Agile Family Planning

On any given day, families around the world wake up, feed their kids, get them to school, work, come home, eat, clean, and go to bed.  There are daily tasks like brushing teeth, weekly tasks such as buying groceries, and long-term tasks or projects such as painting the house.

The success in managing these family tasks vary from family to family the same way business process management varies from company to company.  Let’s look at a few management techniques that can be found in any family or business:

  1. The screamer:  This is the parent or manager who screams to get work done.  They are an autocrat.  They are no fun and kids and workers could unite in their dislike for this technique.
  2. The free wheeler:  Think of this as the laid back or disorganized approach to raising your kids or running a team.  This approach usually results in chaos, confusion, and very little getting done.
  3. The thinker/Doer:  Considers what is necessary to get a team to work together.  Uses a variety of techniques that serve to improve team performance over time.

Many of us have employed the two less appealing techniques listed above at one time or another… and sometimes much more than we should.  We would be lying if we say otherwise.

I didn’t like the daily grind of being a frustrated Daddy so I decided that I might as well test some Agile techniques on my kids since these techniques work well as a management technique for Dev teams.  In essence, I decided to be a “thinker/doer”.

So, to break the insanity, I used my Kindle to research “agile family” and found a number of books on the subject:

  1. Agile Kids – Who’s the Boss of Me, by Shirly Ronen-Harel and Danny (Danko) Kovatch
  2. The Secrets of Happy Families, by Bruce Feiler
  3. Getting Results the Agile Way, by J.D. Meier and Michael Kropp

I can’t say I read all the books; I am more of a “skimmer” if anything.  But I did work out some simple steps for my family that wouldn’t make my wife think I was too crazy.  They were:

  1. Pitch the Idea:  I sat down and discussed the idea with my family.  It was an interesting dinner.  I broke down the agile process from concepts of responsibility and how iterative task management works to the overall process of review and correction over time.  At first my girls looked a little cross eyed, but when we talked about the frustration of angry Mom and Dad, owning your own stuff, looking at what we do well (the retro), etc… it all went well from there (although my wife still things I’m a bit odd in the head).
  2. Discuss What Needs to Happen: I scheduled a time where we discussed our work to do (No, I didn’t call our work load a “backlog” or discussed sprint planning… or else my girls would just glaze over).  We picked what is repeated every day vs what is temporary or long-term and then organized it.  We decided to work in weekly chunks (Again, I used their terms… not the industry’s… so you won’t here the word “sprint” mentioned in our home.).
  3. Create The Task Board for the Week:  Think of the task board as a low-tech equivalent of Jira or similar software used to manage Sprints.  In our case, it started as a dry erase board but is now a printed sheet we type up and put on the fridge we check off as we go through our day.  This is followed at about a 80% compliance rate and getting better.
  4. Meet Weekly to Review Progress and Build a New Board:  Each week we peel off our task sheet and discuss what worked and what we can do better in the coming week.  We look at our backlog of tasks, keep the dailies, and add anything else that might be long or short term in nature.  We have had 3 meetings.  Each meeting gets better as does participation.

My first “pitch” talk with the family was around a month ago and it met some empty stares, jokes, and doubt.  I have now had about 3 ragged sprints as I work to get everyone on board.  A regular schedule is now finally getting set with discussions every Sunday during our weekly breakfast.

Here is what I learned so far:

  1. Daddy is not so smart.  It is better to let the kids figure things out.  Sounds like a regular agile team?  I am no longer scrum master.  The kids rotate every other day.  This has enhanced ownership and is increasing participation.
  2. Shut up and only ask questions.  As “Daddy”, I have a tendency to talk too much.  Asking questions gets the kids engaged and their ideas on the table.
  3. Stay focused on the positive because we improve as we go.  The kids have gotten better and better about their daily and weekly chores.  This shows up in how willing they are to do things when you ask.  Diminished are the times when they show frustration or resistence.  They now see themselves as part of a team and respond quickly to request.

Where do I go from here?  Well, we keep running our sprints and improve as we go along.  My next step is to create a checklist for my wife and I so that the girls can really be part of a full team.  I’ll let you know how it goes especially since my wife is likely to revisit the act of looking at me as if I am crazy…

One Response to “Agile Family Planning”

  1. Dale Elizabeth

    There are different levels of intelligence and I think that reaping high cognitive ability is important. Ask questions that go beyond the concrete level (going by the obvious) and also listen, listen, listen; curb the tendency to inteject and extend that patience to the point that you later reflect on what your team said to you. Let this process guide your decison-making.


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