Agile in Everyday Life

December 2018 – Brooklyn Bridge – Chaos Personified

I am one of those people who seem to have a curiosity about everything. Frankly, it drives family members crazy since they perceive my need to know as a need to be always right. For the record, it is merely a need to know and is really an admission that I do not know, combined with a determination to find out. (And I would know better than anybody, right?)

One of the aspects of Business Analysis that I have always enjoyed is that it is the perfect outlet for people who have a great desire to know something about everything. Curiosity might have killed many cats, but it makes for great Business Analysis.

But being a curious person, I wonder what happens when the skills learned in practicing Business Analysis are applied to your everyday home life. It is one thing when dealing with professionals trained in various project methodologies and instructed to optimize output. Is it different with family members?

For example, what would happen if you institute some Scrum ceremonies? In a lessons-learned session for your family’s 3-week sprint, your wife mentioned how your daughter did not straighten her room. I can hear the screams – “Why are you bringing that up again from 2 weeks ago?” It might make for great entertainment if your family was on a sit-com, but not exactly the peaceful family we all wish to promote.

Another example, do we have a “Definition of done” for everyday chores? And for verification, do we have a period of User Acceptance Testing? How would you perform UAT for a task like the dishes? Does your spouse serve in a tester role to ensure dish cleaning problems are identified as early as possible and avoid that 10x cost to fix it later? Can you put the dishes away without going through UAT? If I were acting on my BA training, I would hope not because we must know they are cleaned before the plates go into production.

So is this really as efficient as we think it is?

As much as I love optimizations of project work, I think the brief list above would suggest (though obviously, I have not done an empirical study) that certain things in life are best handled without the constraints of any currently conceived project methodology. Certain things simply are not projects and treating them as if they were can be disastrous.

But that raises an interesting question. Regardless of which methodology, how do we know when some kind of project methodology should be applied? Ignoring the debates of Lean vs. Scrum vs. Waterfall vs. whatever, should project methodologies be used when we attempt to do X?

PMI has an answer for that. Their answer comes from the definition of a project. If it has a defined beginning (you know when it started), ending (you know what has to have happened before you stop), and a unique goal (the purpose you wish to achieve), then it is a project. They would categorize everything else as operations, meaning the rules of Project Management do not apply.

So, what does apply? I mean, many things fall outside of that definition. These may be ongoing processes, which do not fit so neatly as a project. It may not be so unique, such as laundry or dishes. That’s a shortcoming of this definition if you are using it to define what needs to be optimized. It leaves out a lot.

IIBA has a different view that includes pre-project and post-project activities. These may consist of some of the analysis performed that resulted in the initiative in the first place. They also include actions to monitor and control the ongoing operations of the delivered product.

Still, the examples listed above would make it seem that although IIBA would include “operational” activities in its analysis process, they do not really address the actual operations themselves – just the analysis of the operations.

So again, what applies?

I am sure other organizations weigh in on this in one way or another along a broad continuum. But none seem to really provide an answer. And frankly, I do not pretend to be that wise myself.

As I have been thinking of this question, “Is there a way to apply what we do professionally to at least some of our home lives? What does it look like if we do?” I have also toyed with subtly introducing some of the concepts at home. To see if there’s a way they could help.

Here’s a recent example of one interaction while exploring this.

Recently I was talking with my wife about all the schedule changes around her and the frustration that creates. While we were talking, I was reminded of all of the articles I have written about different SDLCs and how the ability to adapt to change is one of the factors that brought some of these methodologies into existence.

However, in my wife’s case, the problem was not that change was prohibited. The problem was that change was out of control. She needed to find a balance between working with schools, family, a sick child, a husband’s new job schedule, soccer coaches, and our church’s small group. Each item from that list was both demanding her time and expecting her to be flexible. Any of these changes created a cascade effect on her plans for the day, and sometimes her entire week. Also, much of this conflicted with her own personal vision for our family, which was getting squeezed out.

If we were in a Waterfall project, we would invoke the scope clause of a Project Charter. All these externals are out of scope. That was easy. Well, maybe not so easy in real life.

If we were using one of the flavors of Agile, we would talk about the team being able to self-govern. All these externals are the proverbial “Chickens” in that much overused (and lame) “Ham and Eggs” story. And since the Chickens are not totally committed to the project, their voice doesn’t matter. If you don’t know the story, I’ll spare you this time. Again, it’s not that easy because…

What happens when one of the team members, your daughter, is playing soccer (weather permitting) but also is recovering from an illness? What happens when the coach adds multiple practices with no advance notice. OK, sick kid, no warning, that gets canceled. But still, there is stress involved from both the child and the coach? What happens when your sister is in the area and you haven’t seen her in years? Or your mom is sick, so you have to reschedule that visit with both her and your sister? Or when your husband transitions to a better job providing for the family, but it has a longer commute? Or when the host for your church group is away and needs this week’s meeting to relocate? And your husband’s professional organization wants his time to develop some training when he is needed at home?

And then all of that is occurring at the same time?

What if the care that you have for all of these externals causes a multi-dimensional tug of war where you – not the project but you – are in the center, standing on the only dry spot and surrounded by a muddy pit? If you hold your ground, they all pull you apart. If you give in to one side, and you are drug through the mud while pulling you apart.

In that kind of environment, I think we need a new methodology. And I’ll call this methodology – Moms.

The problem with my promoting this new methodology is I don’t know how it works. But it does. And I have a lot to learn from it. I’m sure there’s an element of chaos theory involved.

Plus, it drives me nuts that I can’t figure it out. Because I have a curiosity about everything. And like I said, I don’t know it all.

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