The Rise and Fall (and Rise Again) of the Kanban

“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools…Responding to change over following a plan…”

When I was first looking for information on Agile Software Development, I found these lines and smiled.Β It makes so much sense: meet people where they are, pay attention to relationships and dynamics, have tools but don’t get attached to them, plan but stay agile.

 

This year has been a year of reflecting and reframing. Are there too many loud, little kids…or have we failed to adjust our space to meet the needs of a different group of humans? Did we struggle this fall because of the unbalanced ratio of new kids to culture keepers…or because we failed to see that we were starting with a mostly new group and needed a strong tone-setting to support them? Are Kanbans outdated as a Spawn Point tool now that we have Trello…or are they actually a tool to meet more advanced needs than we have at the moment?

Oh the Kanban. It’s definitely pretty and impressive to have a wall of individual Kanbans in each Spawn Point. In the office Spawn Point, we were serious about using our Kanbans until after winter break. There had been talk for a while about the relevance of the tool: kids said it was redundant when there was Trello, messy when Post-Its fell, and time-wasting when people updated their boards during meeting. But we also talked about tracking our intentions, creating visualizations of our intentions, and the potential for inspiring each other by sharing what we’re each up to. So the boards stayed…until we came back from break with several new students. Then the obstacle course of chairs and bodies in the office meant getting to our boards took more work than they saved as a tool. We let them fall out of use, and I spent meetings typing students’ intentions/reflections into their Trello boards.

It felt a little odd…Not all kids have their own devices or access to their Trellos, so they would have to seek Ryan or I out to ask if they wanted a reminder of their intentions during the day. Recording only on Trello allowed for light and efficient documentation, but it also created a barrier between the kids and the lists of their intentions…limiting access rather than empowering kids with it.

*Side note about the office spawn: I don’t run meetings…I scribe while the kids take turns facilitating. I also don’t pick facilitators. They do it themselves.*

At some point in the early spring, Trello started lagging. @timotree and @ryanshollenberger solved the problem in the other Spawn Point by pre-loading everyone’s Trello boards; my computer would still lag when I tried to update the boards, so I took to documenting people’s intentions and reflections by hand. Doing so made more work for me, updating their Trellos after, but it allowed me to document without slowing meeting with my perpetually loading computer. @abram had mentioned that I could solve the Trello lag problem by exporting all the old cards on kids’ boards to spreadsheets and then deleting them from the active boards, but after doing one I decided it was too time-consuming to do for everyone while school is in session. It still felt like there was a lighter, more effective solution, but I was resigned to hand-writing, post-meeting Trello updating, and setting aside time over the summer to export/delete/fight-the-lag.

Then two weeks ago, most of the kids left on a trip and I sat alone with my thoughts. I thought about what I wanted to see (kids interacting with their intentions and reflections, with the interaction prioritized over the documentation value) and what the blocks to that seemed to be (flow of the room, lack of interest in the present tool, lack of clarity from a group of mostly new kids about the intentions behind Spawn structure).

Naming that last block sparked a revelation: I’d been operating from a place of wanting to build on what we started last year, but only three of the twelve kids in the room had that foundation. I needed to think of ways to support the three in continuing to grow, but the room and meeting structure needed to be adjusted based on the people in the room. So I back-tracked.

After asking permission in Spawn one morning, I rearranged the room to open space and move the Kanban wall-of-whiteboards to a more accessible place. Then I erased all the Kanbans and just wrote each student’s name up.

When it was meeting time, I stood at the board to take notes instead of sitting with a pen and notepad. The kids were rapt. They coached me on spelling game titles. They looked at each others’ boards for memory triggers. They asked me to cross things out and check things off…It felt really good.

I wondered if I’d be able to convince them to update their own lists by the end of this year. I glanced a the giant office Kanban I had made for school administration tasks and wondered how long it would take before a kid asked to change from having a list to having a Kanban…how long before they would be looking for workflow management rather than just a holding place for their ideas.

Things went very smoothly for a week and a half.

But I had a Philly trip planned. I’d be missing school on Friday, and I’d have most of the office’s practiced culture keepers / facilitators with me. I know the kids can run meeting without me when they’re all together, but for a handful of them to do it together right after a new structure has been introduced? It was going to be a test.

Thursday, I told them that I wanted those of us who would be on the Philly trip to let others practice running the day’s Spawn Point meetings. I suggested people update their own boards before meeting; they instead passed a marker around and tried to each speak while writing when it was their turn. The meeting went ok, but it was longer and messier than it needed to be. When they left, I photographed the boards then wiped them clean for the next day. I hoped they’d manage ok.

Monday, I walk into Spawn in the morning to see the boards all neatly updated. When the alarm goes off to signal that it’s time for morning meeting, I walk into the office to see two kids holding markers. They announce that they’ll be running meeting. I smile, sit, then watch as they take turns scribing and co-facilitating. At the afternoon meeting, @pigcraft8 jumps up to update his own board. @fashionwithpassion helps him with spelling.

By Tuesday, @pigcraft8 and @pigsfly have asked for access to their Trello boards so they can update those themselves, too.

Now it’s Wednesday, that last day of a short week. The kids now totally run the office Spawn Point. They’ve gotten practiced at picking roles, facilitating, and now note-taking. New kids are supported stepping into leadership roles during meetings. And I…am delightfully surprised once again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One comment

  1. Profile photo of Tomis
    Tomis says:

    πŸ™‚

    Thank you for this!!

    Great reflection and great insight about tool eb & flow, how to model tool use, and PEOPLE over process πŸ™‚

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