Out-Agiled by Nursery School

It’s true. It’s embarrassing. I’m so proud.

My kid’s pre-school, for which I’m on the board, had a call late Thursday (March 12) to close the school starting Monday (March 16). That Friday (March 13), the director talked to the kids during Circle Time (whenever I talk about a Daily Scrum with my daughter, I highlight this as her equivalent) about the school closure over the next two weeks.

First of all, that sense of transparency, as much as she could conduct without instilling Coronavirus-fear, and placing some trust in the kiddos, is rather Agile in spirit. Love it. This wasn’t where I was out-done, though.

When I did drop-off that Friday, I was told they were interested in doing a video conference with all the families, so that each day we could do a dance party and read stories – keeping that connection between the kids and teachers, maintaining a semblance of normalcy during these times of Social Distancing.

“WE CAN USE ZOOM!” I exclaimed, pulling from my corporate experience, “I HAVE A FREE ACCOUNT! PEOPLE CAN JOIN FOR FREE!” I was excited to be able to provide some help, technically, in these times of need.

So Monday (March 16) rolls around. All the families get an email saying a YouTube channel was started, new videos uploaded daily. “Cool cool,” I thought to myself, before zipping an email their way, “SO WHEN WE GONNA TEST THIS ZOOM THING OUT? I mean, I don’t care either way, BUT IT’S TOTALLY AWESOME, AND OUR CONNECTIONS WOULD BE LIVE!” I guess I did care either way.

This is the Agile bit you were here to see…

The email response began:

When we all talked about it we were taking it one step at a time. Let’s see how these videos go and our responses and evolve and adapt from there.

Duh. Of course. Agile’d.

I’m so proud.

Three-Minute Sprint

Try it.

And no, that doesn’t mean y’gotta be all strict-Scrum about it by having a Planning meeting, then standing up every 30 seconds, then Retrospecting at the end, followed by a Review session. Plan beforehand. Retrospect & Review afterwards. Sit down for the full three minutes.

Get yourself to focus for a full three minutes on something, where you may not have a potentially shippable output, but there is some micro-milestone you can claim.

Try it.

What you’ll find is this kick-starts your productivity. You’re giving yourself space to work towards something. Sometimes it feels silly, but at least for me, most of the time I blow past the timer and keep going.

This idea pops up when building habits. Pulling again from “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, when implementing “The Third Law – Make It Easy”, he recommends starting with repetition over perfection. This is what is meant by the initially counter-intuitive phrase, “quantity over quality”.

Frequency builds habits. So make it easy by finding and doing the miniature version of the habit you really want. Want to do 10 push-ups? Do and be satisfied with 1 push-up. Want to focus on work for 30 minutes? Do and be satisfied with 3 minutes. It’s the frequency of the exercise session and the work session that builds those habits, so you might as well make it easy.

The book calls this the “Two-Minute Rule”. I like three. Partially ’cause I’m Merrill The Third, and partially ’cause my daughter has these hourglass sand timers. We don’t have a two-minute one, but we do have a three. This analog solution is very satisfying.

Try it.

Who knows. It might kick-start anything you tell yourself you want to do, like, say, oh, I dunno, write a blog post first draft in 30 minutes, just as an example. Insert winkie-face here.

Agile Habits

Google “Aristotle quotes”. Here’s the first one I see:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

(Oooh. Starting with philosophy. Dorky. I like it.)

In his book “Atomic Habits“, James Clear builds off of this notion. Habits are those actions we take without trying – they’re automatic. The reason they’re automatic is we have found value in making them automatic – we either do them very frequently, or we have practiced them a lot. The benefit of automating them is so that we save brain energy to think through things that are novel, or things that matter, instead of things we do with a high enough frequency, like brush teeth before bed, or wash hands after coming back home, or wiping our sword on the grass before putting it away after the weekly field battle for the Hill of Arowyn with the neighbouring tribe.

(Oooh. An attempt at a Welsh word. Gaelic. I like it.)

Continue reading Agile Habits

You’re Making Something Cool

You’re making something cool.

Congrats – now let’s make some assumptions.

You’re a crew of lads and lasses who code for a relatively small start-up. You’re recently out of college, so you haven’t worked in a larger organization. This means you have not had to code under the auspices of a large process – quite the opposite: because there are so few of you, y’all are frontierfolk, coding in the wild wild west, gangnam-style garage-style.

You’re successful. Sales are up. So are profits. You’re making something cool, and you want to make more cool things, so you grow by hiring more coders. Your one team has grown to a handful. Because there are now more of you than the good ol’ garage days, general complexity has increased, so the founders of your start-up want to reduce some of the chaos by adding a little process.


