Sunday, September 26, 2010

Using Scrum For Saturday Chores

The most obvious sign of doing Scrum is using a taskboard. Alan Dayley wrote to me about how his family used a task board and "Scrum Sprint" to handle their Saturday tasks.

Here's how he did it:

  • Foam board nailed to the wall in the dining room.
  • Self stick 3x5 index cards
  • Small sticky notes
  • Mom = Product Owner
  • Dad = ScrumMaster
  • Kids = Scrum Team

  • Mom created spreadsheet with the "sprint backlog" a few days before. -- Jobs (or areas of the house) divided into smaller tasks.
  • Dad created the heading cards, job cards and the sticky notes of each task.
  • Around 10:30 AM the whole family held a stand up meeting is held in front of the board.
  • Points were assigned to each task. Just three possible values to keep it easy: 1 = easy, 2 = normal, 3 = hard. Point values of each task were decided jointly by the kids, but Mom & Dad had a veto power. The point values were written on lower right of each task sticky note.
  • Go!
  • The kids pick a task or two, writing their initial in lower right corner of each task sticky note and moving sticky note to the "Working" column in the Job row.
  • When a kid completes a task, s/he moves the sticky note to "Check" column. The did then selects next task by initialing and moving it's sticky note to the "Working" column.
  • Mom or Dad checks the quality of the work, moving the sticky back to "Working" or over to "Done" column.
  • Proceed until all tasks complete about two hours later!
According to Alan, it worked great on their first time!

Thank you, Alan for the article and permission to print it.

Do you use a taskboard or sprint planning to organize your family tasks? Please let me know how you did it, preferably with a picture!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Parent's Daily Scrum

Thanks to Mike Vizdos
One of my earliest and most successful attempts at applying Scrum at Home emerged quite by chance.

When I started out as a Scrum coach, I worked a lot from home. My wife suggested we go for a walk every day. This seemed like a good idea until I figured out that her vision was more like athletic training while mine was more a stroll along the river. I needed a way to change the vision (without sounding like a wimp), so I objected, 'But I want to talk to you while we're walking! Let's take a more leisurely pace and talk to each other.' It took some convincing, but she did agree to a discussion friendly pace.

This meant I actually had to think of something to talk about. Panic! Then the daily scrum came to the rescue! I asked her: "What did you do yesterday?" "What's the plan for today?" "What's getting on your nerves?" I also answered the same questions.

What did we talk about? Daily life mostly. The challenge of the week posed by our kids. Scheduling our lives and our kids' lives. You have a concert this week? Wait a minute, I have a networking event that evening. We need a babysitter!

I did not tell her the source of the questions or even that this had anything to do with Scrum (until much later). I did adapt the rules of Scrum to the situation. The time frame wasn't strictly limited to a span of one day in the past to one day in the future. Neither the questions nor the scope of the answers were so rigidly defined as in Scrum. Our time box was not a certain number of minutes but a softer "we want to start the day by 9am". We did however generally split our conversation into a discovery phase, in which we answered the three questions, and a discussion phase, in which we talked about the answers.

This regular dialog helped us synchronize our lives, identify and resolve potential issues early, and generally improve the harmony in the family. The improvement in harmony in the family was perhaps the most striking. We had always understood each other pretty well, but modern life is busy and pulls everyone in different directions, and this had been quite a source of tension for us. The regular communication did wonders for reducing or eliminating much of that conflict.

In my coaching, I have often noticed that improved cooperation and more fun on the job are among the first benefits of switching to Scrum. Well, it looks to me like the daily scrum is a major source of that improvement and it seems to work that way at home as well.

I'm thinking I should try these questions with my kids at the breakfast table...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Start with the Marshmallow

The reaction to this site has been pretty cool - 500 visits in the first week and lots of suggestions and contributions. Here is one tip I just received.

The learning experience which led me to found this site was the having kindergarten kids play the ball point game (yes, I really am going to write it up! promise!). Well, I'm not the only one trying out teamwork games, uh, simulations on both kids and adults.

Tom Wujec recently posted his experience on TED with the marshmallow challenge. It's a team exercise in which the participants have to build a tower using a supply of (dry) spaghetti, tape, string and marshmallow. The goal is build the highest structure possible within 18 minutes.

It turns out that recent Kindergarten grads do better than the average adults. Recent MBA's do worse than average adults, CEO's slightly better (than the kids), CEO's with an administrative assistant better still. (On the possibly mistaken assumption that the assistants are usually women, this confirms my own experience with the ball point game that groups with more than 30% women do much better than groups with few or no women). And many teams fail entirely.

Why do kids do better? They start working on the problem immediately, make several attempts to solve the problem (they iterate), and they do not create a pecking order in the group. The adults tended to look for the "single right plan" and tended to think about the marshmallow late in the process. They often produced only one actual prototype, just before the deadline (usually to watch it fall down shortly after the marshmallow is attached).

BTW - like Dan Pink, Wujec shows that financial incentives do not help people meet the challenge. Bonuses have their place, but not in creative work.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why Scrum 4 Kids?

I started doing Scrum about 5 years ago. At the time, it just seemed like a better way to do project management. As I grew to understand Scrum better, I learned Scrum was above all a mindset and a set of values.

As I got deeper into Scrum (and as my family grew), I had occasion to try out some of the underlying principles and practices at home. To my surprise, the principles and practices were often surprisingly useful for mundane, every-day things like: staying in tune with my wife, getting the kids out of bed and off to school, and reducing conflict in the family.

Somehow I can't imagine applying RUP or the V-Model to challenges at home. This convinced me that Scrum (and Agile in general) are about deeper issues than just project management.

At the Scrum Gathering in Munich last October, I had to privilege of joining a group of Scrum coaches and trainers for dinner and drinks (yes, we did consume more than just liquid refreshment). Among other things, we brainstormed on where would Scrum be in 5 years? Our sober conclusion: exactly where it is today, because the schools will continue to produce adults more or less like they do today, and -- however Scrum looks then -- the role of the trainer and coach will be do undo the damage done.

I have experimented with task boards for my kids, daily scrums with my wife, retrospectives with the whole family, and applying Scrum's concept of delegate responsibility to get better participation from my kids. I went to my son's first grade class and had them play the Ball Point Game. Some attempts worked well, others less so. One failed dramatically. Each was a learning experience and I am fascinated by how similar kids (even very young kids) are to adults in how they are motivated and how they respond to other people.

So this blog is a venue to share those experiences. I plan to write as I have time about these experiences. I hope other readers will comment and share their experiences, or even become authors on the blog. (As I write this, I am not even sure if a blog is the right medium, but hey, gotta start somewhere!)

Have you applied Scrum or Agile principles and practices to your family life, in particular with your kids? Please comment and tell me about it! If you have ideas, please share them either as a comment or offline.

I look forward to some interesting discussions!