Category Archives: product owner

Let The Wookie Win

Have you ever completed something? Of course you have.

Do you know how good that feels? Of course you do.

So it’s no surprise that painting the last big room in your new apartment, followed by closing out your storage unit such that everything you and your new wife own is now under one roof, followed by capping off Netflix’s ‘House of Cards’ season all feels pretty freakin’ exhausting great! Everybody should get to feel this… more often!

So why don’t we?

At this point, I’m taken back to my Product Owner training, where (Scrum co-founder) Jeff Sutherland waxed poetic about… sports. So, with me please, imagine a sports team – your good ol’ neighbourhood generic sports team – it don’t matter what the sport is, just pick one – yes, any one, seriously – fine, curling – I picked curling for you – full-contact no-holds-barred curling.

Imagine that this team loses a match. Sucks, I know, but curling isn’t immune to losing. Think of what it’s like going into the next exciting match. Got it? Got that feeling? OK. Now imagine going into this next match, but having WON your previous bout. Got it? Got that feeling? Great – you’ve already visualized way more about curling than the average Canadian bear.

Gently slide curling aside for a moment, and apply these thought experiments to two completely different sporting and oxymoronic words: Scrum sprinting. By equating not finishing all the planned stories in a sprint to losing, and finishing all the planned stories in a sprint to winning, you get the feeling with which you go into the next sprint.

And it’s not just a feeling – there’s research to suggest that this kind of ‘failure’ prevents the team from improving, and that teams that finish early accelerate faster. Putting the ScrumOfOne hat back on, this means both not jam-packing your sprints with things to do, and preventing distractions from shifting your focus from getting things done.

Easier said than done? Well, I start with setting the bar lower, by setting myself up with fewer stories per sprint (the planned), and then leaving a buffer for things that come up (the unplanned). This is so common a tip in practicing Scrum that it is its own ‘pattern‘, where you can find more patterns here. These are ways to get started with Scrum and then get to Sutherland’s idyllic hyperproductive state. Interesting stuff, and it’s not too hard to see a ScrumOfOne corollary.

Channel Your Inner Tim Gunn

I don’t always watch Project Runway, but when I do, I drink Dos Equis I watch Tim Gunn. In terms of a competition show, it’s easy to see why it’s appealing – the fashionable hopefuls take on a new challenge with 30 minutes to design and at max 2 days to make the thing.

Yes, people get kicked off the island (it’s Manhattan!), people get immunity each challenge, people get prizes, and only 1 lucky winner gets to be called the next America’s Top Model American Idol Food Truck Foodie Trucker Apprentice Top Designer. So yes, there’s pressure, and people losing their cool.

And that’s where Tim Gunn comes in.

What makes this show different is that there’s this impartial person who’s EVERYBODY’S BUDDY – he’s not a judge (although, with the ‘Tim Gunn Save’, he can veto one elimination per season now), he’s a mentor. He’ll walk into the work room and work the room, going from bench to bench, asking each designer how they’re doing, hearing out his/her design, and giving feedback, be it technical, aesthetic, or emotional.

He’ll give hugs AND he’ll give tough love. He’ll give his opinion AND he’ll tell you to show the judges who you really are. Be authentic? We need to hear more of that message! Signature phrase? Make it work! TIM GUNN FOR PRESIDENT!

And that’s what Tim Gunn does.

And that’s what a ScrumMaster does.

She gives hugs AND she gives tough love. She gives her opinion AND she tells you to show the Product Owner who you really are. Make it work!

(Oh boy… and now to apply this to ScrumOfOne…) And this is what I do.

I give myself hugs AND I give myself tough love. I give me my opinion AND I tell myself to show me who I really am. Make it work!

Yes, you’re right – that doesn’t translate as cleanly, and maybe it’s partially because the notion of coaching yourself is inherently paradoxical. Balancing what you want (“More!” says the Product Owner) and what you need (“Less!” says the ScrumMaster) is why there are two different people taking on these forces in a normal Scrum team. This echos the struggle of an artist: More! / the drive to keep working on it until it is perfect, versus Less! / the need to stop working on it and then share it with the world. So, yes, you’re right – it’s not easy.

And that’s why I forgive myself when I fall off what feels like a ScrumOfOne Wagon. Moving, getting married, settling into a new home, plowing through a couple of Ruby books, getting sick a couple of times, closing out the storage unit, all in a couple of months, means I’ve been way more focused on the ‘now’, and barely looking into the ‘next’ / short-term future.

