Halve It Your Way or A Shovelful of Sugar

Eating your own dog food, or dogfooding, is like the practice of practicing what you preach, which can feel like having to taste your own medicine when the medicine ain’t so tasty, or if it isn’t Gmail.

Want to piss off a software developer? Tell her she’s got less time to code something. This isn’t specific to coders, of course, but this is more the realm I work in, so I can speak to it. She’ll thrash. “Leave me be,” she’ll say. “You foul beast,” she’ll add. (“And stop speaking for me,” I’ll type on her behalf, parenthetically.)

Being told there’s less time to do stuff sucks. The Scrum response to this is to, well, do less stuff.

Folks, I am opening up a can of whoop-ass my own Scrumalicious dog food and halving my Sprints from a time box of two weeks to one week, which means I will proportionately plan to do fewer points worth of things per now-shorter Sprint. “You damn dirty ape,” I say through clenched teeth, “Why?”

I’ll tell me why.

Last Sprint felt a little too eventful, and I was able to track this using my latest Kaizen Story, which was

…to monitor which stories get implemented that are emergent and not related to my Sprint Goal.

In doing so, I monitored myself diving deep into emergent stories related to Bitcoin (invested in 1 BTC), Litecoin (invested in 10 LTC), and AirBnB (opened up our home to strangers). Were they things that ultimately help me out? The Product Owner in me thinks so, but they didn’t further me along the journey of accomplishing my Sprint Goal or getting done my reduced number of Sprint stories. To top it all off, I have yet to do the Retrospective, but I attribute that to getting food poisoning right at the very end of the Sprint.

I feel like I’ve fallen off the bandwagon.

Or have I?

Having relatively short time boxes neatly punctuates what can otherwise be an endless slog of personal development, in the ScrumOfOne realm, or software development, in the just-about-everywhere-else realm. It provides a point of transparency that you can then inspect, from which a specific practice of adaptation hopefully emerges. What I could clearly see was that the points associated with the emergent stories were greater than my predetermined buffer. This triggered a rather Scrumalicious adaptation which, aaugh, increases my chances of getting my Sprint Backlog (predetermined list of things to do) completed if I shorten that list and then shorten the time I next check in… with… myself.

It feels like punishment, which I’m imposing on myself, which is twisted; however, it is a practice designed to get the team to win. For good measure, I’m throwing in a period of grooming my own fur Product Backlog.

Suddenly Deserve A Cupcake

My roommate, sophomore year in college, had a few phrases. My favourites were the euphemism of “intellectual clutter”, and the toothily grinned “treat yourself“.

(He also had a classy way of explaining vectors that involved demonstrating the resultant vector with a directional bobbing of his head between outstretched arms, his longer hair waving behind him like the circular ripples spawned when skipping stones at a steamy summer soiree. (My explanation of vectors is less classy and more… phallic. (That’s because vectors have both magnitude and direction. (Now you can’t unlearn that. (You’re welcome.)))))

This blog post is a continuation of the last, where I talked about leaving room in your Sprint for both the planned and unplanned, allowing yourself to be both proactive and reactive, where stories are thus either strategic or tactical. I can’t help but picture a yin-yang symbol at this point, so the Taoist in me is high-fiving me (from within) (odd… deep… deeply odd?) over my incorporation of balance into Sprint Planning. So let’s address value and effort, specifically for these ‘tactical’ stories that suddenly arise from time to time, by stepping through the Product Owner’s point of view.

The Product Owner is in charge of the vision of the product. For my ScrumOfOne, I view myself as a package of products (Merrill the musician, Merrill the financial responsible, Merrill the home dweller, etc.), each with its own vision. From any particular vision, there are epics, which are just large stories, which are broken down so that they are small enough to be taken into a Sprint, but within the context of its product backlog, a story has both value and effort. Value is indicated by its priority in the backlog. Effort is indicated by an assigned number of points.

All those items in those lists (stories in Product Backlogs) stem from a vision by the Product Owner.

So whether the Product Owner is telling the team to keep implementing stories from the Sprint Backlog (the planned), or to address issues that have suddenly arisen that can’t wait for the next Sprint (the unplanned), the direction is given based on what will get us closer to the Product Owner’s vision. Using this motivation, we will generally work on the thing with the next highest priority (subject to other Scrum principles like reducing work in progress to reduce waste and completing the Sprint Backlog to increase morale and allowing team self-management). Thus, if an unplanned task is suddenly a story with value, then like any other story towards a product vision, it should get points assigned for effort.

Is this cheating?

All I have to do is say that what I’m doing is good for me (something towards a product vision), and I suddenly deserve a cupcake (give myself points for the ScrumOfOne Sprint Backlog).

It sure feels like cheating, especially since it seems almost too easy! If I take my lady out on a date, I get points for a story completed that would have been from the ‘Be a good partner’ product backlog. If I have a friend visit, I get points for a story completed that would have been from the ‘Be a good friend’ and ‘Have a welcoming home’ product backlogs. If I get inspired to work on a project, I get points for a story completed that would have been from the… product backlog associated with that project.

