Scrumming our cross-country move

Scrum isn’t anything new to my family of five. We have been using Scrum to manage our household for a few years now. It’s worked well for the day-to-day kind of stuff—washing dishes, taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn.

But then everything changed…

It was January in Minnesota. We had just faced the seventh consecutive day of sub-zero temperatures. I made the mistake of putting Antarctica and the North Pole on my weather app and Minnesota temps remained consistently colder than the supposedly coldest places on Earth!

Every winter I get in the “Why the hell do I live here?” mode. But this time it was different.

I had recently lost my father at a relatively young age and it made me realize that life is short. I can be the kind of person that complains, or I can do something about the situation.

Fast forward to March and we were on a mission to find a new home in Raleigh, North Carolina, a city that neither of us had ever been to before. We took three days to house hunt and ended up signing on the dotted line. It was by far the most spontaneous thing I have ever done in my adult life!

When we returned home it hit us that this was a really big project with a very tight timeline! In the coming weeks we felt overwhelmed with the insurmountable amount of work ahead!

It was Saturday morning and I was frantically sweeping the floor. My husband said, “I need you to stop what you’re doing. We’re starting one-week sprints and we need to do our first sprint planning.

“I can’t stop working now, I’m right in the middle of something,” I snapped back.

“Isn’t that what the developers on your teams tell you?” he replied. “And isn’t it your job to coach them to have an efficient process?”

Oh crap, I thought. I have no rebuttal for this one. He got me.

I reluctantly stopped what I was doing to look at the backlog my husband had put together on Trello. I paused for a moment and realized that it made a lot of sense. We were constantly fighting about the scarcity of time and felt like we had an insurmountable task ahead of us. Seeing it all in a backlog made the work feel manageable, even attainable.

We worked together to prioritize the backlog. Certain items had to come first. We had to get the house painted before we could list it. We had a target date of May 1 to list the house–our first major milestone in this project.

Some of the backlog items the kids could help with, so we tried to identify those to lighten our load. Other things, such as selling items we didn’t want to move could wait—they weren’t a showstopper for getting the house listed.

We organized our project using one-week sprints. We really used more of a Scrum-ban approach though, focusing on our work in progress (WIP) limits. When I saw that my husband had a lot of tasks, I would see which ones I could help with. Work that we knew wasn’t deadline imperative would go in the backlog.

Suddenly, every sprint we were completing a ton of tasks! This transparency into the work helped us manage the stress better as a couple by realizing we were both working hard and contributing.

The Trello board also gave us a sense of accomplishment. Even though the backlog would continue to grow, we realized how much work we were really getting done. And the best part—we were working on the most important items first. Some of the items we thought were important didn’t have a lot of urgency, so we deleted them.

“Even though the backlog would continue to grow, we realized how much work we were really getting done. And the best part—we were working on the most important items first.”

I can’t say that Scrumming our move made it any less work or any less stressful. What I can say, though is it helped build team work with the family, it gave us a sense of accomplishment and we knew we were always working on the most important things first.

It’s been almost a month since we moved, and we continue to manage our lives this way! We discovered that even though the big “project” was over, life still continued with too many tasks and not enough time. By managing our home life with an agile mindset and some tools from Scrum (and Kanban) we feel a little less frazzled.


Preparing Kids for Real Life with Agile

As a mom and an agile practitioner, I am very passionate about Scrum in education. I strongly feel that our education system is dated and doesn’t train kids how to be the knowledge workers they need to be in today’s society and in the future. We are still using command and control teaching methods. Our focus is too much on testing and not enough on innovating.

I recently had an amazing opportunity to give back to high school students from Blueprint Education. These teens are considered ‘at risk’ and the school has found that using agile and Scrum-based learning is just what these kids need to succeed.

Through Blueprint Education’s Learning to Be Agile initiative, I put my “Scrum team” to work. The video below was shown to these high school students as a way to provide them some practical application of agile in their lives.

I hope you can join me in helping educate our communities about the benefits of Scrum in the classroom.

Enjoy the video, which was produced and edited by my three kids, ages 12, 10 and 8.

scrum video

My family Scrum team really is self-organizing!

