Even 3rd Graders Are Project Managers

Mitch Lacey | Jan 21, 2012

This was an experiment I ran in early 2006 with my now 18 year old graduate, Ashley. I was able to replicate this to other kids in the neighborhood that were willing. The biggest challenge was helping the kids see the value. Kids with good grades were more resistant than those with poor grades. Even my now 12 year old son resists this. He’s disorganized, but has good grades. I tell him that won’t scale to college, but what do I know, I’m just a boring old adult - so I’m told. Enjoy!

I was chatting with Mike Cohn Agile 2005 about user stories. He told me how he applies some of these techniques to his kids. I was having a hard time with Ashley. She was constantly putting her homework off and doing it in the car. I didn’t see the point to do it at that point as any learning was lost and it was just an exercise in checking a box.

We talked about what is important to me, as a parent, when it came to her (my kids) homework.

  • I want to know what assignments are active, pending and complete
  • I want to know the measured quality of the work turned in and the time spent on each assignment.
  • I want my daughter to have a sense of ownership when it comes to her deliverables.

I did not want to invent a new proprietary system in solving these. I thought to myself, if user stories work for the team at work, why not at home?

Required Tools

  • A cork board, hung in a public place where your child frequently visits (in front of the TV might just work for some)
  • Multi-colored 3x5 cards
  • Pencils
  • Thumb tacks or push pins

The Exercise

Every Monday (in our case, our daughter only gets homework on Mondays, so this is any day your child gets a new assignment) we have Ashley write down each of her homework assignments on a single note card. Different subjects get different colors, like red for math - easy enough.

Each card gets the following attributes

  • Assignment name
  • Estimated time to complete
  • Date due

Once complete with the assignment, she will add the following information

  • Actual time to complete
  • Actual date turned in
  • Grade (once provided by the instructor)

She is free to add additional items on the card, like where she found the information, how she liked the assignment, and so on. On the board, create three areas - “Queued (or pending), Active, Completed”. This allows you (and her) to see what the backlog of work is, how much work your child has bitten off at any given time and how much work has been completed over time.

Sounds a bit crazy, I know. We want her to learn to be accountable her herself and to her work. We want her to see that the effort she puts in may not give her the grade she desires (quality and reward) and that next time she should work harder. This helps her realize that when she puts in 30 minutes to some work, does a crap job at it and then gets a poor grade, she is the only one she can cry to. We coach her along the way, but ultimately we leave what “done” means to her. Granted, we can coach a littler harder from time to time when she’s off in la-la land.

You get the point. Try it out with your kids and let me know how it goes.

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