At home, we went agile — inspired by the TED talk “Agile Programming for your family“. We’ve found that using Agile at home has made our domestic lives immeasurably better, because of the constant communication and pressure-release of retrospectives. It’s allowed us to genuinely say to each other “ok, we can try it for a week”!
I gave a talk at the NCR Edinburgh Agile Guild last year about Agile@Home and how we’ve implemented with our young family. I’ve recently updated the presentation to give at my company’s weekly “Dips and Discussions” townhall as a (hopefully inspirational) last note before I depart for adventures new.
I’m sharing here, now, in hopes of helping anyone else who might be struggling through this uncertain world.
We’ve got young kids so we need to be pretty flexible with anything weschedule but we are currently trying out “seasonal goals”. We listed out the activities we wanted to do and separated them out into the season in which they make the most sense to do them. Within the seasons, we could then prioritise what we want to get done. This past summer our activities mostly revolved around getting the garden sorted — something that can be done outside in the nice weather than didn’t involve leaving home. Most important was planting vegetables which the children most wanted to do, then came re-finishing the wooden patio furniture that couldn’t be put off for another year. This winter, not being up to going out into the freezing rain, our priority has been minimising clutter in our house, starting with the kitchen and then the children’s room.
So far, the seasonal goals are working well, as it has helped motivate us to tackle bigger projects knowing that we will keep coming back to them through the season. Though, it has come up that it would be more helpful to have the goals written up on the wall for the kids to see them.
The Daily Scrum
At the end of the day we have a family dinner — given that I am NOT a morning person, and that snack and lunchtimes can be a bit manic, dinner is the only time that we’re all guaranteed to be sitting at the table together.
It’s not your traditional software scrum — it looks like a “normal” dinnertime conversation — but it functions as a mini-retro and a discussion of plans and blockers for the next day’s “work”.
If conversation doesn’t organically answer the following questions, either my partner or I will prompt to ensure that they’re asked before the kids are finished eating and too restless to stay at the table with us:
- What was your favourite thing about today?
- What didn’t you like about today?
- What are we doing tomorrow?
We use these stop/start/continue style questions not only to encourage the kids to stay at the table a little while longer, but to gauge how our kids are feeling about their worlds. Quite often, the first two questions can inform what the answer to the third question is — if my 6-year-old is totally fed up with the way that online schooling went and the 3-year-old really enjoyed colouring, I’ll make sure I make time for crafts the next day.
Retros and Planning
In some ways, we’re more scrumban than Agile scrum. We have meetings as required and will often have one meeting which functions as both retro and planning. Our sprint is, broadly, a week. At some dinner over the weekend, we update our family calendar on the wall with any appointments we’ve got, meal plan for the week, and any holidays that we might be celebrating.
At that dinner, we discuss any tasks that we want to get done that align with our seasonal goals and try to work out when we can fit them in. We’ll ask the kids what their favourite thing was that they did over the week and if there’s anything else that they want to “schedule” into the calendar.
During our daily scrums, we usually mention something new that we want to try so that the next day is better — we will bring up these things while we’re updating our calendar, to decide if there’s something we can do regularly to improve our week.
The family calendar came out of a family meeting a couple years ago, now. Our eldest, then about 4 years old, wanted to know what we were doing over the week. We put the calendar on the wall and drew pictures for the different activities that were coming up. It’s been honed over the years to address issues that have come up during retros:
- It now shows two weekend blocks which allows us to update it on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday without losing anything.
- It forces us to sync up my paper bullet journal calendar, my husband’s digital calendar, the school calendar, and my eldest’s UK and US holidays calendar at least once a week. We MUST update it before the end of the weekend.
- We MUST plan meals in advance, solving the problem of not knowing answers to “what are we having for dinner tonight?” and “what do we need to pick up from the shops?”
So, that’s how we’re doing agile at home. It’s been pretty great! It’s allowed us to roll with whatever life throws at us (pandemics, redundancies, you name it). There’s no one silver bullet for peaceful domestic living but the closest we’ve found has been learning to say “ok, we’ll try that for a week” and genuinely be open to trying.