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When UX, Agile and parenting collide

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Kids are tricky characters, often doing everything in their power to ignore our increasingly exasperated instructions.

I’ve recently been introduced to new ways of communicating with children that - surprisingly - share similarities with UX and agile.

Let me explain.

My wife and I have been lucky enough to have our good friend Caryn help teach us the best ways to communicate with our four-year-old daughter. This involved recording videos of our daily routines for Caryn to analyse.

We watched the videos together and went through each and every moment in detail, but with Caryn playing each moment back from my daughter's perspective.

One video featured me imploring her to go upstairs to have a bath. She had run away to the garden and was refusing to listen. I had my one-year-old son attached to my hip, and my patience was wearing bloody thin.

In a final, desperate bid to claim victory I called upon 'smart' parental language like: “If you choose not to go upstairs, there will be consequences”. That quickly devolved into “stop trying to kill the plants” and “we don’t talk to each other like that”.

Watching it back, I felt a bit stupid. This feeling was amplified when Caryn pointed out that I was telling my four-year-old to do 167 (slight exaggeration) different things.

It turns out I was asking way too much of her. What I needed to do was deal with the immediate problem, which was getting her to go upstairs - a simple, easy-to-understand task that we could both focus on without information overload.

Once upstairs, a conversation about undressing, and then clambering into the bath would seem more reasonable. Washing hair, brushing teeth etc... could wait until she was in the bath. Getting dried, applying skin cream and having stories would also be dealt with at a more appropriate moment.

It all sounded very familiar. 

And that’s when I realised that it was basically life UX for my daughter.

How? Well, it’s simple - imagine the kids are end users.

What is it that you want them to do? Is it a simple task, or a lengthier thing? Don’t overwhelm them. Use bitesize tasks to achieve an end goal. It’s a step by step journey. 

Kids are acutely aware of the end goal, but you don’t need to jump them there instantly. 

Break it down and explain it to them in a language that they understand. It turns out “consequences” is not 4-year-old friendly. Signpost what you want them to do. Not in the long term, but what’s their next step.

Just like UX.

It also turned out that there was no clear plan. We weren’t informing her that there’d be play time, TV time, tidy-up time, bath time and eventually story time, all within a compact two-hour window. I was just harping on about the bath time bit at the end. It didn’t mean that there was no plan, it just hadn’t been communicated, and I had kept it all in my head.

Our visual board.
Our four-quadrant visual board

We’ve since learnt that a simple four-quadrant visual board will help with the transition from one to the other. Just like a step tracker. The board indicates each task that needs to be completed, and what’s coming up next. 

"First, you’ll do this, and then you’ll do this, which will result in this." 

This sounds pretty waterfall in its planning, but the reality is that life with a kid won’t work like that.

And that, my friend, is where agile child project planning comes in. If outdoor play, TV time, bath time and story time are “sprints”, you might need to have the flexibility of being able to prioritise them and switch them around. 

Pivoting to suit the end goal is important, as long as the end goal is achieved. In true agile fashion, it doesn’t always go to plan, and that’s okay. TV time might come before outdoor playtime, or you might decide not to do one of the tasks at all and keep it at three instead of four. 

When it comes to parenting, what we’re learning every day is that we need to design, build, test, learn and improve our methods. And if that sounds familiar, it’s because those five simple steps feed so many aspects of our lives.