It Isn’t Agile; It Is Life!

June 26, 2014 Terry Densmore

One of the things I like to start with when introducing agile development is the quick application of agile development to life. I ask the question: “Did you plan today six months ago? Did you plan getting out of bed, then taking a shower, then brushing your teeth and then making your lunch, etc.? No, well that’s interesting because I didn’t either.”

However, my mind being an agile machine already figured out my morning in the order that is natural for me. You complete your morning in an order that is natural to you. That’s what the team is trying to do in an agile development environment – add value in an order that makes sense to the user.

My next question, “In life, did you have goals?” Sure you did. You wanted that degree, you wanted a fiancee, a family. Just like Epics are large features or initiatives for products, your life has some large features and initiatives, also!

Now my expansion on that approach…  Bruce Feiler (@BruceFeiler) helped me take that to the next level with his Ted Talk titled “Agile Programming for Your Family.”  I was currently blending a new family: myself with two children and my fiancee with two children (Ages 4, 7, 9, 12).  I decided to put this “stuff” I preach to the test.

I went to the local office supply store and for about $50 I was able to produce four boards for the kids’ rooms.  Keep in mind, I have zero craft skill.  For my four-year-old I used a picture-based board which she could understand, and more elaborate solutions for the older children.  Two examples are below:

Ireland's Board

Austin's Board

With this layout, it is so easy even a four-year-old can do it! If my youngest needs to make her bed, I move the magnet to the frowny-faced girl.  When she is done, she puts the magnet under her picture and if either of us approves, we will move it to our picture. If we do not approve, we explain why and move the magnet back to the frowny-faced girl. Now if I walk into a bedroom and their bed is not made, or their floor is dirty, I simply move the magnet to Not Done.  After a short time I get, “Can you come check my board?” from one of the children.

While we do not do daily standups, we have weekly retrospectives where we all sit on the floor and talk about the week.  What went bad, went well, and what could we improve on?  This is also a great time to congratulate someone or provide a family announcement since we have the children half-time.  The children also get a chance to have a voice and we have a positive environment for change.  The adoption of this approach has made a huge impact on our family.  The older children self-organize (a.k.a., tell on each other) if one of them is slacking; the younger children actually encourage each other and often help each other complete their tasks.  We were finally asked about allowance…

While we don’t like that word – and also like to instill life lessons – we did implement a flat salary that has additional commission benefits. If the children keep their boards up all week without too much parental encouragement, then they receive their salary.  If they go above and beyond the board, they receive a commission.  For example, maybe my nine-year-old vacuums the upstairs without this being a task.  He just realizes it needs to be done and does it.  We make a mental note of that.  Now this is where it gets interesting. During the retrospective we hand out the cash, in all Ones, of course.  We pass it out around the circle. If someone didn’t go above and beyond, they get to hold that extra money as they pass it around the circle until it gets to the rightful owner.  Are we driving behavior? You bet we are!  Positive behavior that if you want something in life, go get it!

While the salary and commission do not have that much to do with agile development, the approach provides us with a mechanism for other teachings which we would like our children to pick up.  So I have Bruce to thank for the success we have had. If you haven’t had a chance to see his talk, I have provided a link below.  I truly believe that agile development is a successful philosophy which any company or family can adopt and be successful!

Agile programming for your family – Bruce Feiler


About the Author

Terry Densmore

Terry Densmore is a Product Manager at CollabNet VersionOne. Previously, Terry spent three years as an agile consultant on the Services team. He has introduced agile to multiple disciplines including software, mechanical, and electrical engineering teams. Terry also helped conquer the myth that agile cannot be as successful with distributed teams.

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