May 21, 2013

Family Inc. - What Families Can Learn from the Agile Workplace


I was recently on vacation and getting away from it all, I paged through a Wall Street Journal while relaxing by the pool and, lo and behold, there was an article on Agile and the family, and how there is a new generation of parents using techniques from the workplace and transplanting them to their personal lives. I'm passionate about using Agile at work, but I had never truly thought of using it at home.

If you're familiar with Agile, there are a few key roles:

  • Scrum master, which is equivalent to a team coach or project lead
  • Team members are generally developers, UX, QA, Build, Doc, etc.
  • Product owners are responsible for prioritizing the work and making decisions in a timely manner
  • Stakeholders typically fund the project and provide support, such as operations and senior managers & executives

This article had a unique twist and sense of humor for the family members. Their roles consisted of:

  • CFO/bedtime manager (parent)
  • CEO/director of transportation (parent)
  • Director of gaming ­- youngish boy
  • Manager of social media -­ teenage girl
  • Night shift ­- toddler

Why would a family want to move in the Agile direction? For the same reasons we use Agile at work: it helps increase communication, improves productivity, and makes everyone feel part of a family. The team or family runs more smoothly and the group dynamics shift -­ Agile families and businesses are no longer run top-­down, but rather effective teams are ones where all members contribute.

Here's another parallel between work and home.  At Perforce, we have a Definition of Done checklist, which serves as a reminder of all the pieces needed to complete in order to get a software release out the door. At home, parents can use checklists or charts for morning routines so the family members each take ownership and responsibility for their tasks. By outlining the rules, it can smooth transitions.

Rather than 5-­10 minute daily standup meetings, the family held a single weekly meeting. In Agile at work, the three questions we ask at our daily stand ups are: what did you accomplish yesterday, what are you planning today, and were there any blockers. One of the families highlighted in the article asked similar questions in their weekly family meeting: what went well in their family this week, what didn't go so well, and what did they agree to work on this coming week. As they discussed those questions and how the week could have worked better, the children and parents felt empowered, practiced communication skills, and learned flexibility and to be accountable to each other.

I guess this was truly a busman's holiday. The full WSJ article can be found here.