I hate chaotic mornings. Some years I battled every morning to get my children to school before the school bell. Tears and recriminations made for a really stressful start to the day.

The breakthrough came at the end of a particularly difficult week. We sat down together and agreed that we weren’t happy and had to change our behaviour. Not just the children, but the parents too.

Through trial and error, we found a way of managing our family life that worked for us. We held family meetings to deal with issues such as daily activities (scheduling lifts; doing homework) and upcoming events (school sports; friends parties). We also tackled the bigger problems (getting ready on time in the morning; eating breakfast; household chores).

School Supplies 3

Now, many years later, I have worked with companies who have applied the Agile methodology of IT development not just to software development, but also as a management philosophy throughout their organisations. I recognise many of the key Agile methodology practices in what we did to reduce stress in our family.

Let me take you through what worked for us:

1. Agree on overall purpose (Agile: Strategic themes)

We talked about how we wanted to live together and expressed this in a series of statements, for example:
• To respect each other
• To give each other space
• To be kind to each other
• To have peace in the family

2. Set goals (Agile: Vision)

To live out these aspirations, we identified what we would do or see happening, for example:
• Mom wakes everyone up once on schooldays
• Everyone eats something for breakfast by 07h00 on schooldays
• Beds are made before breakfast on schooldays
• All our mornings are calm
• Homework is done before watching TV
• Dirty clothes are put into the laundry basket

3. Establish a visible tracking system (Agile: Scrum board and Task board)

Weekly activities, events and chores were written as a checklist and put on to the fridge door. Ticking off our activities was great fun. “If it’s not on the fridge, it won’t happen”, we often joked.

4. Short daily check-in (Agile: Sprint review meeting)

We tried to do this at supper every evening – mornings were clearly not possible for our family! We had a very brief check-in for each person of how things were going and was there anything that needed to be talked about? These conversations were the most difficult to have on a regular basis, as our schedules made it practically difficult, and also family members did not always feel in the mood.

5. Weekly review (Agile: Sprint retrospective meeting)

We were more successful in holding a regular weekly family review and update meeting, which lasted 20 to 30 minutes. Each person reflected on the past week, and answered three questions:
• What worked this past week, which I celebrate and will carry on doing?
• What didn’t work?
• What will I change this coming week?

Although the process as it unfolded wasn’t as logically step-by-step as I have outlined above, and we didn’t apply it all the time, our lives were substantially calmer when we did. An unexpected benefit was that I knew on an on-going basis what was happening in my family and if I was doing anything that irritated them. The overall outcome was that we were a less stressed, happier family. Particularly in the mornings.

The challenge I would like to hold out to you is to consider whether any of these ideas could also help your family.

Note: I am not the first in recognising the value and the application of Agile or Lean methodology to families, for example this TED Talk by Bruce Feiler.