Why You Should Run Your Family Like A Business

A family plays with the interactive display outside Macy's

Photo: Yepoka Yeebo / Business Insider

Businesses don’t have much of the sort of yelling and chaos that is sometimes seen in families, especially those with young children.In a piece at The Wall Street Journal, Bruce Feiler describes the plight of the Starr family. The father, David, is a software engineer and his wife Eleanor takes care of their four children, one of whom has Asperger’s Syndrome, and another who has ADHD.

Overwhelmed by their home life, they applied a software development technique David used in his work called “agile development” to their family. 

It’s not something you would ordinarily think to apply to home life. The technique was first laid out in the Agile Manifesto in 2001, and it has spread beyond just software to become a general management technique. Tenets from the manifesto include: 

Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behaviour accordingly.

For a family, that means something like a weekly 20-minute meeting to discuss what’s working or isn’t, and coming up with plans to change or adapt. The meetings adapt three questions from agile development, Feiler writes: 

1) What went well in our family this week? 2) What didn’t go well? 3) What will we agree to work on this week? Everyone offers answers, then we vote on two problem areas to focus on.

Starr told Feiler that “having weekly family meetings increased communication, improved productivity, lowered stress and made everyone much happier to be part of the family team.” And when Feiler tried it with his wife, he writes that “the meetings transformed our relationships with our kids — and each other.”

A second technique is creating a mission statement, a set of 10 values the family believes in. That focuses discussions on the things the family does right as opposed to problems, and is an easy way to discuss how to improve in the future. 

Kids are as changeable as any business environment, and benefit from both structure and being able to participate. Though it sounds odd at first, when properly adapted, these techniques can work very well. 

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