Blog series: Raising an Agile child – part 2

In part 1 of this blog series, I posed the problem of how quickly jobs and opportunities are changing and how we, as parents, can prepare our children for career success in an unpredictable future. I mentioned having an approach that I believe will teach children to cope with whatever job they pursue in the unpredictable technology-driven future.

It’s borrowed from my experience in software development methodologies and involves taking concepts from Agile development and applying them to create learning processes that develop the right skills.

Agile development ‘helps teams respond to unpredictability through incremental, iterative work cadences and empirical feedback’ meaning it provides a way to deliver software projects in the context of high levels of unpredictability. Though not all Agile techniques are relevant here, there are two core techniques that I believe provide a framework for parents who wish to raise an Agile child:

1. Deliver small, demonstrable, valuable ‘software’ early and regularly:

At work with your team:

Agile development dictates that instead of spending months providing an end-to-end specification, detailing every aspect of a software project upfront – only for it to change during the course of the project – rather agree on a high-level direction and start delivering working, valuable software within the first 2 weeks.

This is achieved by the team discussing and agreeing on a feature or tool that is required within the project, planning the details at the beginning of the delivery period called a ‘cadence’ and then demonstrating it by the end of the period. Not only does this approach guarantee that there will be working, valuable software early on in the project, it also allows for the software to be validated i.e. ensures that it solves or contributes to solving a problem.

At home with your child:

To apply this method as parents – you identify a high-level direction for your child’s future career (technology, finance, creative/arts, entrepreneurship). Then you define a skill, practice or knowledge area that your child can learn and demonstrate within a specified period or cadence (usually these are not longer than 4 weeks).

It is best to plan the learning process at the beginning of the cadence with your child. This involves agreeing on the parent-led interaction sessions, as well as the self-study (practice) sessions. You also need to agree on what will be demonstrated by the end of the cadence. Clarify that this process must be driven by your child (side note: you’ll be surprised how even young children take to this responsibility with the incentive of impressing their parents at the end of the cadence period).

Check-in every morning with your child for 5 minutes to see how they are progressing. If they are struggling with a particular aspect, provide guidance on how to fix it or agree on a time to sit together and work through the problem. At the end of the cadence, gather the family in the lounge and allow your child to demonstrate what they have achieved.

You’ll be shocked at how effective this approach is in teaching your child a new skill, practice or knowledge area.

2. Correct and refine your course over time:

At work with your team:

By delivering and demonstrating each piece of software in short cadences and allowing the customer to validate the value of the software, the direction of the project can be adjusted. This is to ensure that it remains in line with the evolutionary understanding of the project goal and resulting requirement changes.

As the customer’s vision becomes clearer over time, the software delivery process corrects course where necessary and refines future deliverables to more accurately target the end goal.

At home with your child:

Similarly, as the influence of technology plays out on the market and your child’s interests and preferences come to the fore, the skills/practices/knowledge-areas delivered during each cadence can be adjusted to follow the desired course.

As your child’s talents and interests become clearer over time, the learning process can correct its course where necessary and refine future deliverables to more accurately target the goal – a successful, fulfilling future career.

I have no doubt that many parents will see this approach as onerous. It does require dedication and discipline, but in my opinion, the results are worth the effort.

While I have been using Agile in the software environment for many years, I‘ve only recently introduced it into my home. I have seen immediate results with my 6-year-old daughter. It is clearly accelerating her ability to learn new skills and is teaching her practical techniques for approaching long-term, evolving projects which are common in the workplace.

It would be great to hear your thoughts on the above and get feedback on your experience in using these techniques to prepare your children for the unpredictable future.

Footnote: the above technique also incorporates the principles of ‘deliberate practice’ defined in the book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by K. Anders Ericsson, Robert Pool – a worthwhile read for all parents.