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Family Scrum: The Art of Organizing Chores

family scrum

Darko Baitella

Even if managing work projects isn’t really your cup of tea, you’ve probably heard about project management methods called Scrum and Agile. Highly popular and widely used, they help teams across the world and in different industries to efficiently manage their projects from start to finish, while keeping team members’ sanity intact.

But did you know that you can use Scrum in other aspects of your life, at home, to organize household chores and responsibilities? Pull up your chair, I’ll tell you how.

Let’s start with the basics.


Scrum is a flexible, iterative framework that helps teams break large projects into smaller chunks called epics or sprints. It is one of the most common models for project management because it’s highly efficient, especially on large scale projects.


So at some point you have to ask yourself — if Scrum can be used to organize large scale projects, why can’t we use the same methodology to manage other aspects of our lives?


Of course, Scrum can often be quite complex and requires a lot of knowledge, discipline and time, as well as different roles with specific responsibilities. But at the same time Scrum is highly flexible and adaptable and has the potential to help us organize our private lives and every day plans.


Alright, how do we do that?

If you have kids, especially those of teenage persuasion, you are probably already giving them chores and responsibilities on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. Depending on your child’s skill level in avoiding responsibilities, some of those chores often end up forgotten or ignored, which can lead to conflict and consequences.


This is where Scrum comes in.


If you look at your household as a project and your family members as a team with assigned tasks and responsibilities, all you need is a little bit of help to make sure the tasks get done. And who knows, you might even have a bit of fun while doing it.


For starters, you’re gonna need some type of a task board. It can be any kind of a board which you can use to pin the task cards. Of course, you can always go digital and use an app like Jira or even an Excel sheet, but having a physical task board that you can see on your fridge or a dining room wall is always better and probably more fun if you have younger kids.


For task cards you can use either post-it notes or any other type of cards that you can pin on the task board. Preferably, you can assign different colors to each family member, to easily recognize which tasks belong to which person, and prevent potential fraudulent attempts to rearrange tasks when mom and dad are not looking.


Each card will represent one task, chore or responsibility, like throwing out the trash, cleaning up a room, buying groceries, etc.


family scrum

The sprinting Scrum Master

In Scrum terminology, Sprint represents a fixed time period lasting a month or less. This period creates consistency and provides short iterations for feedback, which you can use to adjust how work is being done and what is being worked on.


In our family Scrum example an optimal sprint would last one week (7 days), starting on Mondays and ending on Sundays.


The goal of each sprint is any goal that makes everyone in the process happy. It can be defined with percentages and/or priority tasks.


Sometimes you will be faced with larger or more complex tasks. Scrum allows for bigger tasks to be divided into smaller logical units so we can apply that in our family Scrum as well. Time consuming tasks that require more effort, such as spring cleaning, can be spread out into smaller tasks and completed within the time period of one sprint.


Okay, that all sounds nice, but who’s the boss in this system, you’ll probably ask. We’re getting there.


You see, there are three roles in any Scrum team: Scrum Master, Product Owner and Development Team. The Scrum Master, besides having the coolest title, is responsible for the efficiency of the Scrum team and for following the rules and values of Scrum. Product owner ensures that the Scrum team is aligned with its goals, while the Development Team does the practical work and completes the sprint’s tasks and assignments.


In the family Scrum the role of Scrum Master should be assigned to the person who is most familiar with the Scrum methodology and its rules and preferably not a toddler. This person will define sprints, help create and assign the tasks, set up family meetings and make sure everyone follows the rules. 


The Product Owner can be the same person as the Scrum Master, or you can assign a different person, it doesn’t really matter. Product Owner will set up short term and long term goals, which are then converted into tasks and added to sprints.


The Development Team of your family Scrum is made up of all the family members who participate in household chores and responsibilities. 
In other words, Scrum Masters are not Slave Masters. They, too, must participate in the sprint and have their own tasks assigned to them. Slacking off is frowned upon.


family scrum

Meetings are inevitable

Like every work project you have ever done, Scrum projects have meetings too. It’s inevitable. Deal with it. According to definition, each Scrum project has to include the following meetings:


  • Sprint planning – Highly important Scrum ceremony in which the Scrum team decides which projects and tasks will be done in the following Sprint. Ice cream, snacks and soft drinks can and should be served.
  • Daily Scrum – Daily 15-minute meetings, to go over the day’s tasks and quickly get up to date with each team members progress.
  • Sprint Review – Meeting where all team members review the work completed during the sprint.
  • Sprint Retrospective – End of sprint meeting used to assess what went right and what went wrong, in terms of people involved, processes followed, tools used, collaboration and relationships. Used to retrospect and reflect on anything that needs to be improved in the next sprint for more effective delivery.
  • Product Backlog Refinement – The purpose of this meeting is to have a prioritized backlog of tasks ready for development. 


Before you throw your hands in the air in frustration, take a breath. It’s clear that all these meetings are not necessary when it comes to our family version of Scrum. They would require lots of time and responsibility from team members and in the long run could end up being counter productive. 


To avoid that, you can adapt, merge and align the Scrum meetings to fit your schedule and your family’s needs, daily rhythm and available time.


For example, you can merge Sprint Planning, Review, Retrospective and Product Backlog into one meeting every Sunday night, to go over the previous week and plan the next sprint in one go. Daily Scrums can be done every day, during family breakfast.


Carrots instead of sticks

Depending on your family members’ tendencies to complete or avoid their responsibilities, any method to organize tasks and chores can prove challenging. There is no magic wand, one-size-fits-all solution that will miraculously turn procrastinators into chore monsters.


Having said that, everyone likes rewards! While the carrots and sticks theory tells us we can encourage someone by either providing a reward (carrot) for favorable behavior or punishment (stick) for unfavorable behavior, I’m more of a carrot fan myself when it comes to the family Scrum.


To motivate your team members, especially the young children, introduce rewards for successfully completed sprints. The rewards can include a family field trip to the zoo, movie night, gaming time, candy or anything else you can think of. 


Looking forward to something can always provide better motivation than dreading the punishment for the task not done. 


Happy Scrumming everyone. And don’t forget to have fun!