Monday, March 2, 2009

Explaining Scrum to my Parents

JP recently wrote an article about how he would explain Scrum to his parents. Here's how I would explain it to mine.

Last week, my wife and I took our young children to learn to ski. On the last day, they learned to ride the chair-lift and went down the real mountain (as opposed to the bunny slope) for the first time. They also got to show off their newly learned skills at a "slalom race" where everyone got a medal. Afterward we wanted to do some "real skiing" with the kids, but wary of the potential mood swings of exhausted children (not to mention exhausted parents), we wanted to go down the whole mountain once with the kids then back up the lift, so we could join the path which would let us ski directly to the car. Down to the lift. No problem. Up the lift. No problem. Down to the lift again, no problem. Get in line to go back up.

Problem. As we approached the lift, it stopped. And it didn't restart. After a few minutes, they announced it would be down for a while. At which time, one of my kids announced 'Dad, I have to go to the bathroom!" Bigger Problem. The nearest bathrooms are 1) further down hill (away from the car), or 2) up at the car, or 3) at the top the chair lift.

Do we wait for the chair lift to be fixed? Do we go further down hill (if we do that, we have a more difficult hike back to the car, or we have to go up the T-Lift, which the kids have never done before - this is risky - what if the kids can't handle the lift?. Or do we set out for the car? This could be a long walk with many tears. And I would probably get to carry the kids' skis. All the options looked bad, and we were unable to decide what to do.

"Dad, I have to go the bathroom, NOW!". Yellow snow is frowned upon and wet pants are definitely a Bad Thing in winter. So we skied down to most easily accessible bathroom.

While waiting, my wife and I discussed the situation. We looked up the hill back to the village and were definitely not looking forward to walking up it. The bathroom was next to the T-Lift, so on my wife's suggestion, I asked the lift attendant if he thought kids at their stage of training could handle the lift. "No problem" he replied. By the time we were ready to go up the lift, the attendant told us "BTW - the chairlift is back in service." So we went up the hill. The children, although a bit apprehensive, went up the lift on the first try. We skied back down to the chair lift, took it back up the mountain, and were able to ski directly to the car.

What does this have to do with Scrum? Quite a bit actually. Scrum teaches us to:
  • Deliver value to the customer quickly and incrementally. In this case, the first increment of value was a bathroom.
  • Break the problem down in to smaller pieces. The whole was unsolvable. We could however get to a bathroom..
  • Defer decisions to gather information. Knowing that the kids should be able to handle the T-Lift made it possible to consider that alternative much more attractive.
  • Work as a team - everyone has good ideas.
  • Have faith in the team. They are capable of much more than you think.


connymaniac said...

Hi Peter,

that's really a great article. Not only that it explains Scrum for Newbies but also shows how project management affects everybody's life.

Your post inspired me to write a blog article, I allowed myself to quote your story in it:


Peter said...


Some day I'll write a story about how my kids use task boards to focus on the job of getting ready for school each day...


connymaniac said...

I'm looking forward to that one!

I guess you handed down a lot of project management genes... ;-)

Peter said...

Actually, the task board helped them internalize what they have to do to get ready -- it was the same thing everyday. After a couple weeks, they know the routine so well, that didn't want/need to use the board any more.

Unfortunately, that didn't solve the problem that we still had to pry them out of bed every day and push them out the door (figuratively speaking of course).

What they really needed was to go to bed an hour earlier. Which solved the problem entirely and mornings are now a pleasure...

paircoaching said...

Agile techniques can be easly used with kids. They works as effective.
We use hourglasses to help our kids with timeboxing