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Agile with Families


This is a guest post by Eloise Pelser (@EloisePelser).
Eloise sees herself as a survivor, mom, agile enthusiast, scrum master, writer and runner. She blogs here:

Being a Scrum Master, I decided to introduce some Agile practices into our home three years ago when our children were seven and four years old.  My mornings used to be complete chaos  and I wanted to equip my children with the ability to get themselves ready for school themselves.  For families who are considering getting started with Agile in their homes, here are some tips:

Start with small changes
I have found that change can be scary to a lot of people regardless of their age.  My first step was to introduce a simple checklist in the mornings for the kids.  This list existed of easy things they needed to complete in order to be considered ready for school, like brushing your teeth (or ensuring they get brushed), eating breakfast, putting your backpack in the car.  Once a task was completed, they could mark it off as done.  With this checklist, I was able to get the buy-in I needed very quickly as it was easy to understand and do.  Our daughter Mieke (four years old at the time) immediately loved the structure of this.


Once our list was up, we quickly saw the need to put some rules in place.  One child would mark the other child’s’ item as done which lead to a great deal of unhappiness.  We are using a Scrum board in the hallway now and the same rule still applies.  Because of this transparency, the kids still keep each other accountable and tend to make a competition out of things sometimes for fun.

Don’t underestimate the power of stickers
With the checklist system, we instructed the children that they could use a sticker to mark a task as done.  Stickers are magical!  I came to this realisation that the stickers are so magical because it ties back to a sense of accomplishment.  Have you ever noticed the look developers have when they move a task to done?  Or your own sense of relief and enjoyment when you mark something as done on your personal To-Do list.  You mentally give yourself permission to pick up the next task even if that means relaxation.

A few years ago I met an owner of a Montessori school who was of the opinion that we teach our children to break their own focus and the inability to complete things.  She explained that we, as parents, often interrupt our children while they are busy playing or colouring a picture to do something else.  As Scrum Masters, we encourage our teams to work on one thing at a time to get it done.  Multitasking is not productive, why would we teach our children to multitask?

Daniel and Mieke love to populate their board with things that need to happen.  Bigger tasks are broken down into smaller tasks, these days, by themselves.  How they complete that task is their choice.  When asked, we will guide them and keep an eye on them when they choose to wash the bathtub for example (kids love this task and if you don’t keep an eye on it, they will use half a bottle of Handy Andy).

Just this week while doing homework, Mieke created an A4 Kanban board for her homework so she could track how much homework was still left to do.  Daniel followed her example, liking the fact that he can track his own progress and the structure.


Family Working Agreements
At the beginning of the year, we review our Pelser Family Working Agreements.  We discuss what needs to be added to it and what needs to be removed.  This is an agreement between us as parents and Daniel and Mieke on how we will work together in our house.  What is acceptable and what not.  It begins as a discussion and we decide together.  This remains a living document and the kids like keeping each other accountable according to it.  We all respect what is written on there, in my opinion, because we all contributed to it.


Continuous inspection and adaption are important as we like to teach our teams.  For families as well.  After having a couple of retro’s with the kids, Daniel saw the benefits in it and how he could use this to solve some of the problems he was facing.  He did his own retro one evening about homework that he kept forgetting, concluding it with a plan of action.  Our patio door serves as our whiteboard that we use for retro’s, lean coffees and sometimes for homework.  Whiteboard markers wipe off the door easily.  And for kids to have permission to draw on patio doors…..they love it!

Have fun!
Most important of all is to make sure that everyone enjoys what they are doing.  As soon as it stops being fun, interest in it will be lost. However you implement Agile in your home, it needs to serve your family’s purpose.  One of the things we have done away with is a calendar as we only used to confirm the date.  We have a weekly planner next to the board, populated by all members of the family if there is something coming up in the week.  We have a look at it on Sunday evenings and Mondays the kids will put more stickies on it after they know what assignments are coming for the next week or two. Our weekly planner is also in the format of a Kanban board because we like to review our week and see what has been done.

While we don’t have all the answers yet and probably never will, we are enjoying how we do things in our home together.   We are more organised than we were three years ago and we are equipping our children with a much-needed skill: Agile Principles and Practices. Being Agile is not an end destination but a journey and how blessed are we as parents to take our children with us on this journey!