Can a three-year old girl learn Kanban principles?

Can a three-year old girl learn Kanban principles?

In this article I would like to share my modest success story, which I hope might be useful for some of my readers.
In this article I would like to share my modest success story, which I hope might be useful for some of my readers. Besides being an Agile coach, psychologist and amateur philosopher, I am a happy father of a wonderful little girl. And, like so many parents, I face a difficult problem of teaching the kid to clean up the toys. Often, to move safely around your place, you have to clean up the mess several times a day.

I have read some articles about parents using the Scrum or Kanban methodology to help their kids get organized and bring in some order. But they are all about school children. And what should I do if my daughter is just 3 years old? I could make Kanban cards for her, but she can’t read yet. And another problem: Of course, I can make a card “Clean up the toy,” but it might be too difficult for her, and won’t give the dynamics that I want to create – a possibility to see the progress. And what if I split the process of cleaning up into small steps and draw what should be done? I decided to give it a try.

I entered the room where she played with her toys. The floor was littered with lots of various toys. There were a few places to step on, yet very carefully, to avoid treading on something.
‘Well,’ said I to myself. ‘Let’s see what I can devise.’ I analyzed the types of toys scattered about the room. They could be divided into 3 groups: Cars, dinosaurs, and soft toys. I decided to have a separate Kanban card for each type of toy.

- Let’s play a game. Look, now we draw a card with your toys that should be cleaned up. What’s that?
- A dino!
- Right. You’ve got some dinos. What other toys do you have?
- Cars.
- Let’s draw a car.
- Fine!
- And what’s this?
- It’s a teddy bear!
- Right. This will be for all your soft toys. Now let’s go to your room.

We have a blackboard to draw with chalk. And it was clean.

- Look. We are going to divide it into three parts. The red one – for what must be done. The white one – for what we are doing now. The green one – for what is done. What would you like to clean up first – dinos, cars, or soft toys?
- Cars!
- And then?
- Teddy Bear!
- And then dinosaurs?
- Yes!

I put the stickers on the blackboard. What will come out of it, I wonder?

- Look at the blackboard. What shall we clean up first?
- Cars!
- All right. Take this sticker and put it in the middle column. That’s it. Now let’s move on and clean up your cars.

Of course, I helped her, but strictly followed our plan. While she was carrying her big car from the kitchen, I picked up all little cars in the room. Finally, all the cars were in their proper places.

- Darling, have you put every car in its place? Look around, is anything left?

She walked around the room, looking carefully for cars.
- No.
- Fine. Then take this card and put it in the column “Done.”

She did.
- Now let’s applaud to us and celebrate this little victory!

She clapped her hands delightfully.

- Fine. What’s next?
- Bears!

She really enjoyed the game.

- Right. Put the bear sticker in the middle column.

In a couple of minutes, all the soft toys were in the box. She replaced the bear card, and we both clapped our hands.

Just about 10 minutes passed since the start of our experiment, and the floor was completely free from toys, which were now in their proper places. She happily clapped her hands, pleased that all the cards were in the “Done” column, and the room was tidy. I was infinitely happy about my daughter – she proved to be so smart!

Kanban principles.jpg

It would be a success story – I managed to implement Kanban for a three-year old. Actually, everything was even more optimistic! Next day, she came up to me after lunch and asked, “Daddy, can we play your cards game again?” We did Kanban again and cleaned up the room.

In the evening, we made an extended version of the game: She herself added two types of toys (construction set and playdough), asked me to replace the bear with a cow on the card for soft toys, and we also added cards with a pottie, toothbrush and fairy tales book – so our Kanban combined the cleaning up of toys and the going to bed routine.
I don’t know for how long our game will continue and how soon she (or I) get tired of it. But in these two days I become convinced of two things. First, the incredible effectiveness of Agile tools and principles of self-organization, cooperation, proper decomposition, and visual management.

These tools are so good that even a three-year old kid can understand them. Second, before throwing away some things as obviously unsuitable, it’s worth thinking about how you could adapt them to the existing environment and qualification of participants, test them in practice, and only then draw conclusions.

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Sergey Makarkin
Chief Program Manager
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