In the corporate realm, sudden stories are taken in and worked on by the team, so you can bet your socks there are points associated with that effort!

Taking this to the extreme, you could be in extreme-reactionary mode, only doing things that come up. In the software realm, this is like only making bug fix releases and never building new features. In the ScrumOfOne realm, this is like only reacting to life and never taking initiative.

The second half of the Interrupt Pattern addresses this by programming an automatic abort of the Sprint if the buffer for unplanned activities overflows. So if the buffer for tactical stories is 15 points per Sprint, and the green light is given for a story that would mean we would complete 16 points or more of stories that were not from the Sprint Backlog, the Sprint pre-maturely ends and there is another re-planning. This drastic measure sheds light on the evident misalignment between planned priorities (Sprint Backlog) and actual priorities (embracing all interruptions).

So (…I tell myself…), if something comes up that is technically a distraction from the Sprint Backlog yet not a total mess (intellectual clutter), then feel OK taking it. Just remember to give yourself points afterwards (treat yourself).

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.

On Point…s

You have something you want to do. You’re doing it for a reason (it has value, or benefit) and it doesn’t come free (it has cost, like time or money or focus). Generic enough of a start for a blog post? Good. Let’s talk Scrum.

You have a story. It has a benefit (business value) and a cost (effort). The backlog is a list of things to be done (stories), where this list is ordered (prioritized) by business value (fine, personal value since we’re in ScrumOfOne-land, or just value), with the highest / most important at the top. Each story has points associated with it, representing effort.

Business value is represented by backlog priority. Effort is represented by story points.

This is simple. This is Scrum101. And this is something I didn’t fully get until the Product Owner training last week. From this simple and clear concept, I am amending how I’ve been doing my ScrumOfOne.

More important stories are not ‘worth’ more points. How much a story is ‘worth’ is represented by its position in the backlog (be it the Sprint backlog or the Product backlog) and by this qualifier ONLY. Yes, the more valuable a story is, the more effort it might be, but not necessarily. For a recent example, I look at how I handled stories related to getting the Product Owner training.

I started with an ‘epic’ (just a large story): Become a Certified Scrum Product Owner. Then I broke it down to investigating the training options & timing, signing up & paying for it, getting reimbursement paperwork underway at work, and attending the classes. The epic, though important and thus close to the top of the backlog, is too large to fit into a Sprint, so it was broken down. Of those stories, ‘attending the classes’ was relatively the easiest (least effort): just show up! Of those stories, ‘investigating the training options & timing’ was relatively the hardest (most effort): spend time.

These stories, in retrospect, in and of themselves do not require a lot of effort, so they should not get a lot of points. Yes, working towards another Scrum-related certification helps me in better crafting this ScrumOfOne idea and improves my marketability, but this does not mean it gets lots of points. Instead, it gets a better/higher position in the backlog.

In the business world, coming up with a value per story means find the dollar value. In the world of personal development, coming up with a value per story is… harder. In both cases, this is one of the jobs of the Product Owner: prioritize the backlog, i.e., identify the value (thus, relative value) of each story.

With my example above, I would say this set of stories had high value and low effort. One would think these types of stories would be ones to do first – prefer to implement stories with the highest benefit to cost ratio. Or I could just look at the title of slide #52 of the slide deck from last week’s training:

Prioritization of Business Value / Effort Can Cut Cost and Time to Market by 50%

Filtering out the MBA-speak, this might look like:

Prefer to do the coolest stuff that’s not that hard to pull off.

And this starts with getting the idea behind ‘points’ straight.


Once upon a time, I was frustrated.

This was, like, yesterday.

I just didn’t like how things were going, to the point where I got home, plopped myself on the couch, and sat there, staring at a candelabra that had way more color than the state of my soul. Things weren’t going my way.

Ha. Now that I’ve typed that, I realize that is a very accurate phrase to describe my mood all those day ago.

Things weren’t going my way.

Thus, I ruminated on this thought, chewing through the fat of gloomy cud, regurgitating thoughts that led to:

Oh, those dang things! It’s their bloody fault! They weren’t doing what I wanted them to do! Grrr!!!

Once I realized how I was thinking about these things, I bit my tongue; I chewed through my frustration. The insight was recognizing my passivity. The solution is being a ‘Man (/Woman) of Action’.

Granted, there is some solid good that comes from working through grief and not just sweeping undeniable emotions under the rug (you’ll just trip over them later). So once I did that, by sitting and doing nothing useful because I felt like the accomplished equivalent of a gastronomical intermediate by-product, I figured I should make a plan of action, and follow through, based on a set of values I find important – y’know, taking action.

Oh, that’s right. I already did that. I have one of those. It’s called my ScrumOfOne personal Sprint backlog, built off of my larger backlog(s) of things I want to do and be, prioritized by what I find important.

Stick with the plan. Tweak every couple of weeks. My plan.

Phew. That was a lot to go through since, like, yesterday.