban kind of guy. But since talking about Hierarchical boards, Expand/collapse patterns, various ways to Limit WIP, MMFs, MVPs, Feature teams, Classes of Service and cycle time control charts in 2nd grade might have been an interesting experiment, I’m not sure either I or my daughter would have been proud of the outcomes.  So I decided to take a shot at a personal kanban/Kidzban class, with the understanding that the kids will still NOT understand what I’m doing for a living afterwards…
As an initial structure I planned to start with why an approach like personal kanban is even interesting to the kids, and then show very basic Personal Kanban using an example and then let them experience it by building their own Personal Kanbans and doing dry runs on them in small groups.
Then, I consulted both with Danko (Danny Kovatch – my friend at AgileSparks) and Shirly (@ShirlyRonenRL) who together are advocates of this field in Israel and also wrote the nice ebook Agile Kids as well the online #PersonalKanban/#kidzban crowd ( @topsurf @ourfounder @maritzavdh and others like @YvesHanoulle @markusandrezak pitched in as well – isn’t twitter great when you have such great online friends?) for some tips about how to do it. Key insights were: Let the kids experience it themselves, Don’t talk that much – less talking more doing, Don’t show and tell, actually build it together, Use lots of colorful post-it notes, Let them draw pictograms if they want, choose themes like planning birthday parties, packing for a family vacation, chores mom asks you to do.
Based on all these great tips I decided to build the initial example together with the kids using the example of home activities mixing chores and wants, with the goal of navigating the chores/wants better in order to get to as many of the wants as possible not by neglecting the chores but by mixing them in and by using kanban to be more focused and responsible. I then planned to indeed let groups choose their theme from the list above or other activities the kids suggest as things they plan and do that might require something like kanban. I also planned to have a takeaway session at the end for kids to talk about what they like about the approach, and if they want to do anything with it at home.
Responding to Change over Following the plan
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Come friday morning this nice plan didn’t really survive contact with the enemy. Oh Sorry, the class 🙂 Actually the kids were lovely and engaged and we had lots of fun experiencing kanban and discussing the world of chores, wants, the connection between the two, while drawing boards and moving a lot of colorful post-its and stattys notes around. They were so engaged and excited that it was hard to push forward in the activity as everyone had to share their ideas, not necessarily in a way that is very related to Kanban itself but it is very hard to be an aggressive facilitator with kids, at least for me… Telling them lets park it was hard and I decided that as long as they are having a fun discussion and experience that is even more important than getting the whole point across (even though I actually had limited points to get across).
The key thing I would like to have improved outcome wise is to be more certain they actually understand how the actual operation of the kanban works on a daily basis. We exercised it in several scenarios, with them guiding me what card to move next, as well as volunteers moving them in several scenarios, but I still have a feeling that they mainly grasped activities like “map what you need/want to do” (a.k.a. create a backlog) as well as “plan your day” (a.k.a. pull to the “today” area) but that the whole flow of pull into “In Progress/Now” and all the way to “Done” didn’t really sink in. Maybe it is the fact they were so excited about discussing their wants/needs/chores that focused them on this area. Maybe it is something about the way I facilitated this discussion. But if I do it again I will certainly look for ways to get much faster to the actual act of pulling cards and experiencing the full flow and deemphasize creating lists, maybe by providing some initial ones, or by stopping this discussion earlier.
In addition I felt that the concept of dry-running was too abstract for the kids which was why when they exercised their own boards creating the plan resonated while creating the “In progress” lanes and actually playing to try it was very tough to get them to try. This repeated with almost everyone.
Another interesting area was the comparison with the calendar/timetable they use for their classes at school/extra-curricular activities. I felt it was non-trivial to get them to grasp the challenges with a fixed timetable that would drive them to use a dynamic system like kanban. I see this with my daughter for example. On several occasions I saw she feels much more comfortable planning a calendar/timetable rather than a kanban style pull system. Even the kanban board she and a friend created in class had some form of timetable swimming lanes in it. After talking to her about it some more she says she now gets why with kanban you don’t need those timetables and why it might be a better option sometimes, but I think we haven’t got to the root cause of this yet so definitely an interesting area to explore further.
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Another learning point for me was to spend more time with a group of volunteers at the board playing with the kanban with guidance from me BEFORE breaking out to smaller groups to create their kanbans. While it is nice for everyone to create their own I feel their understanding might have improved by doing this more guided step first. Would probably invite these volunteers to the board earlier in the class to still have time for the breakout exercise later on. In addition we only had time to report back from two of the breakout groups  which was a bit of a shame. But you can only accomplish so much. I also didn’t have time for the takeaways session before I was interrupted by the bell…
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Looking back, Looking forward
Anyhow this was certainly an interesting experience. You might find it strange but I had more performance anxieties before this activity than most sessions I delivered in the past (including some senior management presentations half a world a way, conference talks, or tough crowd facilitation for dynamic unscripted sessions). Maybe it is the change of scenery or just the desire to make the princess proud of her father…
Well – the important thing is that the kids enjoyed it, her home class teacher attended and enjoyed it as well (she says she already live upon post-its – maybe she is a future kanban converted…) and the princess is very proud. If you ask me what the kids understood about what I do for a living? Interesting question. I will try to find out. Expecting some funny answers.
Anyhow, Hopefully this post can help some of you parents out there using Kanban at work to make your kids happy and share some insights and ideas with their class mates along the way.

 


Yuval Yeret
AgileSparks