Minimum Viable Performance

Today is significant to me.

12 years ago, today, I started working full-time. I tested medical devices, mostly manually, working my way up a ladder to get “Senior” in my title. Towards the end, I dabbled in Agility as a part-time Scrum Master for my team.

6 years ago, today, I changed careers. I was a full-time Scrum Master for a couple of distributed teams, working my way through much learning and self-discovery to get “Agile Coach” as my title. Lately, I’ve dabbled in performance as a podcaster.

Today, I want to mark a new career episode.

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My Morning Affirmations

‘Twas a simpler time, 2013. I was a couple of years into my ScrumOfOne adventure. The year started with my girlfriend ‘n’ I looking at engagement rings. The Boston Marathon bombing happened, and that same day, after rushing home to find her OK, calmly watching Mad Men after having done her taxes, I asked her to marry me.

2012 was an even simpler time for me. My girlfriend moved in halfway through the year, into a 550 sq. ft. apartment in Boston’s Back Bay, which meant, now that I think about it, the below was written before then. The below was written when I had space to sprawl out notes before conglomerating them onto the back of a business card of a failed venture.

I discovered the below while cleaning the archeological site known as my desk. Holding the business card like a newly discovered Dead Sea Scroll, this artifact revealed how Past-Merrill… really gave a shit. He went through all his notes, archived across journals and Google Docs and physical folders of significance, to squeeze the below onto something portable, ironically to never leave the desk.

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Awesomify Your Retrospectives

Stale Retrospectives? Try Tasty Cupcakes!

And by that, I mean go on over to TastyCupcakes.org for ideas on different Retrospective formats. Just remember that the goal is one piece of Kaizen: one actionable item of improvement to try during the upcoming Sprint.

(I’ve said “piece of Kaizen” as a phrase a lot, such that at one gig it was misheard as “pizza Kaizen”, which got everybody repeating it. Hey, whatever works, amirite?)

One retro format I’ve enjoyed facilitating is the Spotify Health Check. Yes, there are articles that are closer to the source than the one to which I’m linking, but this is the one off of which I’ve worked.

(Yeesh, you try not ending a sentence with a preposition.)

I won’t repeat the mechanics here, but I will say I’ve giddily enjoyed reading aloud the aspirational description of each metric, the ability to show trends across time per team, and the ability to show trends across all teams per metric.

The metrics add focus to the discussion, on which I capitalize by offering up to discuss the highest rated ones, the lowest rated ones, the ones with the biggest change from last time, and the ones that are most polarizing (large number of positive and negative ratings) – the team chooses which ones to address, and the discussion order. These retrospectives become genuinely interesting, where the gathering phase can take 8 minutes, with practice.

And who’s to say these 10 metrics are sacred? I’ve had a team add a metric, truly making this format their own. Granted, it was the name of the team’s co-op student (intern), but Brendan took it like a champ.

The downside is that, after a few Sprints, this gets boring. For all my love of metrics and inspecting trend data, the teams found retros getting stale again, so I pleaded for us to invest in the 8 minutes every other week, and then move on to another retro format.

Want another Retrospective format? Bruce McCarthy uses Three Awesome Questions. I’m a big fan of his book Product Roadmaps: Relaunched – reading this was my second education in Product Management, the CSPO class being my first.

Here’s that retro format in Bruce’s words:

On a scale of 1-5, how awesome is it being at this company? On this team? And how how awesome is the work you were able to do this sprint (or since the last time we did a retro)?

We record those numbers, then also whatever comments the people have on each rating. We do this silently and anonymously, then share all the info for discussion.

We try to extract themes from the comments of things that are impeding our sense of awesomeness at any level. We pick 1-2 of these to focus on, then brainstorm ideas for addressing (even a little) each. We pick 1-2 ideas to implement and assign an owner.

Most of this is facilitated via our app, but it can be done with stickies and a white board. It’s just harder to track over time and across teams, and thus less useful for agile coaches or management. More info on the app can be found at www.awesomeness.team.

Bruce McCarthy, in an email to me

There. Two Retrospective Formats. You’re welcome.

Notes from my Minimalism Reading

Ah, Spring cleaning. Yes, my desk is much clearer, thanks for asking. And so are my virtual spaces (Inbox Zero, baby!). See, I use my iPhone’s Reminders app for my backlogs. Over the years, those lists’ve also been used to gather notes from the articles I read, podcasts I listen to, and videos I… watch some of but mostly listen to as I do the dishes. Thus, I’ve accumulated a lot of virtual stuff to shed, and what better time to do so than a quarantine?

So here are my notes on Minimalism that I’m putting away. How meta.

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