Do we remember why we do what we do

Do we remember why we do what we do?

or… the basics of Scrum

Have you ever noticed that when you are doing a good thing, for a long time, that you can lose the essence of why you started to do it in the first place? It’s not that it loses it’s meaning completely, or that you feel the need to not do these things anymore, but that you start to forget some of its benefits?

I recently experienced this at work. Doing Scrum since 2009, being agile almost as long as that, some things are like breathing, you do it, because your system makes you do it, and it’s a bad idea not to… but when you are being questioned the essence, you realize that some of then answers aren’t coming as quickly as they used to.

My department has grown enormously in the last year, which means that there are a lot of people new to our workplace who, fortunately, question our methods. What usually happens is that while discussing these practices, knowledge is being spread, understanding grows and even the team members that were already here, learn and experience again, why we do the things we do.

But now I see a small change: I sometimes hear people answer: “that is just the way we do it…”

Wait a minute… no it isn’t!! We had good reason to do it this way! There’s meaning to it, isn’t there?

These experiences made me do some soul searching and I gave it some reflection. We need to maintain our believes and maintain the why of our practices. And it also got me thinking a level deeper:

do I still know why we do these things, or do I teach them, because they were taught to me?

While I was thinking this over, I changed a few things in my home… Reflections like these usually take some time. Life moves on and so did I. So I’m taking you on a small detour… we will get back to my thoughts on the basics of scrum in a bit!

I have the best kids ever! Truly! This is not my doing, I’m simply blessed with great kids. I’ve been struggling with hired help for quite some time. Had a few good ones, who decided to do something more with their life than cleaning my house, had a few I didn’t like, had a few who didn’t like me…

I was getting a little desperate, when my kids asked me, honestly: “Mom, you don’t need a hired help, you don’t need to pay someone to clean our house. Why don’t we do it as a family?” I ignored them at first, but they were insisting to give it a try… And I felt a little guilty: here were two good kids, asking me to help around in the household, willing to learn a few valuable things, and there I was, not willing to give it a try. So I had a good talk with them, and with my husband, of course, and talked them through a few things: if we are really going to do this, we need to give our commitment. No hired help, means we have to do it ourselves all the time! We need to find a moment to do some cleaning, every week. We need to discover ways how to decide what needs to be done, how to divide the work fairly and perhaps how to reward ourselves. They all looked at me like they wanted to say:

Duh! Mom… isn’t this what you do for a living?


So, we sat down and started to write a few stories and tasks. The stories we came up with were like: Clean living room, clean kitchen, do laundry, etc. The tasks were a lot smaller: tidy living room, dust living room, vacuum living room floor, mop living room floor, vacuum kitchen floor, mop kitchen floor, sort laundry, water plants etc.

On the inside of a cabinet door, I created a scrum wall, with the usual three columns: to do, doing and done. In the doing columns I created four sections, one for each person of our household, because to my girls it seemed really important to make visible what they were doing. Something to do with sibling rivalry, perhaps? We will work on that later!

And then we started our first iteration. The first two weeks I was merely product owner, showing my girls how to clean, what tools to use and when things were done. After two weeks I was able to take my distance as product owner and to start doing my personal share of the workload. I was comfortable enough to trust that they would do a good job, without me looking over their shoulder.

It was at this time, I noticed how enthusiastic my girls were. Whenever they had finished a task, they would almost run back to the scrum wall and celebrated each moment they could hang their current task in “done” and pick their next task themselves. Every time they did that, they shouted a “status report” to me, how many tasks were done already and how many still needed to be done.

The first week, my youngest did a lot more tasks than my oldest daughter. She tried to rub it in, but my oldest was not impressed and simply stated that her tasks were larger then her sisters tasks and took a lot more time. Listening to their conversation I wondered:

Should we estimate the tasks?

A few weeks have past and I enjoy working with my family in my house. It’s rewarding to clean it yourself. My girls learn how much work it can be to clean a room, and they learn that it has meaning to keep things more tidy, rather than letting it clutter, because it makes cleaning so much easier this way.

We also enjoy the reward we give ourselves after an hour (and a half) of hard labour. We share nice moments as a family, playing boardgames together or watching a film at the cinema.

Thinking about these things after a few weeks made me realize that what I had changed in my home, also taught me a few valuable things about my quest at work. Introducing scrum techniques to scrum newbies made me experience again what the benefits of some of the most basic elements are.

Seeing the sheer joy in moving a task to “Done”. Watching ownership grow, while they could choose their own task to do. Seeing their excitement when reporting to me that the “to do list” was decreasing with every task that was moved to done. Sensing that questions like: “should we start estimating?” present themselves when due. Those actions need to add value, don’t do them because you think you ought to.

So this makes me wonder again: how do we make sure we continue to enjoy and experience the basic benefits of what we have been doing for such a long time? Play a few games more often? Talk more about why we do what we do?

Please share your ideas with me in the comments below! I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.


Published on Medium on April 12, 2016
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