Using Agile At Home: A Happier Family Hack
Want to see how using a workplace solution can improve your parenting game? In this post we share how we’ve applied a key component of Agile to our young family, with great results.
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What do software developers in Silicon Valley and Japanese car manufacturers have in common with you and me, regular parents just trying to raise good kids? They manage big, complicated, far-reaching projects — and exactly how they manage them enormously impacts the long-term outcomes they get. That’s pretty much the same for us.
If parenting were straightforward, we’d all have a simple laid out plan and just do the steps. But straightforward, it ain’t! Kids are constantly throwing us curve balls, and we’re pretty much all just winging this whole parenting thing.
What is Agile and why would we be using it at home?
Agile began as a software development method several years ago when developers realized that the traditional “top-down” or “waterfall” method was failing them. (If you’ve ever had a boss tell you what to do then you’re familiar with the waterfall method!)
The problem in software development — in parenting too — is that the variables don’t always work out the way we hope they will.
Generally speaking, the top-down / waterfall method of development was an elaborate long-term plan to be carried out in multiple phases. It couldn’t be changed without adding huge costs and/or huge delays. They couldn’t go back and fix errors from a previous phase. They tended to discover problems after it was too late. By its very nature, it wasn’t made for reevaluation and course-correcting along the way.
Are you seeing the same parallel I’m seeing?
Those developers needed a method that allowed them to fix minor problems before they became major problems… and so do we as parents.
Agile is all about small goals, incremental improvements and regularly re-grouping and re-evaluating to ensure things are developing as they should. It’s an approach that’s built from the bottom up, more collaborative in nature, and needs direct input from the people on the ground to inform better, faster and smarter decisions.
Progress, not perfection
New York Times bestselling author Bruce Feiler thought the idea of applying Agile in families was really interesting, and decided to give it a try at home. In Secrets of Happy Families, Feiler researches and field tests a number of out-of-the-box approaches to common family challenges — a good bunch of them from the business world — to pretty impressive results. The topics range from family dinners to team sports, from grandparents to difficult conversations, from family branding to allowance, and more.
A great read!
Since reading Feiler’s book, we’ve adopted the Weekly Family Meetings idea and regularly carve out time for them on Sunday nights.
So far, this move has made a tremendous difference in how we parent. We find that as our kids age, our jobs as parents are becoming more complex. We like doing the Family Meetings because it gives us an opportunity to discuss past challenges in more detail. Sort of a postmortem — after the heat of the moment — when our tempers have all cooled down and we have a bit of distance / hindsight. And it helps us be proactive about the future too.
Here’s what our meetings look like:
- Our meetings last no more than 20 to 30 minutes, with a clear start and end. (We do a deafeningly loud drum roll on the table to announce the start.)
- We keep things moving quickly and follow the same agenda each time.
- The ground rules are that
- a) we stay seated
- b) listen without interruption when someone else is speaking, and
- c) everyone is expected to pitch in
- Given their ages these ground rules are already challenge – but so worth it! We also tend to restate them at the top of each meeting.
- Our kids were 5 and 3 when we started and we’ve kept at it for nearly 2 years — so yes, it works with young kids too!
During weekly family meetings we discuss:
- Our family’s successes of the past week
- Our family’s challenges from the past week
- We make a plan of action by agreeing on three things to work on in the coming week
- Future fun
It gives us a platform to talk about parenting red zones — running the gamut from how to deal with strangers, how to behave correctly in restaurants, chores and allowances, bedtime snafus, morning routines, homework, house rules and consequences, and on it goes. Again our kids are young, so the topics need to fit your family.
One quick example might be, “let’s talk about what upset you so much at the end of that birthday party yesterday,” (when I carried you out like a wailing sack of potatoes over my shoulder). We go over what actually happened, name what those emotions are called, and plan a better course of action for next time.
Somehow this all magically works. The kids respond with surprising insight, seem somewhat relieved after we’ve smoothed things over, and feel more confident about facing hard things the next time. (We couldn’t get anywhere during the sack-of-potatoes episode, so now’s the time.)
Enjoying time to talk without 1,000 distractions
The kids share their thoughts and ask questions about things past and future. We offer some transparency on what our goals are when we say X or do Y (which again we usually can’t explain to their satisfaction in the heat of the moment) so now it makes more sense to the kids.
NOTE: We don’t have teenagers yet — and appreciate that raising teens can be quite challenging — but I’m hoping that creating this safe environment where we work sh*t out regularly will have a positive effect in the long run.
Do some family meetings end up a complete circus with distracted kids climbing the walls and Mom near tears? Sure! But it’s the consistent effort that will win out. S’what we keep telling ourselves.
The Fun Stuff
We wrap it up by talking about fun — outings, birthdays, etc — and make a point of talking about next weekend. I started noticing that doing this keeps the kids more motivated during the week, and was happily surprised to discover why that is!
This is so interesting: Productivity Consultant Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management From the Inside Out, says we need to make Sundays our Future Fun Day. Because “the anticipation powers you through the workweek,” she says.
Fun Fact! Want to get more out of your weekends?
Morgenstern offers a surefire formula for a more blissful weekend:
Physical + Escape + People (PEP)
In other words, a mix of physical activities that energize you, escapist activities that relax you, and time spent with people who inspire you. “It’s a good framework for putting together weekends that leave you happy,” she says. Not to mention entire happier weeks leading up to them.
We’ve made some surprising discoveries during our Weekly Family Meetings, simply by taking a minute to ask these basic questions. After taking a break from our one-on-one parent-kid date nights, our daughter said she really missed them and wished we could reinstate them (I had no idea she felt this way). Our son said he didn’t enjoy being tickled so much (we didn’t know this). Our daughter said she wanted her Daddy to teach her how to do woodworking (this was a surprise).
I take notes each week (mainly ‘cause I’m a nerdy note-taker) but also because I like to go back: what we said we’d work on, how things are advancing, etc.
Sometimes I read through them and discover things we said we’d do and then perhaps got a little sidetracked. We always have another chance get back on track… as long as we can actually remember what we set out to do!
Here is a very simple printable template we use that we created after being inspired by Bruce Feiler’s chapter on The Agile Family Manifesto. I hope it can be useful for you.
Cheers to more weekends with PEP 😉
Now over to you
Does your family do Family Meetings? What do they look like?
What can you share here about what has worked and what has not worked for your family meetings?
Does the idea of Agile inspire you to start your own version of Weekly Family Meetings?
Click to view this book on Amazon!