Category Archives: retrospective

Reality Now Sucks, and is also Just Different

It’s 5am. It is OK to hate reality. You know you want to. Go ahead. I grant thee permission.

Oh, you’re right: the other half of the blog post title represents a more stoic and less detached approach to life, and while, on a good day, y’might resolve to this state, you’re likely to have an initial set of cortisol-driven, fear-based reactions.

And I say: embrace it …for a bit …because you’re human and this is part of the experience …and you only live twice. (#YOLT)

This isn’t a post about how an emotionally mature way to handle change we don’t at first like is to recall Bill Belichick’s, “it is what it is”.

This isn’t a post about how it is more spiritually sustainable to remove outcome from life events, and to go with the flow.

This isn’t even a post about allowing yourself to feel emotions (even though that’s how I’m starting all this).

It is about how the title is “Reality Now Sucks, AND is also Just Different”, and not “Reality Now Sucks, BUT is also Just Different”. Continue reading

Leave Cats Alone

There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
- someone who walks around in a hand-made, cat-skin coat

Does that phrase give you paws pause? It should. It should get you to imagine a world where skinning cats was a common enough activity such that the variety of methods was contemplated often enough to drive to a conclusion that was shared widely enough to stake its claim in our indeed vulgar vernacular as an axiom. WTF.

Yet, I care about that world.

I want to live in that world.

I want to live in that world… with the small detail of switching out the skinning of cats with the living of life in an Agile manner.

There’s more than one way to live life in an Agile manner.
- someone who walks around in a hipster, vintage, upcycled, locally harvested, hand-made, cat-skin coat

Step into this world with me.

Step into a world where I pined to be a Scrum Master (I practiced with the team of me while documenting the journey on this blog), where upon becoming a full-time Scrum Master, I have written just 8 blog posts. I became a father. I landed my third full-time Agile Practitioner gig, now as a start-up’s sole Agile Coach. And looking back on my own ScrumOfOne, I wonder how Agile I really am.

Those close have heard me complain about how caring for a new life has reduced my capacity to engage in personal development. This is measured by, um, how many things I can cross off a “stuff to evolve Merrill” list, and how often I check in with myself regarding my ability to, um, check things off said list, and knowing that I am working on the highest-value activities.

Step into a world where I’ve been too sleep-deprived and/or on duty to do any of the above personal development. I used to have a detailed backlog, and now I don’t. I used to have regular planning sessions and retrospectives, and now I don’t. I used to walk around feeling in control of my purposeful path on this pale blue dot, and now I don’t. (I used to not complain, and now I do.)

All the markers of DOING Agile have disappeared… replaced by the markers of BEING Agile.

(This epiphany didn’t hit me until getting to this very part of the blog post, so please stick with me.)

Though not along a path set via purposeful planning, I know my hours are spent on the highest-value activities: what is needed now and next for my family.

Though not formal, I’ve learned to use the small gaps in daily activity to reflect and prepare, reducing feedback loops and extracting Kaizen where appropriate.

Though not detailed, I now frequently use Siri & dictation & the iCloud-backed-up Reminders app on my iPhone as just enough process to make me effective. The different lists in the app serve as different ‘product’ backlogs. Weekly to daily ‘Sprint’ backlogs are established via setting a date per reminder, so the highest priority items are visible on my lock screen. My working backlog is in my hand at the single push of a button. With ‘the next’ literally at hand, my focus is freed to embrace ‘the now’.

Those close will now hear me contemplate how caring for a new life has increased my capacity to engage in the present moment.

And, uh, I guess that still counts as personal development after all. Hm. Well then. Just goes to show there is more than one way to skin a cat live life in an Agile manner write about the latest stage of my ScrumOfOne journey skin a cat.

My Interview And The Squiggle

In streamed a few strangers, trying to hide their smiles from each other and myself. They just came from the kitchenette, having colluded on how they would play out the next hour. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time – it was my interview.

If you are a software engineer, and you want a job coding, then it’s fair that your prospective employer asks you to code as part of the interview. So if you are a Scrum Master or Agile Coach, and you want a job … doing that stuff, then it’s fair that your prospective employer asks you to do Agile Coachy stuff as part of the interview.

