It’s Like Personal Tech Debt

In the course of daily events, I may not clear my inbox by the end of the day (or week), I may write notes in a few places (instead of one), and I may allow stuff to pile up on my desk (starting with the edges, slowly creeping towards the middle).

It’s not really in my way… it’s not impeding me, per se, from getting stuff done on the daily, but over time, it builds up past some threshold of, “OK. Now this shit is encroaching on my physical & psychological comfort.”

This amassed entropy? It’s like personal tech debt.

Right? I mean, that’s how I think about it. I’ve never coded for a living, but this analogy seems fair.

OK. Fine. Let’s see what Wikipedia says…

Continue reading It’s Like Personal Tech Debt

Notes on Vision

I have a product framework based on a great book on roadmaps, folding in a few standard key ideas like having a vision. Personally, I like having a few versions of the same vision, adding granularity to represent deeper understanding & appreciation, to then aid different levels of daily decisioning decision-making.

Here’s the really dorky part. As “Merrill the Third”, I’ve grown up drawn to the number 3, and lately, thirds. Applying this odd proclivity (self-five!) to visioning crafting vision(s), I aim for lengths of about a minute, and a third of a minute (20 seconds), and a third of a third of a minute (~6 seconds), and a third of a third of a third of a minute (~2 seconds) (one over: three to the power of three – another self-five!).

So here are my notes on Vision.

Much like my notes on Minimalism & Product, these are not my most complete ideas (nor my most current… these are about 6 years old, a lifetime ago), but they resonate with me enough such that I look back on ’em from time to time, and figured I’d share ’em with you.

You’re welcome.

Continue reading Notes on Vision

My Approach to Getting Refining Sessions Unstuck

What do you do when half the people think it’s 3 points, and the other half think it’s 5?

(Ooh, don’t share any more context – leave it there and just keep going!)

That’s going to happen. If I’m facilitating this Refining Session, I’ll ask one person who scored it a 3 to explain why, and then I’ll ask the same from somebody who gave it a 5.

(Aww, you explained the scenario… you could’ve let ’em writhe! You’re no fun…)

I’ll restart a vote, and hopefully this discussion has swayed folks to vote more similarly. But let’s say it hasn’t. Let’s say y’still have a roughly 50/50 split between the same two adjacent Fibonacci numbers. Fine. I then ask about the Fibonacci numbers on either side of those scores.

I ask everybody, “Could this be a 2?” then pause for their responses. I then ask, “Could this be an 8?” also pausing for their responses. What I’m looking for is not just what is said, but more importantly how it’s communicated. This what/how split neatly echoes a content/style split for you HTML/CSS folks, and a product/process split for weird Agilists like me. I lean on the greater emotional response to resolve this difference of opinion in the group.

So, if folks say half-heartedly, “Yeah, I guess,” when asked it’s a 2, but when asked about an 8, they say with some energy, “Naw, it ain’t THAT big… it’s not like the other 8s!” then I hear more emotion away from 8, thus between 3 & 5, I recommend a 3.

Similarly, if folks are energetically ‘meh’ about a 2, but all, “well, yeah, it could be a lot of work, it could blow up,” while nodding their heads a bit more about the prospect of it being an 8, then I hear more emotion towards an 8, thus between 3 & 5, I recommend a 5.

I then explain:

Continue reading My Approach to Getting Refining Sessions Unstuck

Awesomify Your Retrospectives

Stale Retrospectives? Try Tasty Cupcakes!

And by that, I mean go on over to 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

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.

Continue reading Notes from my Minimalism Reading