My family has been using Scrum to manage housework for about a year and a half now. There are days that if child protection came to visit, they would have us arrested for having the messiest house in suburbia and I want to declare #Scrumfail. Blame the process, not the team. Isn’t that what so many of us do in the real world? “Scrum doesn’t work,” we hear our organizations declare.

“Blame the process, not the team. Isn’t that what so many of us do in the real world?”

My house isn’t the cleanest one on the block. It never was and probably never will be, no matter what methods we try. Is that because Scrum let us down? Are we not diligent enough in our planning? Are our monthly sprints too long?

A few weeks ago I was feeling pretty defeated. We had been sprinting with the same jobs for a month and the ‘team’, a.k.a. my kids, had lost interest. They had no motivation. When I asked them their tasks, they couldn’t name them off. Just six months earlier I had presented at the Global Scrum Gathering on Scrum at home. Now I felt like a fraud. Our team had taken a step backwards.

I decided we would give sprint planning another try. We talked about what was working and what wasn’t working as a family. We agreed that everyone had too many tasks. It would be better to have only a few (we landed on three for kids, four for parents) and to do them well. All other ‘jobs’ would be done by the family as a whole.

We put all of our tasks into Trello, which the kids had asked for a few sprints ago. And then sprint planning was done – or so I thought.

What happened next was amazing! The kids went to the white board. They began visualizing their work. My 8 year-old daughter wrote sticky notes for her tasks and put them in sequence. My 12 year-old son illustrated his tasks on the white board. They had this renewed sense of purpose and were excited again about Scrum!

scrum jobs at home.jpeg

And then it occurred to me – I really do have a self-organizing team! If I can step away and they can continue to refine how they work without me telling them to, isn’t that what we are all trying to achieve? It’s not the process. It’s the results of the process and how it inspires people. Now, if only their bathroom would stay clean!

i love scrum



Are you agile enough to reinvent yourself?

The death of newspaper reporters (and other irrelevant careers)


I prided myself in high school for being one of the few teens who knew exactly what I wanted to do—be a newspaper reporter. I was very set on this direction and was positive this is what I would do until I retired.

I prepared myself by writing articles for my school newspaper, working as a copy editor on the school yearbook and even getting to be a guest writer in the Star Tribune newspaper. I was well on my way to success and nothing could stop me now!

After high school, I graduated from the University of Minnesota’s “J-School”, one of the most popular Journalism programs in the Midwest and the Alma Mater to many of the local celebrity TV anchors and newspaper reporters.

I believed that with “J-School” on my resume and passing typing class, I was set for life. After all, my parents always told me, “Get a college degree, get a good job and you will be set for life.”

I don’t think my parents were misguiding me in any way, it’s just that that advice was for their generation of Baby Boomers, not mine of Generation X.

What I didn’t know and the world didn’t know when I graduated high school in 1992 is that just a few short years away we would learn of this thing called the Internet. And this tiny little invention, or fad as some thought it was a the time, changed everything.

Fast forward 25 years and how many of you would advise your kid to go to school to be a newspaper reporter? Sh*t, that career is dead. 

After I graduated college, in 1996, I never really became a newspaper reporter (although I did briefly as a freelancer years later). Not because I didn’t want to, but because there was always another opportunity in front of me. Instead, I became many, many other things.

“Later in life as an agilist, I realized that being agile (not knowing agile processes) gave me the skills to reinvent myself, and how valuable these skills are to my career existence.”

Later in life as an agilist, I realized that being agile (not knowing agile processes) gave me the skills to reinvent myself, and how valuable these skills are to my career existence.

Here are a few ways that you too can use your agile mindset to reinvent yourself:

Plan to have many careers
Acknowledge and accept that it’s okay to have more than one career (or two or three or 20).

Keep learning
Thrive on trying and learning new things. When you stop learning, you stop living. Just because you’ve graduated college doesn’t mean your done learning – in fact, your journey is just beginning.

Take risks
Take opportunities just outside your comfort zone. Staying only with what you know is actually a bigger risk; being well-rounded in your skill set allows you to position yourself based on market demands.

