Home Is Where The Results Don’t Matter

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote “Eat, Pray, Love”, which became a bestseller. In a TED Talk she gave recently, she talks through how she struggled with the task of writing again, post-success, by looking back at how she kept writing post-failure. She called it “going home”.

And you have to understand that for me, going home did not mean returning to my family’s farm. For me, going home meant returning to the work of writing because writing was my home, because I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing, which is to say that I loved writing more than I loved my own ego, which is ultimately to say that I loved writing more than I loved myself. And that’s how I pushed through it.

your home is that thing to which you can dedicate your energies with such singular devotion that the ultimate results become inconsequential.

I think that’s beautiful, from the personal development Product Owner perspective.

What is your home?

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).

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.