Category Archives: retrospective


I have a co-worker, who, anytime he is about to reproduce a software defect, says,

Notice how my hands never leave my arms.

This is his version of, “Notice, there is nothing hiding up my sleeves,” before a magic trick. It’s cute. He also tells jokes like,

What does Cape Cod and an elephant have in common?

But you’re not here for classy jokes (tee hee). You’re here because the title caught your eye, and now you’re beginning to wonder if you’ve been dup’d into reading asinine humor (tee).

The underlying theme in seriously restarting my own ScrumOfOne is transparency, first with myself, then with all you adoring fans. I shared how I’ve been setting myself up with Sprint Backlogs, placing value in completing them, and then my thought processes to Scrumily address this short-term personal development objective after corresponding Retrospectives. In line with this transparency, I have added a top-level page to share how I plan to grow ScrumOfOne as a website, a blog, and as a meme.

Scrum co-founder Jeff Sutherland said he hadn’t heard of applying Scrum to personal development, so I’m taking this journey seriously, stewarding into maturity a relatively nascent idea (hee).

Regularly Scheduled Chaos

Oh – hey! I almost didn’t see you there. You know. From up here on the bandwagon. The view is great. But you’re not here for that. You’re here ‘caus-

Snake Oil! Snake Oil! Snake Oil! Get some now! It’s great for what ails ya! Anything! Anything at all! Grandma got bunions? Papi got the sniffles? Then Snake Oil is for you! Apply directly to the forehead! Snake Oil!

Geez, don’t you hate that? Here we are, having a nice conversation, you down there, me up here, on the bandwagon, out where the deer and the antelope play, and out of nowhere we get interrup-

Fording a river? Who isn’t nowadays! For these hazardous trips, don’t risk it! Leave it to the experts! Let us at Caleb’s help you with some of our special caulk! Caleb’s Caulk! Don’t leave home without it! Caleb’s Caulk!

…interrupted. You can’t predict these things. (Unless, of course, you can …at which point please help me with trading Bitcoins.) You just have to be ready to roll with it (chaos), and I recently learned how after my last sprint (scheduled life).

See, Sprint 141 was my first one back after not doing any disciplined self-Scrumming, so I planned to do all this stuff. I had all this energy at my personal Sprint Planning session, where I looked over my Product Backlogs, grabbed the top-prioritized stories, threw ‘em into the Sprint Backlog for Sprint 141, and was all like, “Yeah! I’m gonna DO this! Do it all! All the things!”

Yyyyyeah – no. I did not.

My Sprint 141 velocity was 37 points, which is respectable for me (more on how I’ve assigned points to personal/ScrumOfOne stories in a future post), but in the Retrospective, I looked at the stories associated with those 37 points, and noticed two things:

  1. I didn’t get done even half of what I had planned for that two-week period.
  2. I got a lot of other stuff done.

This ‘other stuff’ was mainly in reaction to unforeseen …interruptions, e.g., a buddy visiting, striking while the iron is hot for a surprise date, sudden extra work at …work.

So there I was, at my own personal Retrospective, feeling both good and bad at the same time. Good because I got a decent amount of stuff done – I was productive! Bad because half of my accomplishments weren’t from the planned Sprint Backlog, which meant they weren’t the top-priority… the things that would move me most towards the respective visions per personal Product Backlog – I was not efficient!

This last part is a downer. It’s a downer because I had done this all the time: planning to do a set of things over two weeks, and at the end of the two weeks, never getting them done. I have thus been injecting into my own life regular opportunities to show myself that I can’t get done what I planned, snowballing evidence of my inability to both commit and commit to myself! What’s a mother to do?

For just such situations (corporate teams encounter this, too), Scrum co-founder Jeff Sutherland recommends something called the ‘Interrupt Pattern‘. Essentially, be flexible to sudden direction changes by planning for less. Sprint Teams can do this by adding a buffer of points into their planned velocity, where this buffer is a placeholder for stories that suddenly crop up, like dealing with hot issues from a customer or a freak Y2K bug that was latent for 14 years.

For ScrumOfOne-rs like me, this means committing to fewer stories at the Sprint Planning, knowing that I will make up the rest of my bi-weekly productivity with either tactical accomplishments (reacting to life – stuff just came up) or strategic accomplishments (living proactively – stuff off my Product Backlogs).

This improvement to Sprint Planning was the more interesting Kaizen to come out of the last Retrospective. The piece of improvement I’m applying to this Sprint 142 is to push daily to complete a planned 1-point story. This ensures I’m doing something each day to refine myself. Today, that 1-point story is pumping out the weekly blog post.

Tomorrow, that 1-point story might well be to buy some of that caulk I’ve heard so much about…

Kaizen Story

As I’ve worked with Scrum in a context that is not software development, I’ve come to define Scrum thus:

Scrum is a framework for getting stuff done that embraces change, while promoting transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

You get transparency from the Daily Stand-Up meeting (this is called the Scrum, too), and both the Sprint Burndown Chart and the Release Burndown Chart. Everybody starts the day on the same page, blockers are identified, and outside parties are privy to the progress during the Sprint and towards a release-worthy product; these are formats for easy sharing and digesting of Sprint-related information.

From all the data being laid out from the Burndown Charts, we can get inspection. The Sprint-end demonstration (part of the Review) also allows for a frequent check on the state of the software and acceptance of the stories done during the Sprint: inspection of the work. Inspection of the process is done during the Retrospective.

And the Retrospective is THE place where adaptation is determined. After inspecting the process, using methods I’ve mentioned in the previous two posts, we ideally get a somewhat prioritized list of stuff we either want to keep, stop, or start doing: a backlog of adaptation options.