Have T-shaped skills
We talk about having T-shaped skills to be on an agile team, meaning you have your core strength and two other skills you can contribute to the team. Why not use that mindset outside of the team? Think about your top three skills. Are they in demand? If not, which similar skills can you learn to stay relevant?

As the world changes, you must be agile and adapt. Inspect and adapt your world, yourself and everything around you. Only then will you survive in this crazy, unpredictable and fast-paced world.


Learn 4 easy ways to live your life with agility (and bounce back from life’s lemons)

lemon-eyes (1)This article is not about how to do agile – it’s about how to be agile. Not just how to be agile at work, but how to be agile in life.

While understanding the many methods and processes around agile is needed to work on an agile team, if you only understand this part of agility, you’re missing the big picture and you’re really doing your clients a disservice.

In other words, you can understand by the book how to hold a retrospective, but if you don’t actually do any inspecting and adapting in your own life, you’re not fully embracing the concept (or the benefit) around agile.

Agile by definition is about being flexible, being quick to adapt and responding to a changing world. The meaning often gets lost and we get too focused on story points, user stories, sprint planning and the other processes and tools that go with agile. While those are all very important, sometimes they take us away from the core of what agile is all about.

Living life with agility is about learning to thrive in an ever-changing world. Its about adapting quickly when you lose a job, a business deal, a friendship or a marriage. It’s knowing where you are going on your journey in life (like a road-map), but being able to react quickly when things change (and they always do).

My husband recently shared this quote that keeps sticking in my mind, “I have a five year plan that changes daily.” 

“I have a five year plan that changes daily.”

This really resonated with me. I am definitely a planner, but the more that I learned that life doesn’t go by a plan and that I need to have the necessary skills to change gears by whatever life throws at me the more agile I became. And the more agile I became, the quicker I have been able to get up when I get knocked down. And trust me, I have been knocked down a lot.

Here are 4 easy ways that you can incorporate agility into your life:

  1. Create a personal road-map
    Write down your goals in life (or for the next 6 months to five years). Put sticky notes up with some things you will do each month to reach your goals. Every day, re-assess your plan.
  2. Understand your core competencies
    Jobs come and go. Even careers come and go. I went to school to be a newspaper reporter. Who would have known in 1992 that the Internet would take over? What doesn’t usually change, however, is your core skill-set. Always understand what that is and look for future opportunities where your skills may be applicable.
  3. Study market trends
    While no one can predict the future, we can get a pretty good idea by following trends in business, the economy and in our own profession. Read articles and stay informed. Only when you know what may come, can you figure out which direction to go next. You are your own product, and you are the product owner of your brand. Only when you understand your marketplace, can you make informed decisions.
  4. Know where you are in your life and what you value
    In my 20s, I valued my creativity. I wanted to be in tune with my creative side through writing or marketing. I had a lot of energy to work hard, but thought I knew everything.

    In my 30s, I valued my time at home with my young children. Everything else was secondary. I made conscious decisions to put my career on the back burner in order to be home with my kids as much as possible.

    In my 40s, I value my time, but in a different way than when I was younger. I want to maximize my time doing things that help me grow as a person, can help lead others and get me closer to retirement. I value learning and realize learning is a lifelong process.Think about what stage you are in your life, and realize that it will change many, many times. Make sure you are thinking not only about your current stage, but your future life stages as well.

Now, you have some tools in your toolkit to bounce back with agility when life throws you lemons! And, you can relate better to your clients because not only are you showing them how to do agile, but how to be agile.

Agile kids manifesto and kidban boards

By guest blogger Paul Carter, “Agile Family Guy”


Bring your child to work day resulted in a lot of excitement and 20 more kids learning to using Agile at home for school and life balance. My daughters, Ashlyn Carter, 12, and Kelsi Carter, 8, shared the agile wisdom they learned with their peers.

“‘On your mark’, is of course, the backlog of all the stuff I want to do–prioritized,” says Ashlyn. “And ‘Get set’ is my weekly sprint plan. ‘Go!’ is how we limit work in progress and get more done. This is what I am doing today. Then, let’s reward our success and celebrate at the end of the week when we see how much we have pulled across the finish line!”

