Podcast: Implementing Scrum for Kids – Productivity Tuesday with Stacey Ackerman

Implementing Scrum for Kids — Productivity Tuesday with Stacey Ackerman

Click here to listen to the podcast: http://hellotechpros.com/stacey-ackerman-productivity/

Stacey Ackerman recently implemented a scrum process in her household and her kids have bought in and help clean the house with minimal supervision.

Stacey Ackerman is the Scrum Mom, an agile coach, writer, speaker, entrepreneur, wife and mom of three humans and four cats. She does it all by using Scrum as her personal and professional framework. She believes there is a better way to work (and parent) and discusses both on her site at scrummom.com.

Key Takeaways

  • The values of Scrum is more important than the implementation.
  • In a retrospective, ask everyone about their cabbages and roses. That is, the things they didn’t like and the things they did like about their day.
  • Provide incentives that the team can buy into.
  • Write down jobs that need to get done and allow the team (or kids) to pick from them.
  • Allow the team to trade tasks so they don’t get bored and feel pigeon-holed.
  • 30-minute time-boxing daily gets a group making daily progress at the same time.
  • Visual people want to see a board and lists.
  • Stacey’s process for implementing scrum at home:
    • 1. Put on a timer for 30 minutes every day.
    • 2. Sprint planning – 10 minuntes, postit notes & markers.
      • Have the kids talk about all the things we need to get done.
      • Let them write it, empowerment
    • 3. Each child has a swim-lane on the on whiteboard.
    • 4. Assign point values.
    • 5. Hold a retrospective.
      • What did you think of this? What worked, what didn’t work?

Resources Mentioned


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Our First Family Sprint

Our first family sprint went better than expected, especially for my difficult tween, Evan. We may not have found the perfect way to do our housework, but it was new and different and exciting.

“Our first family sprint went better than expected, especially for my difficult tween, Evan. We may not have found the perfect way to do our housework, but it was new and different and exciting.”

-The Scrum Mom

On day one, Evan was cruising through his tasks. He came downstairs on his own, looked at the sprint board, and found the jobs that were one-time tasks. He decided he wanted to get those over with early, so he would only have to focus on the tasks that are needed daily.

As I came downstairs early in the morning and saw him unloading the dishwasher without my asking, I nearly fainted!

evan dished

“Evan, you’re doing your jobs!” I exclaimed. “Why?” He replied, “I like knowing what I need to do without you having to nag me.”

That makes sense, I thought. Just like the developers I worked with when I was a project manager asking them every few hours, “What are you working on? When will you be done?” No one likes a nag.

As a tween exerting his independence, being able to choose what he worked on and when he worked on it without his mother bugging him was a huge win!

Of course like every team, there is that team member who resists change. In our family’s case, that was my nine-year-old, Eithan. He was pretty grumpy about the whole thing, and didn’t seem as inspired as I was hoping he would be.

“Eithan, why don’t you like this new way we are working?” I asked. “Because I liked the old way,” he replied.

Hmm, a common problem in my agile coaching experience. Change is hard. Period. Not everyone is going to jump on board right away. My advice here – communicate the benefits and give it time.

“Eithan, I understand that change is difficult. How ever, with Scrum, you can pick emily sprint planningyour own jobs. And except for things like feeding the cats, you can do them whenever you want, however you want to,” I explained. “I like that,” he said.

My youngest team member, six-year-old Emily, fell somewhere in the middle. I didn’t see a 180 degree change, but she wasn’t resistant either. She really loved the board, and being able to see what she needed to do. She still needed a little prodding to get started, but she was a great sport!

Establishing Scrum at home, or at work, doesn’t happen in one sprint. It takes several iterations of refinement to see what works for your family or your team. However, even marginal improvements can be extremely rewarding.

Watch for my next blog to read about our first family retrospective!

Family Sprint Planning

sprint planning 2

We started our family’s journey into Scrum with the 30-minute time box, but we knew we needed to take it a step further. While the time box was a great start, the kids asked me the entire time what they needed to do. At almost 11, 9 and 6, I wanted them to be empowered to get things done without my help.

On a Sunday morning during breakfast, I grabbed some Post It notes, put them on the kitchen table and asked the kids, “What are the jobs we need to do every week to keep our house in order?”

