Episode #59

Programming Families: How Kids are Like Software, and What the Government Could Learn From It

Can organizational methods developed in the tech workplace guide how families operate at home?

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Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Coders have a very specific way of working, it’s called Agile.  One family decided to apply it to their lives.  What if had too?

Meet the Feiler-Rottenbergs.  They’re like any parents raising two 8-year old daughters, except their family runs on Agile.

What’s Agile?  It's a system software engineers use to organize projects. As its manifesto describes it (yes, it has a manifesto), it’s about encouraging collaboration, change and constant improvement. Kind of like what should happen when raising kids.

"This is a very abstract way of talking about families, a systems way, but it is the reality parents face," Bruce Feiler tells Manoush Zomorodi in this week’s New Tech City.  Bruce is the author of The Secrets of Happy Families, a book about how he applies Agile and other Silicon Valley workplace techniques to his own family.

To see how it works for engineers, Zomorodi also visits Huge, the digital agency down the road from Feiler's home in Brooklyn that was behind the redesign of New York City's website

    Music Playlist
  • Aerial Alegretto
    Artist: Weerthof
    Album: Out Of Control
    Aerial Alegretto (Weerthof) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Comments [7]


Duh...I meant to say "agile," not waterfall. Weekend brain!

My point, again:

There are a number of federal folks who use Agile and scrum and sprints, typically with internal projects where they can get the speed that comes with having a small, contained team. Because these are internal projects, they don't get the kind of coverage that a public-facing project does. But they exist, trust me.

As you and the woman at HUGE pointed out, it's hard to set up an agile framework when legislation is involved, or a project requires a hard stop. That isn't always a bad thing. Government websites must be accessible to the hearing- and vision-impaired. That's an example of a good law. It may make it harder, however, to generate an minimally viable product quickly.

I am curious about how contracts with clients are structured when using an agile framework. That's probably too nerdy for this blog, but it would certainly help those of us who would like to embrace Agile more--but need to explain that it's not going to cost more money or more client face time.

Nov. 11 2013 11:31 AM

Manoush, there are federal teams that do use waterfall in their processes. They just haven't been focused on: small fast internal projects. And has been actively practicing's evident in abundance.

Nov. 10 2013 12:19 PM
Tomis Parker from

This is fantastic! Agile practices are the future of business, communities, and education. We are using these very concepts to create Agile Learning Centers -- the first one being at Manhattan Free School. Check out

Nov. 07 2013 09:11 AM
Jenn Choi from

I loved this episode! Thank you for covering it! We've been having family meetings every week but not like this! And I love the word AGILE. It's what we all aspire to be as individuals but I never thought of it from a family perspective. Building a structure that accommodates change? That's awesome! I am going to share this! Thank you!

Nov. 07 2013 08:30 AM

If this works in families and software teams I wonder if some of these techniques would work in business such as in small offices?

Nov. 06 2013 10:05 PM
Houda from Ottawa

I do it with my kids too to manage homework time and learning activities. We use kanban at home to visualize tasks and prioritize work. Simple planning for the family, everyone decides which tasks they want to pull etc. I even made a simple kanban planning tool for families and kids based on our experience, here is the link if interested :
I also blog about our experience at !!! Glad to see that more families are trying agile, it is simple and kids love it.

Nov. 06 2013 08:15 AM

I am a forty year who works in production. Often I work with 20 somethings who are very fluent in advanced editing software or design programs but can't group lift a heavy object without hurting themselves or the object. I disagree with Mr Feiler, learning how to tie your shoes does matter. Basics matter.

Nov. 06 2013 06:07 AM

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