Chaos is a major pain in the ass. Yes, it can be invigorating, challenging, and propel you in your life or career — but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s extremely hard to appreciate chaos for its creative and life-affirming capabilities when your life feels like it’s careening out of control like a clumsy puppy.
And so, like most people, I spend a good portion of my week trying to come up with solutions for reducing chaos in my life. Trimming the proverbial “uncertainty fat” here, extricating the sticky unknowns there. And the most recent tool in my inventory for doing so is Agile.
Though I stepped into the world of Agile and Scrum with some imparted knowledge from my time as a technical recruiter, as well as a fair portion of personal study, at Metal Toad it’s been an eye opening experience to fall into step with. Not only does Metal Toad do Agile right — with a strong through line of curiosity and Scrum fundamentals — but it also empowers us to explore new concepts, new methodologies, and to not hold back when we have an idea.
Shortly after starting here I signed up for classes to become a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), a two-day experience that taught me everything from the high-level Agile philosophies to the nuts and bolts of product management. Through this course it quickly became apparent that Agile isn’t merely a method for developing software, or any iterative product, widget, or thingamabob — it could be applied to your everyday life. It was this idea that spurred me on a small personal journey to attempt to “Agile everything.”
Agile-izing My Life
I started developing a backlog for my chores, and then one for my goals, and then another for my life activities with my partner. These became my first artifact and what I’ve been working with for the last couple months. Not only does it provide me with a sense of well-being knowing that my list is written down and categorized on paper, but these artifacts have also proven to be a phenomenal driver for another of my favorite life methodologies: getting shit done.
There are, of course, several flavors of Agile, but the one that I’ve found the most useful at home is Kanban. What I love about it is that it can be used for anything from very small daily tasks to multi-weekend projects.
Our most recent major (read: expensive) project was to paint our house. It seemed like the perfect way to apply Kanban procedure. So over the course of three weekends I started each day by evaluating my little stack of backlog sticky notes next to an inordinately large cup of coffee and prioritizing them in their respective columns.
Not only was it satisfying to accomplish the work and see the house go from “grandmother’s-dirty-apron white” to the starless deep blue we had chosen, but it was immensely satisfying to move the stickies along in the progress and — eventually — into the recycling. Plus it was a nice reminder to give myself a break throughout the project: to come inside, drink some water, and check ticket items on board.
As most folks know, when you own your home the list of “to-dos” seems to expand exponentially. When something breaks, it goes to the top of the priority list, but even when everything is working as expected the list seems to grow stealthily onward like falling dominoes — or, more appropriately, a destructive wildfire. But with a backlog of tracked projects, sized in the way that suits you best, the inevitable scope-creep of homeownership seems a lot more manageable.
Though this experiment is in its infancy, I can safely say it’s improving my life in measurable ways. I can rest easy knowing that critical issues are going to be addressed, even if they aren’t on a strict timeline. And when I do pick up a project I can spend 15 minutes writing out the “To-Do” column and start moving tickets into progress.
Applications for Scrum
I’ve spoken to others who use Scrum to determine their weekend activities. One guy sits with his wife and two children every Friday evening to prioritize their weekend activities “backlog.” They even take it a step further and “size” weekend activities as a family, knowing that there are some things that have inherent “weight” due to travel, time, or expense. Then, in true Scrum fashion, they treat their weekend like a sprint — they plan it out, add tickets to that weekend, and are mindful of the story points they are assigning because they know that they only have so much “velocity.” I think it’s a truly brilliant method of organizing your weekend — and likely has a wonderful side effect of reducing arguments amongst his loudest stakeholders (i.e. his kids). Because ultimately every idea gets heard and the family unites together to determine what is going to get done.
I have started planning out goals and life activities with my wife, and though we have yet to start using this method to plan our weekends, I can see it being very useful in the future.
A Quick Note About Your Life Backlog
Life is life. It’s messy and unruly: it’s a clumsy puppy. Things change, priorities change, people change, you change. And so, in turn, your backlog is going to be messy occasionally. But, like all well-run software projects, you should strive to have a clean backlog.
To that point: set criteria for yourself. Ask yourself what it takes for something to make it to the “life goal” backlog, or the “home improvement” backlog, or a “fun things to do on the weekend” backlog.
If you’re not careful with your selections on what you add to your personal backlog, if you don’t have established criteria, if you haven’t gone through your own personal discovery to determine what’s “MVP” — your backlog is going to be a mess.
There needs to be a line of delineation between what goes on my daily “to-do” task list, and what goes in the backlog as a larger item. In short: If it can be done in 30 minutes or less, it goes on my “to-do.” If it takes more work than that, or requires multiple people, it goes in the backlog.
Like all new experiments, and like Agile itself, this project of mine is bound to change drastically over the next couple months. “Agile Everything” will iterate and become something new, and I’m excited to see what changes are made and how it improves my life.
Maybe it will stay as it is currently: “Agile Most Things But Mostly Chores.” Or maybe it’ll get closer to it’s namesake and more of my life will be in the backlog, refined frequently, and prioritized collaboratively.
I’d highly recommend to anyone interested in organizing their life to look past Agile's reputation as merely a methodology for software development, and try to apply it to something else in life. If you’re like me, you’ll find that it’s remarkably effective at cutting through the clutter, clearing the runway for your goals, and reducing chaos.