“We started our family’s journey into Scrum with the 30-minute time box, but we knew we needed to take it a step further.”

-The Scrum Mom

They came up with really great tasks, such as “Clean the playroom closet”, “Sweep the pantry floor”, and “Water the plants”.

While I was fretting over not being able to find more than two colors of Post It notes, I excused myself from sprint planning for about 3 minutes. When I came back I was shocked to see that the kids had finished writing down all of their jobs and had self-organized themselves enough to distribute the tasks!

I was really surprised because I was sure they needed me to facilitate this activity, but they actually did much better when I left them to figure it out. Amazing how that works!

They had each chosen eight fairly large tasks, which is way more than I would have given them if I were to assign chores.

As the ScrumMomster, I had to coach them a bit on breaking down tasks into manageable chunks of work. For example, one task simply said, “Living room”. “What is it you want to do in the living room?” I asked. “We will pick up our toys in the living room,” said Eithan. “Great,” I said. “Why don’t we write that down on the Post It so you know what you need to do.”

Our entire sprint planning session only lasted 10 minutes, mostly because the kids were so eager to write out their tasks and distribute them, so there was very little resistance from them and they found it to be fun.

I was very tempted to write out the tasks myself because I knew it would be more legible, but having the kids write out the tasks themselves got them a lot more engaged in the effort.

After they determined their tasks and distributed the work, we went over to a white board that we have used for the kids in the past and turned it into a Kanban-style board. I had the kids’ school pictures already taped to the left of the board, so I decided to use those as their personal swim lanes.emily sprint planning

My six-year-old daughter wanted to more easily see her jobs apart from her brothers’ so she got out a notebook and wrote everything down on new Post It notes that she could keep for herself.

When we first put up the board, it was set up by day of the week, but we quickly learned that it was adding a level of complexity that was unnecessary, so we adapted and moved to a simple “To Do”, “In Progress” and “Done” system.

I offered an incentive: If everyone works together and meets the sprint goal of completing all of the tasks, we would go out for ice cream. Where we would go for ice cream led to fighting, so I said that if the reward was earned, I would choose the place and it will be a surprise.

Lessons Learned

As a ScrumMaster by profession, I wanted to kanban boardsee what lessons I could learn from my kids that I could use with my clients. Here are a few:

  • Sometimes walking away is the best way for the team to self-organize.
  • Even if something isn’t done how you would do it, it is better to let the team find their way than to do it for them (like letting them write out their own tasks).
  • Don’t be too stuck on the process. The process of moving the Post It notes around the board was messy – each kid had their own way they wanted it done. However, I realized that my interfering with this would crush their enthusiasm and defeat the purpose.

So, how did our first sprint go? I will be describing that in my next blog post, so please subscribe to hear our journey as it progresses!

The 30-minute cleaning timebox

cleaning 30 (3)In my family, and I’m sure yours too, there are always the dreaded household chores.And now that it’s May in Minnesota, and we have about two good months of weather, I don’t want to spend my weekends cleaning the house.

I figured there must be a more efficient way to get the work done, so I turned on my agile brain. After all, agile has really great ideas for simplifying work.

I decided to try the time boxing concept. This way the task doesn’t feel overwhelming. When I tell my children to clean their entire room on a Saturday, it usually doesn’t get done. And the reason for that – the job is overwhelming! It’s a huge freakin’ mess!

“When we think about short duration’s of time, we are naturally more productive. So I decided to give this a try at home. Just 30 minutes a day. Even if we don’t finish the job.”

When we think about short duration’s of time, we are naturally more productive. So I decided to give this a try at home. Just 30 minutes a day. Even if we don’t finish the job.

My daughter who is 6, is loving this idea. Mostly because she enjoys setting the timer and seeing how much time is left. If I forget about the 30 minutes of cleaning, she is the first to remind me.images

My 9 year-old son likes to get a head start, but I encourage him to wait for his brother and sister. I want this to be a team exercise. Everyone on the team works for 30 minutes. This way, we avoid the, “It’s not my mess!” phenomenon.

I can’t say this is the end all, be all solution. However, I have found that with all three kids working together for a short duration of time, but in a consistent manner, they get a lot more accomplished.

So, whether you are at home or at work, remember that people have short attention spans, and that regular, predictable patterns (like Scrum ceremonies) start to encourage repetitive behavior.

