The Agile Household: How Scrum Made Us a Better Family

I’m always fascinated by stories about Scrum (or any agile process) being used outside of software development. When Martin Lapointe told me how he and his family used Scrum -- and especially a task board -- to manage their recent relocation from Paris to Montreal, I immediately asked him to share that story. I’m sure you’ll find it as interesting, amusing, and informative as I did. - Mike Cohn

Ever since discovering the “Agile Manifesto,” I have been trying to integrate its core set of values into my day-to-day routines in hopes of improving processes outside of the office environment. With this in mind, my family and I embarked on an agile adventure that produced amazing results we never expected!

Since my childhood, I have longed to live and experience life in a different country. I have always been especially interested in exploring Europe in hopes of better understanding the many different cultures that make it such an amazing place. This dream had always been on the back burner, and then in 2011, with the help of my wife, Pascale, and my two girls, Elisabeth and Sarah (8 and 5 years old), we decided to make it a reality.

Carpe Diem (Seize the Day)!

With our family mantra in mind, we picked up, left Montreal and migrated to Paris, France.

As expected, when displacing a family of four from a three-story house to a small Parisian apartment, the move was exhausting and quite chaotic. Almost right off the plane, I started my new job as a ScrumMaster at a telecom company, and meanwhile, Pascale embarked on her new role as “Product Owner” of our household. Our two girls were rapidly immersed into the Parisian lifestyle and school system.

"With our family in mantra in mind, we picked up, left Montreal and migrated to Paris, France."

The next two years flew by at light speed! Before we knew it, it was time to start planning our return to Canada.

Looking back on our initial move to Paris, we wish we had better prepared ourselves and been more organized as a family while facing this major life change. In the face of another move, we began thinking of ways to approach yet another life changing experience.

Our hearts filled with emotions as we started compiling our to-do lists of Post-its that had to be completed before D-day. As the tasks piled up, we started to wonder how we could possibly get all of this done while trying to maintain a balance of work and living a happy life until the end of our European adventure.

What if Scrum Was the Answer to Our Challenge?

Then, one night, we said to ourselves let’s try something different. What if Scrum was the answer to our challenge? In the agile world, we try to leverage experience and failures to improve, so why not use the same approach to our big move?

Having some positive experiences experimenting with Scrum on a non-IT related team, I said to myself, why not take the same approach with my family? So, we gathered in our bedroom with our Post-its and sharpies in hand, and said, let’s create a backlog!

Elisabeth, being the curious one, immediately asked me, “Daddy, what’s a backlog?” I responded by explaining that a backlog is everything we need to do before leaving Paris. Elisabeth quickly asked, “Can I add the Eiffel tower carrousel to the backlog?” Of course, we said yes!

Mom then asked, “Can we also add taking out the trash?” I said yes, of course! Within seconds, everybody was writing valid stories down on Post-its. Sarah drew her story, because she hadn’t learned to write yet: a picture of her favourite Parisian sweets, Pierre Hermé macarons!

In one evening we compiled more than 50 family stories. These stories weren’t perfect by any means. There were no acceptance criteria, no estimations, but the girls were on board, and dare I say it, excited, and that was more than enough!

Next, we asked ourselves: what can we realistically accomplish in a week? Mom wanted to add the entire house cleaning tasks to the backlog. The girls wanted to add all of the fun stuff, and I wanted to add the must-see tourist attractions we hadn’t yet visited.

So we took a small board and made three columns: “To do,” “Ongoing” and “Done.” We negotiated ruthlessly, but ultimately Elisabeth and Sarah got the most stories in (don’t worry! The parents got their revenge in the following iterations ☺). The first iteration was about to begin.

"We had never seen this much work get done so fast, with so much happiness, ease, understanding and visibility!"

The Scrum momentum was on. We agreed upon one-week iterations (sprints) and then took time on the weekends to plan the next iteration. Each morning, we would have a quick gathering (daily stand-up) and the girls were very anxious to move the Post-its around the board. We had never seen so much work get done so fast, with so much happiness, ease, understanding and visibility!

With the Scrum approach, we were able to get the entire apartment-cleaning task list done, administrative tasks complete and some great museum visits in without any conflicts. Scrum was turning out to be a great tool for our family to use when trying to improve clarity and set priorities for big challenges!

We had the joy of experiencing our last days in Paris in a way that we will never forget.

Scrum Was Turning Out to be a Great Tool for Our Family

Back in Montreal, it seemed as though something was missing … It was Scrum! Realising this, we started a new backlog in the basement, and added a cork Scrum board in the kitchen. Our activities are now visible and updated each morning at the breakfast table.

If there’s one overlying factor that we’ve taken away from this experience it’s that we are so proud to be an agile family!


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Examples Written by Mike Cohn

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Martin Lapointe

About the Author

Martin Lapointe is an agile leader at Yellow Pages Group in Montreal, Canada. With certifications as a CSM, CSPO and PMP, Martin has a solid mastery of agile and Scrum project techniques.
In his role as an agile servant leader, Martin exercises his fervor for communication, making initiatives work, creating interactions, generating collaboration and organizing change positively.
Martin applies agile values to both his work environment, and personal and family life. You can connect with Martin on Twitter @mdelapointe.