And thus, we began role-playing a mock Retrospective, a best practice which follows from the 12th Principle of Agile Software:

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

I first asked this pretend team to step through the last two pretend weeks, collecting just the pretend facts, leaving out any pretend feelings, and having this written up and pretend physically displayed. This is a way to level set.

Then I went to the whiteboard and wrote “KEEP” in the top-left corner, “START” at bottom-left, and “STOP” at bottom-right. The exercise here is to ask the team to top-right corner think back through the two weeks, like we had just top-right corner done, and write down, one per sticky note, things top-right corner that we would like to keep doing, start doing, and top-right corner stop doing. Afterwards, we’d categorize them, discuss top-right corner them, determine which few things should be actionable, establish respective next steps Kaizen, then run a quick Retrospective on the Retrospective. This top-right corner has worked many a time before, producing quick wins with minimal pushback.

That’s when I top-right corner noticed the top-right corner. It was bare, and it made me uncomfortable. So I did what anyone in an interview situation would do: make stuff up. I drew a squiggle and said that I would later explain what that squiggle was for, giving myself time to figure out what that squiggle was for.

That’s when I top-right squiggle stepped the team through the exercise, and how we would top-right squiggle fill out the rest of the hour. When I top-right squiggle got to the top-right squiggle, I did what anyone in an interview situation would do: stay whatever was at the top of my head. I explained that the squiggle was a category for things you wanted to share that did not fit into the other categories.

Simple enough. Rub’ al Khali averted. The team drew pictures and put them there. Then they hired me. Now, when I run this flavour of Retrospective, the squiggle is used and loved.


Before my first day had passed, I was asked to take part in a mock retrospective. I had a few minutes’ notice. Soon, I streamed in with a few strangers, trying to hide our smiles from each other. We had just come from the kitchenette, having colluded on how we would play out the next hour. Of course, I knew this – it wasn’t my interview.


Before my first month had passed, I was asked to run the Retrospective for a hackathon. I had a few hours’ notice. Soon, there milled scores of buddies, sharing beers with each other. We had just voted on our favourite projects in the cafeteria, having cheerfully coded over the past few days. Of course, I used the squiggle – it was from my interview.

Squiggle keyword density: exactly 2%.

Sleep Well

I recently talked with a guy who went through a break-up. He detailed how it was hard to adjust, but he didn’t lose any sleep over it – he truly feels the right decision was made.

This got me thinking: that’s what life’s about: go to bed each night and when you look back on the day, truly sleep well (let go, be at peace).

This got me thinking some more: that‘s similar to another way of thinking about what life’s… about: go to your death bed and when you look back on your life, truly die well (let go, be at peace). Time scales are different, and this has been explored almost two years ago.

Besides making this connection, I want to offer one more insight: add another time scale: the Sprintly time box. Thus, go to the Retrospective and when you look back on the Sprint, let go & be at peace.

Oh no… we can go one more round: one more time scale: now. Let go & be at peace at all ‘now’s. Maybe that‘s what life’s about.

I’ll sleep on it.

The Birth That Counts

How do you prefer your birthday?

With a crowd all aloud?
With your crew downing brew?
With a few playing Clue?
With your mate tempting fate?
Sub-radar, “‘Tis news afar”?
(In a box with a fox?)

As I get deeper into my early 30′s, my preference has been the latter (no, not in a house with a mouse). Sure, I’m glad I was born, but if I’m not up for celebrating an event around a central character that is me, beyond celebrating for celebration’s sake, then I personally don’t see why I’d want others to go out of their way. If you want to, though, I won’t stop you.

Congratulating me on my birth? Call my Mom – she did the work. Call my Dad – he had a seminal part in the matter.

Congratulating me on making it this far in life without succumbing to disease or harm? I’ve made it this far, thanks, though I’m sure there are higher bars of achievement beyond survival now that the average lifespan is over 30.

Calling to say hi? That’s cool. Let’s grab a cappuccino.

I feel like I’ve turned into a curmudgeon in this regard. The thing is, the most useful part of a birthday, for me, is the opportunity to reflect…

The earth has circled the sun in about 525600 minutes. So while Earth has made its journey, how has mine been?

Reflection and other methods of observing ego are important, which is why I’d prefer to enjoy its benefits more often than once a year, say, once a week at my Sprint Retrospective. This means I have a birthday every week. Try it :) .

Happy Birthday to you, too.