To the man in the corner office: Are you providing business value?


I was walking to my client’s office in downtown Minneapolis, when I spotted the man in the corner office. He looked smug in his three piece suit, staring down at us civilians on the street. The man in the corner office was literally on ‘top of the world’. Okay, maybe not the world, but the top of Minneapolis.

Then I started thinking about him and the image he represented. Was he really that successful? Was he any better than the 20-something in jeans working next to me at Starbucks? Probably not, at least Mark Zuckerberg wouldn’t think so.

When I graduated college I thought I would be an instant success. Then the company I worked for made me feel exactly the opposite. As the newbie, I was given a shorter lunch time, a further parking spot, the oldest, slowest computer, and the ultimate rite of passage—getting to wear a dirty, sweaty ice cream cone costume in front of my colleagues. They might as well have tattooed my head to read, ‘Lowest person on the totem pole’.

As society has evolved, so has the definition of success. No longer can people hide behind status symbols—they actually need to provide value to their clients or their competition will.

When I first learned about Scrum, I realized that it’s more than a methodology—it’s a philosophy for how our society is evolving the world of work. The value of transparency and delivery of quality, working products naturally rewards teamwork, not individuals who use power, longevity, physical presence or a** kissing tactics to get ahead.

Here are a few ways that Scrum is transforming the world of work (for the better):

1) Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer.
By focusing on customer satisfaction, we are able to remove obstacles (okay, people) that only care about self-promotion or stakeholder satisfaction. These selfish acts will soon be recognized if customer value cannot be met.

2) Build projects around motivated individuals.
The power has shifted to the individuals that make up the team, and management now takes on a nurturing and supporting role, not a command and control one. Leaders must empower their team, not themselves.

3) Face-to-Face Conversations
It’s time to break down the corner office walls and come out and talk to your team. Engage with them. Remove obstacles that stand in their way. Let them know you will do whatever it takes to deliver value to your customers. Hang up your designer suit, and hang with the gang. They deserve a leader, not a status symbol.


Understand Customers’ Problems First

Nerds1One of the teams I was brought in to “fix” was suffering from the terrible aftermath of delivering a new software version that completely missed the boat with its customers. It was a sinking shipwreck of customer complaints and requests to revert to the old version.

The company had sunk several million dollars into the latest and greatest version, only to be spending the next 18 months fixing issues and trying to understand where they went wrong. Sure, they had all of the tactical pieces of Agile software development in place, but they had missed the philosophical ones.

The first thing the Agile Manifesto states is, “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”

– See more at: https://www.scrumalliance.org/community/articles/2015/june/understand-customers%E2%80%99-problems-first#sthash.GpXmFxHx.dpuf


How Extreme Bureaucracy Shaped My Belief in Scrum


“The real world was a a rude awakening and crushed my spirit immensely.”

Growing up as a Gen Xer, my first job out of college in the mid ’90s was the exact opposite of teamwork and collaboration. It was a company based on hierarchy, tradition, and never questioning anything. It was this tribulation that made me a passionate believer in Scrum.

When I graduated from college and landed my first “real job,” I expected to be empowered, to make a difference, and to contribute to the greater good of the company. The real world was a a rude awakening and crushed my spirit immensely.

– See more at: https://www.scrumalliance.org/community/articles/2016/april/how-extreme-bureaucracy-shaped-my-belief-in-scrum#sthash.P5AyAjy7.dpuf

Photo Credit: http://www.halloweencostumes.com

My family is a Scrum team and I didn’t even know it!


“My family has been a Scrum team since long before the word Scrum first entered my vocabulary.”

My family has been a Scrum team since long before the word Scrum first entered my vocabulary. No, we don’t play rugby or build websites. It’s how we work as a team that makes us a Scrum family.

Our roles are clearly defined: My husband is the product owner, I am the ScrumMaster, and our three kids make up the team. As product owner, my husband sets the vision for our family. He has always been a great visionary and long-range planner, and he keeps us in check when we veer off course from the desired end result, which, since the day we met, has been “to be independently wealthy so that we no longer are dependent on our day jobs.”

See more at: https://www.scrumalliance.org/community/articles/2015/november/my-family-is-a-scrum-team-and-i-didnt-even-know-it