How to Create Your Own Family Scrum (and Why You Need It)
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Jenn Labin.
My life is chaotic. I seem to recall a time when I could manage my professional life during business hours and my personal life was pretty much contained in the evening hours and weekends. I had free time. I didn’t go to bed bone-weary and praying for a dreamless sleep.
But then, I started a business and had two kids. Plus, I’m married with a big family and we own a house which has recently started falling apart around us. Pure chaos.
As things started getting busier and busier, my husband and I realized we were just trying to get through the days instead of really thriving. Our lives were running us, instead of the other way around.
At home, we got notices from our daughter’s preschool about overdue items. We were missing appointments. We were spending a lot of money eating out because we didn’t have a plan for dinner. There were days every week where we both showed up to pick up the kids because we didn’t communicate.
The impact on my business was worse. I was getting pulled in a lot of directions during the day and needed more time. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get time in the evenings or weekends, so the work just didn’t get done. I was also traveling a lot for work and these travel days would come up quickly without much planning. I just barely kept things on the rails. Thank goodness for my team or those crazy days would have been our last days as a business! I know from my colleagues that we all struggle with the myth of work-life balance as entrepreneurs.
At the very edge of bearable, we needed a new approach. A few years ago we took a play from both of our work lives. I’ve been in leadership development and mentoring for almost two decades. As a part of that work, I teach flexible processes for imposing order upon chaos. (Ironic, I know.) As a software engineer, my husband has worked with the AGILE methodology for years. Within AGILE, project teams meet regularly in a meeting called a “Scrum” to prioritize work and schedules. And so, our weekly family scrum was born.
Here’s a look at how we created our scrum process and how to create your own:
1. Choose Your Tool
First, you need to determine what you will use to track your conversations. There are lots of great options out there. My team at work uses Asana and Productive Flourishing’s Planners. There are also applications like Wunderlist that work great. My husband and I use Todoist as our app of choice because it was available cross-platform (we’re a multi-os household) and it had all the features we needed. Whatever works for you.
In addition to the Todoist app on our phones, we also sit down with our laptops open to work calendars and a certain menu planner that I can’t live without.
Here’s a peek at our Todoist homepage:
2. Block Off Regular Time
We set aside every Sunday mid-morning to conduct our scrums. In our household, this timing means family breakfast is done and cleaned up and my younger daughter is zombified by PBS Kids long enough for us to have a good uninterrupted discussion.
We’ve just started having our older daughter be a part of the conversation. She’s seven, and we want her to see what it takes for this family to work and for mommy to run a successful business. We don’t want her to grow up resenting my business for “keeping mommy away,” but instead we try to find opportunities to share how my business helps nourish me and keeps me happy.
You’re probably thinking, “Seems easy.” Well, it’s not. In fact, we miss meetings every few weeks and think we can skate by, but every time we miss a meeting, or we’re “too busy” to meet, that week is a total disaster. So be consistent!
3. Create the Agenda
Next, decide what the different parts of the conversation need to be. Our agenda is really long, but it actually only takes about 30 minutes to go through since we’re in a great routine.
What worked well / what didn’t work well?
How should we improve the process?
Detailed look at coming week’s schedule
Working Late / Conflicts / Travel
Kid Drop Offs / Pick Ups / Activities
Social Events, Holidays
High-level review of following two weeks
Add new tasks from memory, paper lists, etc.
Add due dates, tags, and notes as needed
Prioritizations and Dates
Review tasks with due dates in coming week
If you are definitely going to do them, tag as “Short Term” (we use “Current Sprint”)
If it’s unlikely you will accomplish them, reschedule the due date
Review short-term tasks that don’t have due dates and, if needed, demote to medium-term
(We consider “short-term” tasks those things that have to be done in the next two weeks. For a while, it’s going to seem like everything should be labelled “short-term,” but really challenge yourself to be honest about what you are able to actually tackle.)
Review medium-term tasks that don’t have due dates and, if needed promote to short-term or demote to long-term
(For us, “medium-term” is about a three-month window. The majority of tasks fall into this bucket.)
Review long-term tasks that don’t have due dates and, if needed, promote to medium-term or demote to wishlist
(“Long-term” tasks are those that are necessary, but can be tackled in a window greater than three months long. Be careful to avoid wishlist items here.)
Review wishlist tasks (things that may never actually happen like painting the inside of a closet) and, if needed, promote to another list
4. Iterate the System
No system is perfect right away, so be diligent about making changes so your system gets more efficient and more effective for you. Also, no system is perfect forever, so once you have a good thing going, you’re still going to need to change your system to keep up with changes in your life and business.
5. Stick with It
I’m not going to lie, the first few meetings were long and boring. We spent a lot of time going back and forth until we figured out the most efficient way to cover things. Sometimes I included too much detail about my work week and my husband didn’t care who I was talking to at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Sometimes he forgot to let me know that he signed us up for our daughter’s Halloween party. It’s a good thing my husband has more patience than me, because I would have quit right away — but now I can tell you this process has been totally transformational for us.
Our weeks are busier than ever, but most of the time we at least know what’s coming and who has to do what. We’re overall more proactive than we’ve ever been. Our kids are generally dressed appropriately, fed, and ready for their various school- and sports-related events. Our work lives are a bit more balanced, and we both have more insight into what’s happening at work for us so we can plan to adjust for stressful periods of time. It’s important to note that not everything is all unicorns and rainbows. We’re human and get out of routine.
However, now I’ve seen how powerful 30 minutes of alignment can be. This short meeting every week empowers me to be a better wife, mother, homeowner, and especially a better entrepreneur.
The secret ingredient isn’t our specific process or the tools we use to execute it. Our success with the family scrum is based on a joint commitment to increase transparency and communication — especially on those days when there are a million things we’d rather do.
I encourage you to start some sort of weekly family meeting or scrum. Choose a starting point, a tool, and a time during each week you can commit to the process. Start with a conversation about what isn’t working now about your process (or lack of one) and discuss how you would like things to be better. Finally, commit to not only a consistent weekly meeting, but an ongoing conversation to constantly evolve towards a process that improves communication and effectiveness for your family.
After starting a weekly scrum, most of our chaos calmed down quickly. It’s not perfect, and plenty of things get dropped, but we are doing worlds better and overall, life is much smoother!