How to have the best family summer break ever: Agile holiday sprint planning

For my first post of the year I thought I’d deviate marginally off-topic and tell you about my Christmas (=Summer! for those in the Northern Hemisphere, poor dears…) holidays here in New Zealand, which were my “best ever” – for the following reason: I brought work home with me (sort of) and used Agile planning techniques.

To explain: being an more-than-average entrepreneurial type I always struggle when it comes to taking a holiday and I have to leave work behind for a while. During an average working week my mind is constantly pummelled with tons of emails, tweets, texts, facebook posts and conversations and I guess this non-stop over-stimulation is actually an addiction. Mainly though, it’s the feeling of purpose that comes with work: I’m always working *towards* some goal or other, and there’s always something next in the queue. When it comes to “holiday” time however I suddenly run off this cliff (like Wile E Coyote spinning his legs before a big fall) and suddenly have this big void of indecision: what should I do with all this time?

I know that I’m meant to “just relax” and “spend time with the kids”, not to mention catch up on jobs around the house, but what usually ends up happening is that as a family we end up with all this unstructured time, and no-one being able to co-ordinate who wants to do what with who when, and you end up having 9am breakfast arguments about what should we do today… Plus I personally end up feeling guilty about the waste of productive time… (don’t ask, I know, I’ve got issues 🙂 ). Meanwhile by the end of the holiday you start looking forward to the structure and buzz of going back to work and at the same time stressing because all those jobs about the house never got done…

SO! This holiday I determined to do something different, and boy did it work. On the day before Christmas, (first day of the 2-week holiday) I called a “family summit” with Mrs Me and my 3 daughters, and visiting mother-in-law, and explained that we were going to run a holiday planning exercise. (Yay! everyone cried. I jest.) We then basically ran a variation on a full Scrum planning meeting, with everyone writing down all the things they wanted to do that during the holiday on postits (day trips, activities, beach trips, sports, “timeout”, parent/child one-to-ones and, yes, jobs around the house). (This is the “Holiday Backlog”) We then went through a facilitated “Holiday Sprint Planning” session where as many activities as possible were prioritised and placed on a chart with 14 days marked out “Morning / Afternoon / Night”. Everyone got to suggest their favourite items and the group would agree yes or no. (My favourite was one of my 6-year old’s postits: “swiming with dulfins” – we didn’t quite do that in the end but we had a wonderful sunny boat trip out around Akaroa harbour where we saw loads of Hectors’ dolphins swimming in and around the boat. She was very happy with that. Highly recommended trip if you haven’t done it.)

The end result of the planning session is shown above – this was our plan for the fortnight. Any activities which didn’t make it onto the plan were parked in the “Rainy day” column at the end.

I posted the photo to Facebook at the time and the immediate response was “Good luck with that :-)” (Thanks Conor). Well I have to respond that we stuck to the plan amazingly: only a couple of items had fallen off by the end, and I reckon I personally achieved more than 100% more during the holiday than I would have otherwise. The best thing was that everyone felt happy that their ideas had been heard, and everyone got a fair share of the activities in the plan. PLUS we always knew what was up next: no prevaricating and “negotiating” every morning. AND because we had left space in between to relax with a good book, it didn’t feel like a race.


Written by Ben Reid



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