You don’t like this.

We’ve been working fine without process. Now you want us to follow what? Scrum? What is this, rugby? Sales are up year over year. So are profits. What’s the problem? Don’t tell me what I can’t do!

You don’t like this one bit.

When folks in the software industry move from a big, rigid process to a small, Agile process, there are obviously increased freedoms. Heck, when folks talk about Scrum, they usually end up comparing it to the (more burdensome) status quo for software development. But you’ve been blessed.

Not blessed in a sense that you had an enviable upbringing – the software equivalent of parkour camp and paintballing and go kart racing and fueling all those adventures with home-made ice cream.

More blessed in a sense that you didn’t have a wretched upbringing – the software equivalent of… the beginning of most Roald Dahl stories.

Why do I have to use Scrum?

I was asked this not too long ago. And thusly I commenced my reply…

Hear ye, hear ye, oh ye crew-of-lads-and-lasses-who-code-for-a-relatively-small-start-up. I come bearing procedural gifts of enhanced freedoms and daily salvation.

…this was all I had in my Ye Olde Towne Crier pocket scroll. The ‘enhanced freedoms and daily salvation’ bit comes off as hyperbole, but now that my Sprints are 1 week instead of 2, I plan for less and actually get stuff accomplished, progress towards my life goals is measureable and tangible, and I feel I have a better handle on my path each day, where I’m better able to enjoy the journey, in the mirror I see a relaxed and happier face. And I’m a believer.

I told the crew that, off the bat, nobody has to do anything. There’s gotta be buy-in from the team, and that’s because the benefits and costs are explained and understood. Now, the costs are a lot easier to see – the regular meetings, breaking down tasks to a smaller-than-comfortable level, the brighter spotlight – and if this is all you see, and all you experience, then of course it’s gonna suck.

Those regular meetings are… constant, sure, but they’re tiny – 15 minutes a day – and they’re meant to be the only meetings, so no distractions from outside the team. Those smaller tasks are… smaller, sure, and that’s so you get feedback more often and you know the stuff you’re working on is going in the right direction – you’re not wasting your time. The spotlight is… brighter, sure, and that’s so stuff stopping or slowing you down can be found and addressed sooner – it’s not to micro-manage.

And that’s a decent point – it can seem micro-manage-y, but only if there isn’t an accompanying attitude of self-management.

Along with the processes that are so well advertised should be an ability for folks outside the team to truely trust the team to do what they do best. This is the part of Scrum that isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. After all…

You’re making something cool.

Hello – Is It Me I’m Looking For?

I can see it in my eyes.
I can see it in my smile.
I’m all I’ve ever wanted.
And –

…if we check out the System page of this blog, we see how this whole ScrumOfOne set of practices I’ve forged actually increases my Inner Peace.

Man does that sound awesome – I want me some of that existential goodness.

Sometime before the home settling, the wedding, the move, the move prep, and the wedding prep, I stopped being fully engaged in applying Scrum principles to my personal development. I had been working off of a Scrum-Lite process where, yes, I had a backlog, but it was to keep track of the things to which I was largely reacting. While the days were focused on mostly logistical issues, and rightfully so, what was missing was personal growth, and the accompanying Inner Peace.

Now that things have calmed down, with the state of the home being that folks have been able to stay over without being warned to mind the bear traps duffle bags and to watch out for that tree box, I’ve returned to putting things in a number of personal backlogs, prioritizing them, and siphoning off a few into the current sprint. And just the process of doing all that has felt grrrrreat! The relief has come less from knowing where I am going and more that I am not missing anything. I can’t get all the things done now, but they’re not forgotten, and the most important stuff is getting addressed. Very Scrum. What’s that tingling in my toes? Oh yeah. Inner Peace.

So I’m back on the bandwagon, and man do I not want to fall off and lose my growing Inner Peace… or… get dysentery.

Want more transparency? Fine. I thought it would be enough to tell y’all that I’m wicked pumped to be back in the game, but you’re egging me one… I’ll publish my velocity and the Kaizen story so y’all can learn along with me. There. You’re welcome.

The more important bits of Kaizen will fall into an improved System page – I’ll update that section to reflect what has been practical and repeatable.

First piece of Kaizen (for Sprint 141, which is the number of paychecks I’ve received, with a biweekly schedule that conveniently aligns with the sprintly schedule): Actually read the Sprint Backlog each morning. It’s simple, but this is the piece of adaptation that is independent, negotiable, valuable, ‘estimatable’ (such a clumsy word), specific, and testable that gets Scrummin’ back into my daily routine. And Inner Peace. Let’s not forget that.