My wife Nathalie and I have 4 kids. At the start of May 2016, when number 4 would soon join the family it became time to add some structure to some of the daily routine. The evening routine often took way too long (sometimes 1,5 hours) before everyone hit their pillow. It took too much chasing the kids (“Come out of the bath”) and too much discussion (“Why should I come out of the bath first?”)
Scrum is an Agile software development method which is being used almost everywhere for software development. The online department of the company where I work has 11 active scrum teams. We’ve got quit of a bit experience to say the least. Scrum makes sure that the team will ship working software within a small amount of time. Not that we will be shipping any software at home but 1 of the tools used within scrum is a scrum board.
A scrum board is placed on a visible place and usually has 3 columns. To do, In Progress and Done. Within those columns are the assigned tasks that should be finished within a certain time, usually 2 weeks, which is called a sprint. Those tasks are created and will be executed by the team itself.
By using a scrum board it is visualised and clear for everyone what the current state is with a certain task and with the bigger picture. So that made me wonder:
“If scrum with adults at the workplace works so well to get things done, would it work at home with kids?”
So we sat down at the kitchen table on a Sunday morning and I expressed my concerns concerning the evening routine the to the kids. Takes to long, chasing around, discussions. To our surprise the kids agreed with us and felt the same! They also didn’t enjoy it that much and really didn’t enjoy it when we got angry at them. So thats where I explained the scrum board to them.
“ Together, we’ll make cards of the things you need to do before you go to sleep. Each time you finish a task on your card, you move that card to ‘Done!’. That’s the place where all the cards are that you’ve finished. Doing so you can easily see what you have already done and what you can do next. We will help you and keep track of the time.”
They liked that idea! Together with the kids we wrote down all the tasks that need to be done before turning in. The kids gave their own input with lots of enthusiasm. Undress, Shower, Get dressed, Drink, Brush, Pee, Read and of course Sleep. For every task I created a card with a little drawing on it and in the end everyone had a deck of cards. We then stuck the cards on the beds of the kids, ready for the new evening routine.
The 1st evening (Sprint 1)
The results of the 1st evening where very good. The kids got 1 hour to do all cards. Sterre, the eldest of 7, really weighs her decision of what needs to be done first. Jesse the boy of 5, reasoned with himself that if he wanted a bedtime story he needed to take a quick shower, without any hassle. Fenne, the youngest of 3, was just thrilled to be allowed to stick things on her door. Even my wife — as product owner — was excited.
Each Sprint comes with a retro. That’s when you look back at the activities and talk about what went well and what you need to keep doing, what went wrong and what you should stop doing and what you haven’t done and want to start with. So the next morning we shortly talked about how we thought it went.
“Fun!” according to the kids. “Quick and calm” according to the product owner. “I’ve won!” according to Jesse. There was also more feedback: We need more cards for Learning Words for example, Math and Play. Because there also needs to be something fun to do. The eldest even suggested that we create a scrum board for the morning routine. We’ve added the extra cards including a Wash hair card. The product owner, my wife can decide if this card needs to be in the To Do column of that evening.
The evenings that followed also worked fantastic! The kids saw it as a challenge and thought it was a lot of fun. We kept adjusting each evening and talking about it every morning. The Sleep card for example always stayed in the To Do column, this was demotivating so we removed that one. We took the Read card of the board and only add it if there’s still time for it. So if you’ve done everything within the given time, you get the Read card. We went from an hour to 50 minutes, to 40 minutes and are now done in 30 minutes! The kids do most cards themselves (and so the evening routine) but of course when needed 1 of us can help.
Because it worked so well we also created better, nicer boards. We moved the cards from the beds to a poster on the door with 2 columns To Do and Done. Of course we let the kids make the boards themselves. We’ve also created the morning routine boards and we saw the same improvements. Less chasing, less repeating and way less hassle.
So “If scrum with adults at the workplace works so well to get things done, would it work at home with kids?”. Yes, it does! We’ve learned that things can easily get done much faster, without chasing the kids, without discussion and with a lot less stress and doing it together.
But we’ve learned a lot more the last 6 months:
- We’ve learned that we become closer as a family if we include our children in the things we want to accomplish and that they’ll give you valuable input if you regularly talk to them on an equal level.
- We’ve learned that Sterre, the 7 year old can make good weighed choices, that she knows when to speed up and when she can kick back to relax.
- We’ve learned that Jesse, the 5 year old sees it as a competition and that he often wins.
- We’ve learned that Fenne, the 3 year old now easily understands what needs to be done because the tasks on hand are visualised.
- We’ve learned that it increases solidarity. The kids are motivated and help each other to get the cards to Done.
- We’ve learned that it’s extremely comparable with the workplace: The retro and the possibility to add your own tasks. Making it easy and normal to give your input is half the battle and makes sure everybody gets heard and conversations can take place on an equal level. The kids take ownership and aren’t just doing what is told.
- We’ve learned that even at home there can only be 1 productowner that can dictate the desirable outcome and there can only be 1 scrum master that pushes the team. As scrum master you are part of the team, you’re not the client telling the team what to do. You help.
- We’ve learned that the system is easy to expand and adjust. The eldest needs to learn her words and has an extra card. Feeding the fish is a rotating card and the 10 minute iPad card that can be earned are very effective.
- And after being grabbed, torn off and stuck again we now know for sure: Post-its really are the one and only sticky notes.
I’ve written this article in Dutch after I gave a presentation at a TEDx event at The ANWB about Scrum @ Home. Because of the tremendous feedback I received on both the presentation and the article I decided to also publish it in English. Hope you enjoyed it and if you decide to give it a try @ your home please leave a comment with your experiences. Good luck and enjoy!
Update 5 January: The Dutch media picked up this article and on January the 5th I was invited to explain Scrum @ Home on Dutch National Radio. Listen to the radio fragment (Dutch, Mov. 6,5MB). The Dutch news corporation RTL Nieuws also wrote an article about it on their website (Dutch).