Family Scrum retrospective.

We’ve been rocking our Family Scrum framework and board for a little while now, and I think it’s time to provide an early update on how it’s going, and what we already improved.

After four retros

At the writing of this post, we are 4 weeks into using our framework, and we are past 4 retrospectives. To recap the cadence we follow from the original post:

  • Week long sprints (we call this “a week”)
  • Standup every morning (we call this “familymomentje”, but also “breakfast”)
  • Planning and retro on Sundays (we call this “sunday lunch”)

Due to a lovely day on the boat on Sunday last week (#justamsterdamthings) our second retro partially moved to Monday’s  bike ride to school (#justamsterdamthings), but this actually worked out fine — our kids tend to be very talkative during cycling, and we actually had valuable CI done on the move… but I’ll get to this later.

What went well

A typical Monday morning view, with fresh planning
  • As of now, we see a very good uptake and big improvement in our daily lives. Most importantly, kids somehow cling onto a good structure very quickly once you give it to them, and I see (and they say) this structure helps them a lot: they know what to do, but also: they know what they don’t have to do (per the agreement around forgotten tasks), so their days are much more predictable for them.
  • Keeping the morning standup cadence has proven to be fairly easy, we assign tasks during (the kids’) breakfast and I admin the board (put the cards in the right place). A bit more chaotic on weekends, as on Sunday we often do something and get home late, and then retro and planning becomes a juggling act between also loading some food into the children, and getting them into a bath quickly before the day is out. So far at least, we always managed somehow, even if this meant pushing part of the retro to Monday as they really didn’t have any attention span left in them on that certain Sunday.
  • I find that kids are also naturals when it comes to planning. I know they do this at school too, and it shows: in weekly planning I only have to do part admin, they self admin the board for themselves, writing the cards and distributing them within their weeks. This is of course the intended use, and it fosters ownership of their tasks.
  • I love how proactive the kids started to pick up stuff. On some days daily tasks were completed before they leave to school, but mostly all tasks are completed throughout the day.

What didn’t go well and how we improved

(For the sake of this post I’ll club these together — this is the interesting bit.)

We had one major “didn’t go well” episode, and several small(ish) improvements to using the framework.

In our 3rd week my younger daughter had some (as we learned later) sleep deprivation for 2-3 days (she apparently woke up daily around 1-2 AM and couldn’t sleep back for 1.5 hours). As a result, she essentially procrastinated through her (sleepy) days and left all tasks to the very end of the day, when (surprise surprise) she was already too tired to effectively pick up any of them. This led to her screen time being revoked for the rest of that week and a bit of an argument (which is a bit of an understatement), but more importantly a good retro topic: how to handle the feeling of overload from tasks.

  • Late start is not good within the day — neither is leaving all tasks to the end of the day. We agreed to help her keep a bit more discipline within the day itself to mitigate this. As it turns out, she reacted well to this help and we didn’t fall back (as I feared) to the state of constant nagging we had before. Phew!
  • Letting her using up the screen time was clearly our miss — after all, we agreed initially that completing tasks is a dependency for that. So we, the parents, agreed to tighten our discipline around this.
  • And last but not least: we also timed her activities, so she can better see how much (or actually, how little, if focused) time is needed to complete her chores. I actually also started using this method to estimate my own activities (and write times on the cards themselves) — it helps me as well to see how much time I need to, say, tidy up our storage, which is a major multi-week task and a dependency for an upcoming renovation.

So while I felt disappointed about the “didn’t go well” episode, it turned out to be a good learning opportunity after all.

Apart from this, we improved the framework in many little ways:

  • Screen time planning: basically the very first improvement kids made to the board was planning their screen time there as well, creating screen time cards and distributing them over the week during Sunday planning. We agreed screen time cards can move within the week, as we didn’t want screen time craving to impact, say, an ad hoc play date: if they decide to play with someone on day X, that day’s screen time can be done some other day.
  • We improved family task (orange card) assignment. I wasn’t sure how we’d assign these cards for practical reasons (what do we color code them with), but organically we solved this by simply cutting off little stripes from the personal magnetic cards. So the “clean out the cat’s litter box” orange card can have a little 4×0.5 cm dark blue stripe on it to signal this would be taken on by the 9yo.
  • Grey for food: we started to plan meals for the week on the grey cards. Maybe a trivial thing in the US, but with Albert Heijn 30m away, we weren’t in the habit of planning meals proactively, which of course often led to “what the fuck should we eat for dinner” moments.
  • Additional recurring task cards: we are building up the recurring task list as we go, with the idea that if I have to highlight a task that was missed, it’s a new task. So we added piano practice, and some other daily activities in the first 2 weeks.
  • Overall, a more structured board layout appeared organically: we are arranging tasks by time of day (vertical, morning on top), and by kid (horizontal, left side for my 12yo, right side for 9yo.) With the amount of cards we have now, this is a very welcome improvement!

So… what’s next?

Well, first off, we continue the journey. Personally I was originally a bit afraid that the “family scrum master” role would be too burdensome for me, but as it turns out it really isn’t — it’s much better this way than the nagging way, so much less energy is needed.

But with summer vacation starting, the next big challenge will be keeping the discipline in an otherwise undisciplined period. We’ll also leave at some point for an actual remote holiday, and obviously won’t take the board with us. As I still don’t want to use a screen (say, Trello) for this, we have to figure out a portable way to have a mini board with us, at least to the vacation that is not all inclusive.

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