The Agile Family

March 6, 2013

How do you think kids would respond to the following question? “If you were granted one wish about your parents, what would it be?” Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute asked this very question to 1,000 children, and the number one response was that kids wished that their parents would be less tired and less stressed.

Work/life balance can certainly be a challenge. So how can we reduce stress while doing a better job of drawing our family closer while preparing our children to enter the world? Author Bruce Feiler thinks he has the answer, and he found it when he encountered a family in Hidden Springs, Idaho.

David Starr – a software engineer – and his wife Eleanor have four children, ages 10 to 15. One tutors math on the far side of town, another plays lacrosse on the near side of town, one as Asperger syndrome and one has ADHD. Eleanor summed it up their lives as, “ in complete chaos.”

How did they deal with the chaos? David’s workplace had implemented agile development, so they brought this to the home. And when they did, they found that short, 20 minute family meetings increased communication, decreased stress and generally made everybody happier to be a part of the family team.

They’ve implemented other techniques, like making work visible. There is a morning checklist that each child is expected to complete. When Bruce Feiler visited the Starrs, he observed Eleanor enjoying a cup of coffee in a reclining chair and talking with her children as they checked this list, made themselves breakfast, checked the list again, put dishes in the dishwasher, re-checked the list again, generally doing whatever chores were expected and then making their way to the bus.

Bruce was astonished, and he didn’t believe that it would work in his house. But Bruce reports that the week that he and his wife introduced the morning checklist, parental screaming was cut in half. I’d take that any day! (My kids are older now, so I can’t experiment with this myself.)

Bruce says that the big ticket change came from what is essentially a family retrospective meeting that adapts the three questions from a Scrum standup:
  • What worked well in our family this week?
  • What didn’t work well?
  • What will we agree to work on in the week ahead?
Everyone throws out suggestions and the family picks two to focus on. Bruce says that the kids love the process, and they come up with all kinds of ideas. Three years into it and the Feiler’s are still holding these meetings. And Eleanor counts them as her most treasured moments as a mom.

Want to hear more on this from Bruce? Check out this Ted Talk: