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Personal scrum: Using agile techniques to manage your life

Yvette Francino Agile Consultant
Agile techniques originated as a way to better manage software development. Now people are using those same concepts to help bring order, lower stress, and get things done in their personal lives. Here are three real-life examples.

Scrum, a popular agile methodology originally used for software development, is now being successfully implemented in other business domains. In a unique twist, agile is now being applied to personal project management. Though some agile techniques may not apply, the concepts of iterative processes, continuous improvement, empowerment, and collaboration can be applied to many areas of personal life. These are just a few of the creative ways people are using agile techniques to manage daily life.

Agile for a happier family life

In his popular TED talk, Bruce Feiler describes today's families as "out of control" and relates how his family used agile project management to improve their lives. He opens his talk by sharing the results of a survey that revealed what kids really want for their parents: to be less tired and less stressed. Feiler then goes on to describe how using family standup meetings with morning checklists drastically reduced stress in his household.

"The week we introduced a morning checklist into our house, it cut parental screaming in half," he says.

By using retrospectives and empowering their children to provide input on rewards, consequences, and plans for the next "iteration," the Feiler family gained insights into their children's innermost thoughts and encouraged their children's independence.

"Three years later...we're still holding these meetings. My wife counts them among her most treasured moments as a mom," says Feiler.

He believes that families can find happiness by adapting an "agile family manifesto" with the following principles:

  • Adapt all the time: Experiment with new ideas, and be flexible and open-minded.
  • Empower your children: Let them plan their own goals, evaluate their own work, succeed on their own terms, and on occasion, fail and learn from those failures.
  • Tell your story: Define your mission and identify your core values as a family.

Agile as a personal productivity tool

Although many of the techniques and steps in agile methodologies center on collaboration, some of its concepts can be used even if you're a one-person team. Working from a prioritized product backlog, breaking work into iterations, limiting work in progress, and regular reflection are just some of the concepts borrowed from agile that people can use to better manage their personal lives.

Agile guru Mike Cohn says he uses scrum to stay productive, dividing his work into one-week sprints. Though he doesn't use velocity or burndown charts, he does have a weekly personal planning session during which he decides which tasks he wants to complete in the upcoming week. He then charts those tasks out using Things, an app by Cultured Code.

In the Lifehack article "Scrum for One," Dustin Wax describes how many of the elements of scrum can be adapted for individual productivity. Here are some of his examples:

  • Start before you have all the answers, and then be creative in finding solutions to obstacles you encounter.
  • Constantly self-reflect and adapt. Spend a few minutes each day planning, reflecting, and asking, "What's standing in my way?"
  • Work toward clearly defined short-term goals. Breaking big goals into short-term goals that are time-boxed will help create a sense of accomplishment and move you forward.
  • Sprint—stay focused on your goal. Block out times of the day when you can work free from distraction until you reach your goal.

Scrum-based event planning

Though agile techniques are being used in a variety of unique ways, one of the most creative I've seen is Scrum Your Wedding, a wedding planning business that educates customers on how to plan a wedding using scrum. The service includes a comprehensive guide and toolkit that outlines all the processes, rituals, and roles used in scrum, including product owners, scrum masters, sprint meetings, standups, backlogs, and retrospectives.

The scrum master owns the process and ensures that obstacles are removed, while the product owners maintain a prioritized list of tasks and decide how to spend time and money. The guide and toolkit include examples of how to choose roles; for example, the bride and groom could be the product owners and a wedding planner or friend could be the scrum master.

The guide goes on to step through the same processes that are unique to scrum, starting with creating a shared vision and moving on to developing a wedding backlog. Customers schedule sprint planning meetings and retrospectives to monitor progress and receive continuous feedback.

As with agile, the guide advises customers to begin the planning process by writing stories (wedding stories) that explain the outcome they hope to achieve but not the details of how to get there. Customers add tasks and acceptance criteria, such as budget constraints, during sprint planning meetings. During sprints, they perform tasks such as picking a caterer or other vendors. Finally, the guide explains the importance of using a daily standup to keep the project on track.

Agile for life

Though agile techniques may have originated as a way to better manage software development, some popular agile concepts are being used to help bring order, lower stress, and accomplish tasks in daily life. From planning a wedding to organizing your own personal backlog, it's time to move agile outside of the office. How can you apply agile to your personal life?

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