The difficulties and advantages of running an agile household

When Gary and I first started dating over a year ago, I joked about the concept of running an agile household. At that point, we had no intent of moving in together — Gary lived in a London suburb close to work, and I was still living along the South Coast. If anything, I was trying to score geek points with my programming boyfriend, though it has since been established I wear the geek trousers in this relationship.

This is what a couple who run an agile household look like. Took me a while to found a photo where we looked both human and sane.

Having moved in around three months ago, the topic resurfaced. In our experience, we found most household arguments would occur because of the assumption someone would complete a certain task, or because things would get left undone. In our workplaces, these arguments don’t happen—agile is just how stuff gets done.

Entirely inspired by a great post on Trello about “The Sage Strategies of Agile Families”, we decided to give it a try.

Setting the ground rules

The first step was to actually plan our household like a project. We needed to define our respective roles, and decided I was more detail-orientated when it came to tasks, whereas Gary is good at follow-through. So I was put in charge of creating tasks and scheduling, and Gary makes sure tasks have a priority and get done.

We also decided we would have a daily stand-up, plus a Sunday retrospect which would look back on what we had accomplished, and look forward to the next week’s sprint.

Less tools is better

When considering tools, we decided to just use Trello. This is what our board looks like. And yes, that’s the house from Pixar’s “Up”.

We also have an added column which has useful information like our landlady’s contact information, our contract, and emergency numbers for gas and electric.

Being busy is a huge blocker

Our biggest blocker is simply being busy. Our schedules are entirely out-of-sync, which has made it impossible to commit to a regular stand-up.

Early mornings are bad for me, because I need a caffeine injection straight in the eyeballs just to function. Similarly, after work can be difficult on account of Gary being a ninja most nights (aka karate). Pre-bedtime would be ideal, except by that point we’ve usually had large quantities of wine and have zero motivation.

Has it payed off?

Lack of a consistent time has made it impossible for our stand-up to become a part of our routine, so we have had stints of using and not using agile to compare. Whilst using agile, we found:

Our communication was 100% clearer.
Instead of assuming that specific chores or tasks would get done, we would agree exactly on what was getting worked on and when.

We had more realistic expectations and better trust in each other’s skills.
Tasks were assigned based on our strengths, so we had more trust in each other to complete them.

Tasks didn’t build up or suddenly get on top of us.
Because everything was discussed in daily stand-up’s, slippage was identified quickly and dealt with appropriately.

It was easier to see progress and move forward mentally.
Weekly retrospects gave us time to reflect on what got done, and not beat ourselves up about what didn’t get done.

Smaller tasks get picked out and dealt with quickly.
Instead of leaving a bulb in the hallway blown out for all eternity, smaller tasks got dealt with in a much faster turnaround.

Bigger tasks got broken down into more manageable chunks.
We found it easier to work as a team and get big tasks completed much quicker than if it were one of us alone.

Moving forward

After resting on our laurels for a bit, I reckon it’s time we started this back up. Whilst it’s hard to find the time, the benefits far outweigh the nuisance of dealing with blockers.

To anyone like us, what advice and experiences do you have of running an agile household? We would love to hear your insights!