Written by Aaron Vadakkan, CSM
People often ask me how we started using Scrum at home. We started because we had a problem. My brother and I would always get in trouble because we would think we finished our homework, and go out to play.
Then my mom would come out and ask us, “Did you do your homework?”
“Are you really done with your homework?”
The problem would come up when my parents and I couldn’t agree on when the work was really considered “done” or not. For example, the definition of done for math is to show all the steps to get the answer. We would get in trouble because our definition of done was not the same as the parents’. Even though we thought we were done with our homework, we really weren't when my parents asked. Then, my dad introduced something he had used at work: The Definition Of Done. We used the definition of done as a checklist that both parents and kids agreed on. We had a general definition of done that applied to every activity that we needed to finish, and a Definition Of Done for each subject. From there, we realized that more of Scrum could be used to solve problems at home.
What is Scrum?¹
In general terms, Scrum is defined as a process framework. There are 3 roles in Scrum: The Product Owner, the Scrum Master and the Development Team. In our house, the Product Owner is the all-powerful, all-knowing, decision maker. She decides if something is important or not. And you guessed it right, our Product Owner is my mom!
I am the Scrum master. The Scrum Master the protector of Scrum, and they help everybody with how to practice Scrum. In our home, I am a member of the Development team as well as the Scrum Master.
The team does the work. So who’s left for the team? My brother, my dad, and I.
In Scrum, products are built incrementally in short timeboxes called Sprints. For us, the the Sprint is always one week long. It starts on Sunday and ends on Saturday.
Scrum helps me to do the right things, do the things right, and get things done faster. This structure comes from a Scrum expert named Henrik Kniberg², and that's how this article is organized.
To get a complete description of Scrum, please visit the Scrum Guide.
Doing the Right Things
Scrum helps me to do the right things at home through our use of the Scrum board and the sprint planning meeting. Because our sprint starts on Sunday and ends on Saturday, we have the sprint planning meeting every Sunday afternoon. In this meeting, we identify things we need to do for the week. The Product Owner and the whole team must be present at the meeting. The Product Owner helps to identify the work and the priorities for the week, and we also get a list of assignments from our teachers.
Then we write them down on individual index cards. These index cards are kept on a board on the wall. This board is divided into 3 columns, named “To Do” “Doing” and “Done”. The cards can be moved throughout the columns during the sprint.
The board helps me in several ways throughout the sprint. For example, sometimes, the Product Owner (mom) gets evil and makes us do more things than we actually can (sound familiar?). So, when my mom tells me to do an extra thing, I show her the board so she can see that we already have enough work for the week. But it can also work the other way. My brother and I can’t pretend to have too much work because the product owner can figure it out when she sees a nearly empty board. The Scrum board also helps me to remember things during the week. One Thursday, my dad was out of town, and he was going to come back the next day. I forgot to move things around on the board that week. I knew he would be mad if he saw the board like that, so I started moving a couple cards around. I finished my science homework, and I moved that card to the done column. I also finished the history homework, but I noticed that I still had to do the math homework… and that it was due the next day. So I had to quickly finish my math homework, and I moved that card also before I went to bed. So the next day, my dad was happy because he saw the board organized, and I was happy because if I hadn’t finished that math homework, I would have gotten a terrible grade in math that week.
Doing the Things Right
Scrum also helps me to do the things right, with the Definition Of Done and the Acceptance Criteria. The Acceptance Criteria is specific to each card on the wall and is different for each card. For example, one of the cards on the wall was a health project where the outcome was to find out how unhealthy meals were at restaurants across the US. The things I needed to do on that project to get a good grade on it were to find the nutritional facts for the original recipe from a restaurant, make a new recipe, and contact the restaurant for more information.
So that’s what we write on the card, numbering each step 1, 2, 3 respectively.
But wait, there’s more! There’s also something called the Definition Of Done. The Definition Of Done is usually generic and mostly applies to all cards. As said in the introductory paragraph, the Definition of Done is checklist that both parents and kids agreed on. Before we mark anything done and move its card to the done column, we verify if we have met the acceptance criteria of the particular card and if it is done according to the Definition of Done.
How does Scrum help me to get things done faster? To get things done faster at home, we use two things: The Daily Scrum meeting, and a special rule we use in our house. We have our Daily Scrum meeting next to the board every day in the evening. This is when we move cards around on the board for that day. In the meeting, we say what we did that day, what we will do the next day, and any impediments we had so that our parents can help us remove the impediments. By doing this every day, we get feedback on what work we did, and how much work we did that day. But we can get feedback even more frequently by using the 25 minute rule³. It works like this: when we come back from school, we take off our backpacks and eat some snacks. Then we start doing our homework. Along with starting the homework, we start a 25 minute timer. At the end of that 25 minutes, whether we're done with the work or not, we go to our parents and show them what we've finished. We also get to take a few minutes break. So we get feedback on how well we worked and feedback on the work we did.
I talked a lot about feedback here, but how does this help me do things faster? Have you ever worked really hard on a big project non-stop, and at the end, when you show it to your boss, it turns out to be completely wrong? This problem, as we found out, can be fixed by getting frequent feedback. We use Scrum as a feedback loop, by getting feedback every week, every day, and even every 25 minutes. But getting things done faster doesn't mean that we are working any harder, rather, we get thing done faster by finding mistakes earlier and by getting feedback earlier.
Scrum has helped us solve a lot of problems we face at home and at school. We had the problem of not knowing what we should be doing, and it was fixed by using the Scrum board and the Sprint Planning Meeting. We also had the problem of not getting things done the right way, which was solved by the Definition of Done. Another problem we faced was the problem of not getting things done on time, which was fixed by the 25-minute rule and by getting feedback all the time.
What I have described here is not everything that is defined in Scrum. We do not practice all of Scrum when we use it at home, but we use most of it. One major difference that you will see is the lack of the shippable increment that is produced at the end of every sprint. We don’t have one single product we are working on in a sprint. Instead, there are several items we work on. However, like in Scrum, we bring the backlog items to a done state at the end of every sprint. Another part we haven’t described here is the retrospective meeting at the end of every sprint. We have begun to use this lately.
To conclude, we started using a single practice in Scrum to solve one problem. By implementing more aspects of Scrum into our home and school life, we found that we could fix not one, but many problems. Scrum helps us to get things done right, get the right things done, and get things done faster.
About the Author:
Aaron Vadakkan, CSM, is a 13 year old who currently studies in 8th grade at Rocky Heights Middle School. He participated in 2 CSM classes. He is also an expert on “Scrum at Home”, which is the topic he wrote about. This topic has been presented by him twice at two global gatherings. He had an early start with exposure to scrum, even from age 8, and he has been practicing it at home for about 4 years.