So this is how I forgive myself for falling off the ScrumOfOne Wagon… by writing a blog post about forgiving myself. How self-serving. (Kinda like this whole blog. There. I said it.)

And this is where my inner Tim Gunn comes in.

I give myself a hug.

Thanks, me.

(I’m welcome. Now pull myself together and stop talking to myself. Make it work!)


Don’t do it.

Getting married and moving in the same month? Yeah, take it from me, kids: don’t do it.

Especially if you’re moving into a place where the previous tenants left it in a state that was… less than desired, such that you’re applying elbow grease to a welcoming layer of grime in places. Yes, I chose this place as our new home since it was available, in our price range, larger, and walkable to a great number of centers of activity in Cambridge – killer & quiet location.

To apply a Scrum lense, it’s been an interesting exercise in Product Ownership. We moved in while still dealing with our wedding planning, so after some initial settling, we put further nesting on pause to deal with the wedding …aaaaand now we understand why folks plan weddings for a living.

(That said, ours kicked ass. Biggest reason it all came together? Friends who pulled more than their fair share of logistics, like moving tables, setting chairs, manning the bar, solemnizing, and running the three-legged races. Want to have a low-key, high-fun, close-knit, kick-ass wedding? Have great friends.)

Speaking of planning, our honeymoon was wonderfully unplanned. We stayed local, slept 14 hours the first night back, which meant we woke up to… boxes, which meant we couldn’t help but clean and unpack and paint the place. On our freakin’ honeymoon. Not my ideal, but again, an interesting exercise in Product Ownership and balancing priorities.

Good thing I’m extending this honeymoon. Indefinitely.

How Not To Forgive Myself

Two guys walk into a bar. (Ooh, a joke…) One guy says, “Hey man, good to see you again.” (Alright, so this next part will be the funny part…) The other guy says, “Hey man, I don’t entirely want to be here.” (…well that was hardly worth a chuckle)

That’s what I actually said to him! Was that rude? (Oh, it’s not a joke, Merrill’s the second guy.)

At my Scrum Product Owner training session over three months ago, I met a Product Owner, started talking about my application of Scrum to Personal Development, heard how he was into using Scrum for Professional Development, and then took the conversation back up a couple of days ago. (A man-date?)

So when I told my buddy that I didn’t want to be there (“I was being a wicked rude jerk-face”), it was in the context of how I see a necessary level of forgiveness from the Product Owner in ScrumOfOne. In ‘regular’ Scrum, this is analogous to the practice of building a buffer into Sprints: a reservation of a part of the velocity for things the team or Product Owner decides to get done that arrive mid-Sprint. (You mean you can’t stick to a plan for a full Sprint?)

It’s because you can never plan what opportunities may arise or what fires may suddenly need putting out – and definitely not for a full Sprint. (Oh.) Thus, I almost NEVER fully follow through with what I set up at my ScrumOfOne Sprint Planning meeting. (And what, you beat yourself up for this?)

And I feel bad (oh) because I see these remaining Sprint Backlog items at the end of two weeks, staring me in the face from the glowing rectangle that lives in my pocket. (‘Glowing rectangle’, that’s funny.) This is what I brought up with my buddy. (Did you mention how you talk to yourself in your own blog posts?)

By me grabbing a drink with him, I’m NOT doing something I had already set up for myself. The forgiveness comes in if I ultimately believe that the activity I DO do (tee-hee) is effectively a story that gets me closer to some vision for myself. By chatting up somebody in the thick of promoting Scrum at corporations, I knew I would learn a tonne (the metric ton, good choice) about the various adoptions of the framework, and I think we were able to devise some concrete next steps for getting professional development underway where he is.

(I get it: doing the man-date meant you didn’t do stuff on your Sprint Backlog, but in the larger picture, it’s all good.)

So now here is my struggle: I want to replace the notions of forgiveness and anxiety over not accomplishing carefully prioritized stories towards building the product(s) of me, with the notion of judgement-free doing.

Yes, I’m trying to weave the Taoist concept of Wei Wu Wei (effortless action), or at least a consequence of this idea, into ScrumOfOne.


(Yeah, he needs all the help he can get!)

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.