Sage Strategies Of Agile Families For Less-Stress Parenting

Agile Families and Agile Parenting Techniques

Agile is a popular work process championed by software developers and project managers around the world. At its core, the methodology values each team member's equal contribution to a project. Everyone is responsible for a portion of the work, but one member's work is not deemed more "essential" than another. Instead, the team manages itself with constant feedback and status updates to prevent a hierarchical system of receiving and completing tasks.

Thus, at the heart of agile management is the concept of “team,” and many professionals have adopted this workflow in their professional lives. But what about that other team you’re on? You know, the one you come home to every night? Your family is your number one team, and there’s a lot to get done in your personal life, too.

Best-selling author of The Secrets of Happy Families, Bruce Feiler, shares in his TED Talk how the techniques of agile software programming can be applied to families and parenting.

His family adopted this process to manage everything from household chores to homework and even punishments. He, his wife, and kids communicate regularly and set goals during their weekly family meetings. By allowing his children to participate in their own upbringing, Feiler notice that his family is happier and less stressed.

Feiler is not the only parent to introduce a scrum process in his family to help kids become independent and empowered and parents less stressed.

There is a growing movement of parents implementing agile strategies at home. From weekly standups to logistical coordination, there are lots of ways to adapt agile ideas into your home. Aside from the tangible solutions to scheduling, agile practices also help to instill a core set of values in children at surprisingly early ages. We asked a few agile families to share their experiences:

Working Together

How An Agile Family Works Together To Create Tasks And Goals

Like agile practices in the workplace, agile families participate in daily stand-ups and weekly meetings. A stand up meeting with kids generally consists of a morning routine in which they are referencing a board, whether it is digital or post-its on the wall, and they are checking off their tasks. This can include things like packing a lunch, making sure they have the proper equipment for practice later, or routine chores. This regular planning process is the cornerstone to parents and kids creating a successful system that is adaptable to their weekly goals and tasks.

For UK based web designer and blogger John Oxton-King, his agile household stresses teamwork. For example, some days the kids have a card in their “To Do” list titled “Laundry.” The kids know they are responsible for bringing their basket of dirty laundry down to the laundry room, and the parents have agreed to take it from there. When the clothes are washed, the children are responsible for bringing the clothes back up to their rooms and putting them away. This simple routine underscores the concepts of teamwork and delegation, which are general life skills that can be applied to the world at large.

“Our pitch to our children is: You are responsible for your own destiny. Our role is to support you,” John explains.

A Valued Member Of The Team

How Weekly Family Meetings Create An Agile Family

A core tenet of this philosophy is that the process is most effective when all participants are heard equally. Agile is the antithesis of Waterfall management, a different project management strategy that is directed by one leader issuing top down requests (and, sometimes, what feel like demands). This is also a common form of parenting in which the parents call all of the shots and don’t involve their children to help make decisions that affect family life.

For Cat Moon, legal and educational consultant from Tennessee, she co-opts Sunday dinner into a weekly meeting of the family. It is there that they work together to figure out what’s coming up and who’s doing what in the week ahead. And she makes sure everyone’s voice is heard.

“If we’re trying to figure out where we want to go for a 4 day weekend, I’ll let my 14 year old run with it and Google her heart out and figure out a place we’ll want to stay,” she explains.

When agile concepts are adapted for a family setting, one of the results is instilling in kids the idea that everyone in the family’s input is valid and considered equally. If kids pick their tasks and goals for the week, they are empowered to make decisions and  have ownership to ensure they are completed.

Parents are not issuing orders and expecting them to blindly be obeyed: children of agile families know that weekly meetings are a safe space where they can make suggestions as well as air grievances. Just during a work team's agile retrospective, kids should understand that this feedback will be considered thoughtfully.

Instilling Autonomy

Happy Families Give Children Autonomy Through Agile Parenting

By making it clear to kids that they are active participants in their agile family, they learn the importance of personal responsibility. Being proactive and accountable are important ways that children learn to manage their own lives as they grow up. Your child may even become a top project management expert or scrum master when he or she is an adult.  

“The greater goal as parents is that we want them to detach at some point and go out and find the world, feel empowered and independent, and feel like there are ways of organizing and controlling your life, without having a rigid structure,” John asserts.

This also means kids are not expectant upon their parents to take care of everything for them, especially in the long term. “There are a lot of parents who, for all the right reasons, want to do everything they can for their kids. In the midst of that, there is the risk of kids developing a sense of entitlement. It’s not intentional, but it happens,” Cat says. “And I’m very mindful of that with my kids. I want them to understand that everything that happens to them stems from their personal responsibility.”

“The greater goal as parents is that we want them to detach at some point and go out and find the world, feel empowered and independent, and feel like there are ways of organizing and controlling your life, without having a rigid structure.”

- John Oxton-King

Hint: Agile Parenting Can Be Fun Too

Finding Balance Between Chores And Hobbies In An Agile Family

For the Oxton-King family, one of the interesting ironies of maintaining these routines is that it actually creates more time for their children to enjoy life. “Our saying is rhythm, not routine,” explains Rachel Oxton-King, “We don’t want every day to be a drudge of having to do this, then this, then this. It’s more like finding a nice way to maneuver.”

By managing homework tasks with a Trello board, John and Rachel’s children are able to anticipate what tasks need to get done, schedule properly, and then have more time for other aspects of life.

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Trello board for homework management (click to enlarge). Image credit: Mr and Mrs OK blog

For their son Josh, an avid BMX rider, adding a card at the bottom of his “To-Do” list that is titled “Go out BMXing,” motivates him to get started on his homework tasks so that they can be moved to “Done,” and he can get going on his hobbies.

Overall, it’s a process. Like all agile development, it takes time to figure out how these processes will work in each family. That’s why staying adaptable and keeping the lines of communication open among family members is crucial to the success of agile parenting.

Cat suggests deciding ahead of time what you wish to accomplish: “My primary goal was to empower my kids to figure out how to manage things on their own. Secondly, I wanted them to figure out prioritization. I wish I had figured that out sooner in my own life and education.” 

Special thank you to Cat Moon and Mr. and Mrs. OK for sharing their stories. Editor’s note: Cat Moon is not related to the author (that we know of). This post has been updated, and was originally published September, 2015. 

Are you an agile family? Tell us how this process works in your home on TwitterFacebook, or in the comments below.

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