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  • Christina Anderson

Reaping the Benefits of Agile Beyond the Workplace

Do not ever take your work home with you. That is what I had always been told, and for the most part, I think that is great advice, but all that changed for me fifteen years ago when a trainer from Mountain Goat Software came and introduced Scrum to the company I was working for. After getting through that bumpy and rough first six months, I started to see the simplistic beauty of the Agile process and I could not take it home with me fast enough. It seemed like everywhere I looked there were opportunities to bring what I had learned about planning, estimating and prioritizing from my work life into my own personal life. I started creating mini Scrum backlogs for almost everything in my life. Things like my monthly dinner menus, my children’s chore charts, and even getting my taxes ready all seemed like perfect, little Scrum projects. Afterall, the Agile methodology is just a framework that can be used to deliver projects and products in the most timely and efficient way possible. With that in mind, it just made sense to use that same framework I had been successfully using at work to benefit other aspects of my life.

Last year, after years of saving money, my husband and I were finally ready to start the seemingly daunting project of remodeling our home. When I suggested that we use Scrum to organize and prioritize the project, my husband was skeptical at first. To me, it just made sense that I use the same method that I had been successfully doing for years on my projects at work on my projects at home because all of the same principles and elements were there. We knew we had a finite amount of money to spend, so it was imperative that we stayed within our fixed budget. We also had a pre-defined time period because we were planning to move into my mother’s home during the remodel while she was traveling abroad, but she would be returning in six months so we knew that slipping on our time deadline was not an option. Because of my experience working on software projects that had a fixed budget and a fixed time period, I knew that meant that we were going to have to limit our “work-in-progress” items. Prioritizing our backlog of items that needed to get done for the remodel was imperative because I knew that there was a very real possibility that the lower priority tasks were not going to get done either because we were going to run out of money or time. We had to determine which tasks we could live without, but also fit in plenty of those “nice-to-have” items that is what made me so excited to start this remodel in the first place.

In addition to creating and prioritizing the tasks in our backlog that needed to get done, I knew I needed to know the capacity of my “team” in order for me to know how long this project was really going to take. My “team” consisted of my husband who was not working at the time and could put in 8 hours a day, my father-in-law who committed to helping us ten hours a week, myself who was still working fulltime but could work in the evenings and on weekends, and even though we were planning on doing the majority of the work ourselves, I knew we would eventually have to bring in some contractors to do some of the work – just like bringing in additional members to a Scrum team from an external component team. Because my husband had done construction in the past, and had most of the tools needed to complete the tasks in our backlog, he was able to provide me with a high-level “T-shirt size” estimate on what he felt the effort level would be to accomplish each task. As my husband started to see this seemingly daunting project be broken down into small, one-week time periods that contained just the right amount of tasks that our “team” could accomplish in that time frame, and that I was able to project and plan based on our estimates what we could accomplish and when, the skepticism he showed at first melted away and he ended up fully embracing the Agile process. By using Agile concepts, we were able to finish the remodel ahead of time and under budget. We were even able to add a hot tub in our backyard with the extra money in the budget that we had saved. Our kids were thinking that Agile was pretty awesome at that point too!

Another project I was able to successfully apply the Agile methodology to in my personal life was a task I was assigned by my church clergyman. I was tasked with planning a week-long camp for thirty-five girls, ages eleven to eighteen, and fifteen adult leaders. I was again faced with a fixed time-period and a very tight budget! Just planning the food and activities alone for such a large group seemed like a daunting task, but when I put on my Agile thinking cap, I was able to break it down into small, manageable pieces. Being able to apply Agile concepts to this project also saved me a lot of unnecessary stress and worry. Days before the camp started, my clergyman called me on the phone and told me he wanted to “slip” in one more activity during the week. Luckily, I had been through this scenario many times before with several of the product owners I had worked with over the years, so I already knew exactly how to handle the situation. I told him I could add one more activity, but that we could only handle so many “work-in-progress” items during the week, so one other activity had to go. I also let him know that adding that additional activity would put us over our allocated budget. At that point, it was up to him to make the decision and I did not lose any sleep that night. Even though in the end we did overspend our budget, “management” was still happy because they knew the consequences all along of their choices so there were no surprises. By the time the camp was concluded, it was one of the most successful, well-organized, and enjoyable camps that the youth in my church had ever been to, and I owe it all to Agile.

The concepts of Agile are based so much on common sense that I believe they truly can be applied to any project we work on whether it be at work on our software development teams, at home with our families, or even in our churches or communities. Are there certain aspects of work that should be left at the office and kept separate from your personal life? Absolutely, but Agile is not one of them! If you have not already, I encourage you to embrace the methods of Agile and adopt them into other facets of your life. Agile is arguably one of the most used software methodologies throughout the world for one reason – it works! There is no reason why you should limit the far-reaching benefits of Agile to just your work environment, so give it a try on your next home project - you will not regret it!

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