Now, we pat ourselves on the back, go straight into Sprint Planning, and restart the Sprintly cycle.

And fail.

I mean, if we just come up with a list of ways we can get better, but don’t really do anything about it, then the Retrospective was a jolly ol’ waste of time. Does this sound like post-mortem meetings you’ve been a part of? Were they called ‘Lessons Learned’ meetings? See, I passionately dislike that term, ‘Lessons Learned’. You cannot say you’ve properly learned your lesson unless you repeat a situation and then exhibit ‘better’ behaviour, thus proving that you have indeed learned your lesson. Until then, you’re just talking about ‘how it all went’, an ‘Issues Encountered’ meeting, sharing what you’d do better next time.

The Retrospective is different.

At the top of the backlog of adaptation options, there must be an immediately actionable process improvement that can be implemented. How to ensure you do this? Make it a story for the upcoming Sprint: the Kaizen Story. Kaizen? Yeah, it’s Japanese:

Kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement of working practices, personal efficiency, etc. Kaizen literally means ‘improvement’.

So, via Kaizen, we adapt. Via the Kaizen Story, a properly formed Sprint backlog item with points and acceptance criteria… and is independent, negotiable, valuable, ‘estimatable’, sized to fit, and testable… and is otherwise meeting a Definition of Ready for stories, the team is constantly working on improving the Scrum process, specifically using a measure uncovered and set by the team itself. (What’s that? At the back of the room… is that… is that the ‘self-management’ flag being waved? Why yes. Yes it is.)

I don’t have a clever way to end this post besides expressing how I think this idea is just so damn cool: Scrum becomes a framework for both getting stuff done and for improving how stuff gets done.


Hot Or Not, Fist Or Five

If you’re in Boston, you know it’s, like, 105 degrees. Or 85 degrees, dipping into the 90′s, but we adamantly complain about this weather like it’s suddenly our jobs, so it might as well be 105.

(Attempt at a smooth transition in 3… 2…)

Moving to what we can control, and might equally have a few opinions about, Retrospectives are meant to, yes, get people thinking back and talking about the Sprint. You might read that at the end of a Retrospective, there is a meta-Retrospective: the team talks quickly about how that meeting went. One way to do this is via the ‘fist or five’ technique.

At the same time, so have some fun with it by counting down from 3, everybody sticks up a hand with the number of fingers representing how much they liked the meeting. Five fingers mean they really liked the meeting, got a lot out of it, thought it was a solid use of time, and they’re so happy, they want to make love to everybody, like Roberto Benigni.

No fingers is a fist, and this means they really did not like the meeting, are now dumber for it, thought it was a total waste of time, and they’re so unhappy, they want to conduct atrocities of great evil, like not commenting code.

I’ve started applying this neat little technique to not just the Retrospective, but to each artifact and ceremony of the past Sprint. Do this at the beginning of the Retrospective by listing Stand-up Meeting, Sprint Planning Meeting, Sprint Backlog, Product Backlog, etc., and getting the team to vote on each of these, tallying up the number of 0s through 5s for each Scrummy thing.

Et voila: the team opines on pieces of the process as a primer to providing pithy ponderings on the previous passage of purposeful participation.

Tying this back to the last blog post, we now have more to consider for how to adapt in the next Sprint.

Squeezing Twice As Much Out Of Retrospectives

Looking to adapt via Scrum? That’s what the Retrospective is for, and there are a number of ways to conduct this meeting. I’m a particular fan of one way that gets the team to share twice as much input.

We start by everybody getting a few of those sticky notes. Watch ‘em comment over the color of the sticky notes – it’s cute. Personally, I go for the neon pink – nothing wrong with standing out.

On a whiteboard, divide it up into three sections: Keep, Start, Stop.


Now we get the team to sit and think. One idea per sticky, they each think back through the Sprint and write down ideas or events, one per sticky, that they would like to keep doing, start doing, or stop doing. Watch how a few ‘em will have lots to say, sometimes asking for more stickies.

Alright. If folks haven’t been walking up to the board to put ‘em in the appropriate area already, let’s do so. Watch ‘em say things like, “Hey, I said the same thing,” as they place their stickies next to similar ones.

Now we walk through each sticky. Retrospectives are the one meeting in Scrum where the most discussion takes place, so things can get a little emotional, and watch a few of ‘em change their vocabulary in describing events so as to not directly implicate anybody. This is also where the kudos come out. Encourage verbal back-patting.

During the discussion, group the stickies, maybe even draw a circle around them on the board to clarify. Get the team to agree that the stickies have been appropriately grouped. Excellent. Give yourself a back-pat. Surreptitiously.


We continue by everybody getting a few of those sticky dots. Watch ‘em comment over the color of the sticky dots – it’s cute. Personally, I go for the taupe – those are unfortunately rare.

Now we get the team to stand and deliver …a total of 5 sticky dots. One vote per dot, they get to distribute them however they like across the groups of sticky notes, voting for what they would like to keep doing, start doing, or stop doing. Watch how a few ‘em will deliberate aloud, undottedly undoubtedly influencing others.

Now we walk through the dot clusters, tallying up the votes per group of sticky notes. Step back. State the obvious, like a sports reporter, “Well folks, looks like this group over here got the most votes, with this other group here in second place.” Things won’t exactly get emotional, but watch a few of ‘em nod their heads, with fewer still pumping their fists in the air.

Et voila: the team sources ideas, the team votes on the ideas: the crew is surveyed twice, going deeper into the heart of the issues that matter.

Regardless of the vote distribution, the most voted note groups will be the focus of how the team will want to adapt for future sprints. Excellent. Give yourself another back-pat. This time, don’t hide it.