“Bring your child to work day resulted in a lot of excitement and 20 more kids learning to using Agile at home for school and life balance.”

– Paul Carter

“The daily stand up keeps you on track. It helps you stay committed and get stuff done,” says Kelsi. “I always like to add a ‘donuts with dad’ user story on my individual board. We also use a family board at home for chores, projects and family activities,” she adds.

My kids’ classmates worked together to create an ‘agile kids manifesto’ and made portable ‘kidban’ boards. The most rewarding part was hearing back from delighted parents two weeks later on how their children are embracing an agile framework and principles (Scrum/Kanban) for happy, balanced families.

Agile Kids Manifesto

We are uncovering better ways of doing work and having fun! By doing it and helping others do it, we have come to value:

  • You can do it, we will help

  • Talk it out
  • Work together to figure it out
  • It’s better together
  • Make people happy
  • Do it well
  • Do it fast
  • Get it done
  • Keep it simple
  • Change is good
  • Steady wins the race
  • Pause, assess & improve

Kid Manifesto authored by Whitney Vanderstel, influenced by the

Follow guest blogger Paul Carter on Twitter @AgileFamilyGuy or

Agile Kids Manifesto



Scrum Mom Meets Agile Family Guy & Agile Dad

agile moms and dads (2)

Last month I had the pleasure to speak on “5 easy ways to get started with Scrum at home” with my 11-year-son at the Global Scrum Gathering in San Diego.

During my session, I had the pleasure of meeting two new Scrum at home advocates – Agile Dad and Agile Family Guy.

It was exciting to learn that there are many families finding value in using Scrum outside of the workplace. While my approach tends to focus more around Scrum values and collaborative parenting, there are so many different ways to approach Scrum at home.

I heard stories about using online tools for the whole family to collaborate on tasks, as well as using Scrum for homeschooling a large family. It was invigorating to learn that agile parenting is not only being driven by moms, but dads too!

 “It was invigorating to learn that agile parenting is not only being driven by moms, but dads too!”

There are so many ways to take Scrum outside of the office. For me, it’s about living an agile lifestyle. It’s not about transitioning to agile. It’s not about a new process. It’s about a way of being that involves having a vision for what you want out of life, creating a road map to getting there, and inspecting and adapting your life during the journey.

For my family, we use Scrum at home to manage our household chores. But it’s not about the task board – that’s just a tool. It’s about shared family values, working together and letting the kids have a voice.

Please share in the comments section how you use Scrum at home!

Parenting with Agility

dsc_0046Parenting with agility does not mean a total democracy, but it is parenting without command and control methods that many of our parents and grandparents used.

Many studies confirm that authoritarian parenting, defined as ‘strict and stern’, may not be the best for our kids long-term.

According to, “Kids from authoritarian families may be relatively well-behaved. But they also tend to be less resourceful, have poorer social skills, and lower self-esteem.”

So what is parenting with agility? Simply put, it is using the values that we take to the office at home. In my family we use the Scrum values of courage, focus, commitment, respect and openness every day.

Here’s how we do it in my family:


We try and push the limits with our children beyond what is age appropriate or taught in schools because we know they are capable of so much more.

“We try and push the limits with our children beyond what is age appropriate or taught in schools because we know they are capable of so much more.”

My husband taught my kids calculus in first and third grade. It’s fun for them, like a game. Because of this, they have no fear of math.

In an authoritarian household, we still want our kids to be courageous, but our approach may be more like, “You will learn calculus.”

Forced courage is downright discouraging.


In the day and age of over-scheduling, we teach our kids to focus on what is most important to them at any given time.

My 9 year-old son loves guitar. Because he indicated that this is his #1 priority, we try to remove distractions so he has time to write songs and play guitar.

He wanted to audition for a musical, but daily rehearsals would leave him little time for guitar. We let him choose, but reminded him to stay focused on his favorite thing. He chose to keep his schedule open enough so that he could continue playing guitar.

In an authoritarian household you may hear, “You will practice guitar 30 minutes a day.” The problem with this approach is it doesn’t properly motivate kids (or anyone for that matter).

My son practices on his own because he has chosen playing guitar as his highest priority and he is self-motivated. Just like that rock star developer on your Scrum team.


