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.

Product Owner

Over the past couple of days, I was in training to become a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO, in the lingo). I took the course, so now I have 4 more letters to append to my name. What’s even cooler, was that it was taught by Jeff Sutherland and his wife, Arline.

Jeff is the co-founder of Scrum, currently heading up Scrum Inc. in Cambridge, and shared insights and the stories behind the data that lead to this philosophy / framework.

Over the next few weeks, I will share the salient points I took away from two days in South Boston.


When I write a book, it is going to have a short title, like ‘On Raising Polar Bears in Saudi Arabia’. Well, see, even that is too long, and way too interesting (they were very gracious backgammon players).

If you’re Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield, you would write a book entitled The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do And How They Do It So Well, which is, well, yes, quite long, and also quite interesting, at least as per what little I read and saw of the interview on Business Insider.

It sounds a little like my favorite song lyric and second favorite contender for tombstone epitaph. Ladies and gentlemen, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band:

It’s not what you look like,
When you’re doin’ what you’re doin’.
It’s what you’re doin’ when you’re doin’,
What you look like you’re doin’.
Express yourself.

Dubbed ‘the most successful and productive people’, here are the highlights:

  • Grow from failure. They meet it not with blame, but with self-awareness and introspection, which lead to reinventing themselves.
  • Commit to dreams. They wrap their lives around their inspiration, with everything in the service of this end.
  • Channel negative emotions. They might get knocked back, but they keep their eye on the prize.
  • Go for broke. They forgo fearing failure.

What I take away from that is a two-part Art of Doing:

  1. Have a vision and a burning desire to wholly lead your life per your personal inspiration.
  2. Know that life will give you lemons and that they won’t stop you.

Tying back to the ScrumOfOne system I hold so dearly, #1 relates to the Product Owner and #2 relates to the ScrumMaster. The Product Owner sets the direction: vision and strategy. The ScrumMaster guides the team through the Scrum process, which includes the Retrospective, which in itself covers that first ‘Grow from failure’ highlight above. At the end of your Sprint, you take a look at anything that may not have gone as planned, ultimately adapting – reinventing yourself.

To me, that last highlight is tricky, ‘Go for broke’. When you’ve got your eye on the prize because you are unabashedly immersed in living your dream, I’m guessing ‘failure’, or fear of it, doesn’t register / exist in that frame. If you run into a wall, you pause, regroup, pivot, and continue trail blazing. That sounds like a major change in mindset for most folks who fear failure in pursuing their dream. Now I want to see if the book has more on this topic.

Take a page from the Internet’s favorite OTT bad-ass. When life gives Chuck Norris lemons, he makes orange juice.

Life Is A Game Of Economics

A couple of days ago, over Spanish lattes, I waxed philosophical with a close friend. Both of us are Biomedical Engineers, and the only reason we became friends is because we arrived early to class one day, realized we never really… talked to each other, and then when it came up how we were both Business Administration minors, we figured, yeah, we should be friends.

The start sounds pretty superficial, yet our current conversations are anything but. A recurring theme from these caffeinated chats is how life is a game of economics. Let me repeat that. In bold.

Life is a game of economics.

Out there is a definition: Economics is the study of scarcity and choice.

Out there is a TED Talk: Bjorn Lomborg: Global priorities bigger than climate change – go watch it. This is one of my favorite TED Talks, shifting the discussion from global problems to global solutions, and then discussing how to use a limited resource, money (scarcity), to fully implement specific global solutions (choice). Here’s a hint for the rest of this post: take a shot every time he mentions prioritization.

Let’s think about scarcity as applied to what you put into life, and what you get out of it. ‘Scarcity Thinking’ assumes there is not enough in the world for everybody; it is fear-based.

Look at that guy over there. He’s so rich and cool and happy. He has it all. Why can’t I have it all? He sucks.

Scarcity Thinking is oh so negative, and is the opposite of what is espoused in ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne, which is ‘Abundance Thinking’. This reframes how we give value to reality via a mindset where there is enough in the world for everybody, including you; it is love-based.

Look at that guy over there. He’s so rich and cool and happy. He has it all. I might not think I have it all right now, but I will. He’s alright. (And so am I.)

These are two ways to think about what you get out of life, where the idea of there not being enough is a depressing thing. When applied to what you put into life, ScrumOfOne contends that indeed there is not enough, where this is both a realistic and empowering outlook. (Empowering? Yes. Stay with me.)

One more opposing juxtaposition: Scarcity Thinking for consequences of your life actions is fraught with limiting beliefs (heck, by definition). Yet when applied to the life actions themselves, it’s these same limiting beliefs that reflect the reality of what you can give at any one time; you only have so much time / focus / attention / energy / chi / cash / other resources.

Let’s put it all together. When thinking about your future (life outputs), think big: Abundance Thinking. When thinking about now and what’s next (life inputs), think small: Scarcity Thinking.

Let’s now think about choice regarding how to use the above list of what you have, which we’ll call funds: using the fund of cash, using the fund of focus, etc. (I’m phrasing this in an abstract manner to show they can all be thought of and treated the same way.) When you choose to use the money fund for a pair of shoes, you are also choosing to not use this same money fund for a fedora. When you choose to use the time fund for a few episodes of your favorite show on Netflix, you are also choosing to not use this same time fund for the latest movie in the theaters. Thus, the allotment of any of these elemental funds comes at a cost, which economists call an opportunity cost.

Every damn decision, every damn day, has a damn opportunity cost.

Let’s rephrase. Life is the result of not just what you choose to do, but what you chose to do in the context of what you chose not to do.

If you had an unlimited supply of time and money right now, an abundance of each elemental fund right now, you could end up doing all things. I’m not talking about how much of these elemental funds you could have in the future (nudge nudge, we’re practicing Abundance Thinking for that, remember?). I’m talking about right now. If you choose to buy a pair of shoes instead of a fedora, you are choosing a pair of shoes over a fedora. You might want to get both some day, but right now, you are choosing one first, over the other. Acting on your preference is acting out your prioritization.

That, ladies and gentlemen (girls and boys, children of all ages, and all the ships at sea), is the point of this post:

Life is a game of economics, a game of being comfortable with scarcity to make choices via prioritization.

How is this empowering? (Thank you for staying with me.) Once you realize you can’t do everything right now, this takes the pressure off; you can only ever do the next thing. That is what is under your full control: the now. Yes, complete small steps with the purpose of completing a larger step, enjoying the smaller completed accomplishments along the way, but realize the focus is on now and next. Embrace the scarcity of your funds right now, and make choices for now and next, using prioritization.

This makes me giddy because this life-level prioritization is a key component of ScrumOfOne, and it’s really been empowering me to find all this fun in the game of economics life.

Especially over Spanish lattes.