Agile methodologies, and specifically Scrum, is rapidly increasing in popularity and most teams can benefit from the increased collaboration, communication and transparency that it brings.  But what about a team with ever changing priorities?  “It’s not for every team” is a refrain uttered by teams having a tough time adjusting to the sometimes drastically new mentality. And while this is true, most teams can benefit from the increased collaboration, communication, and transparency Agile brings.

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen such drastic positive change in the culture of teams who are willing to keep their minds open and embrace Agile, that the possibility of replicating a portion of it on the home front suddenly seemed plausible. With an always running list of house projects, community service projects, birthday parties, one daughter and a baby on the way, we had plenty to track. Would a team with ever-changing priorities, shifting ownership of tasks, and a sometimes-differing understanding of scope be successful at home?  And what part of Agile would we employ?

blogI chose the element that has proven to be one of the most satisfying for team members– the Kanban board.  The Kanban board originated in Lean Manufacturing, but is often integrated into the Agile approach due to its constant updates of moving work visually from category to category. The psychological effect of moving cards along (from “Not Started” to “Work in Progress” to “Complete”) gives team members a tangible sense of accomplishment. And since my husband is a Project Manager by training, I believed he’d have an easy grasp on task breakdown and color-coding categorization (which he did). So, I set up a board!

We chose to keep the Kanban board in a place that we see often, to prompt a reminder to move things along, color coding by team member. Our two-year-old gets a row, since her many responsibilities include “potty training”, “getting through breakfast with clothes intact”, and “being adorable” (that’s a one point story – piece of cake). Running the board at the Feature level has proven most useful, but the occasional user story is helpful for demonstrating progress within a larger effort.

From my experience, the value of applying Agile principles to the home include:

  • A focus on collaboration, individuals and interactions over tools
  • Minimized focus on documentation (unless you’re talking about family photobooks – there’s a card for that)
  • Responding to change over following a (rigid) plan
  • Welcoming changing requirements: the move toward more flexibility (or… agility) ensures that everyone feels comfortable voicing concerns at any point
  • Frequent delivery of updates (or completion of projects) adds to a sense of running accomplishment
  • Face-to-face conversation is best; a Kanban board encourages in-person collaboration
  • Obviously, working software is not the goal in an in-home Kanban setup, but card movement can be
  • Self-organization is the only option for a busy family – Agile practices can help optimize their ability to implement it
  • Simplicity is essential: what family wouldn’t agree with that?

What we’ve found is that a board does provide a good way to track progress and keep upcoming projects on the radar, as well as prompt discussion about priorities. It has been a new way to track activity and progress, and a conversation starter for anyone who grabs something out of our pantry. SEI’s model and my client work converged over time to prompt new ways of home organization. If football teams can find a way, maybe elements of Agile can be applied to your work or home life as well.

Christy Overall

About Christy Overall