As a family team, we make commitments to each other. We all collaborate and agree on what “Scrum jobs” we will do to keep up our household. Scrum jobs are our household chores, and we use sprint planning to self-organize and determine who will do what.

Because the kids are involved and are able to ‘choose’ their jobs, they are more committed to them. As a family, we know that all work for the ‘team’ must be done before we can watch TV or play a board game.

In a more authoritarian household, the parents assign chores. The problem here: the kids aren’t on board, they haven’t made a commitment, and therefore getting them to do these chores is an uphill battle.


We respect our kids’ ideas and consider them valuable contributors of ‘the team’. We expect the same respect in return.

We do a lot of ‘voting’ in our family – where to eat dinner, what movie we want to watch, where we might go on our next vacation. While as parents we have the ultimate veto power, we respect our kids’ ideas and want them to contribute – it makes them feel like respected members of the family.

An authoritarian parent would just say, “We are going to Applebee’s for dinner.”

I have been the authoritarian parent too. It’s much easier to just give command and control decisions than to have an elaborate discussion (or argument). The problem is the buy-in isn’t there and there are a lot of good ideas you haven’t bothered listening to.


Openness is all about trust. Our kids trust us because we don’t (usually) lie to them. We are very open and honest when they ask us questions.

“Is Santa Claus real?” my son asked me. “Nope,” I said bluntly. This did not gain me popularity points among my mom friends, but my kids know that I am being open with them.

Every night at dinner, our family says ‘cabbages and roses.’ This is what we liked or didn’t like about our day. It encourages everyone to open up with each other.

As I think about my more authoritarian grandparents, they were not very open. They held a certain guard up at all times. The problem here: the kids will go to their friends, not their parents for advice. And it’s not always the advice you’d want them to hear.


Scrum at Home: A Family Retrospective

After our family sprints, we hold a retrospective. This helps us reflect on the process and what is working and what isn’t. We have been running our household using Scrum for about six months now, and here are some things we have learned along the way:

sprint planning 2

Scrum is for Parents Too

We started Scrum as something just for the kids to do, but later learned that my husband and I could benefit from it to. We have been together for 16 years and we have always had an informal division of labor, but there was still the constant conversation about who was pulling more weight.

During our next sprint planning, we decided to give ourselves tasks and put them on the Scrum board. This has helped us tremendously in having clear roles and responsibilities and feeling like we are equal partners. We still help each other out with tasks because we are one family with shared goals.

You Don’t Have to Switch Task Owners

At first we were trying to do sprint planning every week. After a while, we all settled on jobs that we liked and the kids asked if they can just keep their same jobs for awhile. While at first I felt like we were giving up some elements of Scrum, it seemed to work. Everyone knows what their jobs are every day. I simply ask, “Have you done your Scrum jobs today?” Since the whole family chose the jobs that they wanted to do, the buy-in is there, which makes it work.

Share a Common Goal

We always try to work toward a shared goal and remove the phrase, “That’s not my job.” Even though we have a task owner, we have not met our goal until everyone in the family is done, which often leads to helping each other out.

Our goals are usually simple – “Let’s get our housework done so we can watch a family movie tonight,” or “Let’s get our jobs done on Friday so we can go to the apple orchard on Saturday.”

“Our goals are usually simple – Let’s get our housework done so we can watch a family movie tonight, or Let’s get our jobs done on Friday so we can go to the apple orchard on Saturday.”

A Little Each Day Goes a Long Way

We have built “Scrum jobs” into our daily routine, so now everyone does it without much argument or thought. The entire family knows that it is something we do each day and that it helps us stay organized. Sometimes we set a specific time to work on our Scrum jobs, other times it is just by a certain time of day, such as by 7 pm.

You Don’t Have to Do Textbook Scrum

While coaching clients, I try to do Scrum by the book. At home, we use the general philosophies of teamwork, shared goals, transparency, respect and focus to manage our home. Find what works for your family and stick to it.

Want to learn more? Hear The Scrum Mom and Evan (11) talk about,”5 Easy Ways to Get Started with Scrum at Home,” on October 13 at Scrum Day Minnesota: