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.


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.

New Year’s Resolutions Suck

Some time around a couple of New Year’s Eves ago, I became happily resolved in my resolution that Resolutions suck. I mean, I don’t mean to offend either of you, Father Time and Baby With Sash, you guys have a good thing going. What better marker than (basically) the Winter Solstice to celebrate longer days and the fact we’ve made it through another Winter as a species (in the Northern Hemisphere… caipirinhas be chillin’ with Caipirinhas in Rio). High-fives all around, can’t wait for that harvest.

Survival worries aside, you two have built in a Natural Retrospective, although the focus seems to be on the Adaptive aspect. Dah boat a yews are off to a great start… we’ve got a good thing going here… but I’ve still got some beef (especially with you, Baby With Sash, sashes are so last… century). Why are you setting us up to fail?

This whole thing is well-intentioned – getting us to write lists that are then framed in our hearts to keep for the entire year to become better people. But from whatever cloud you’re sitting, sipping champagne and blowing bugles, you’re laughing at us as we go along with your cruel and unusual punishment. I’d like to meet somebody who has truthfully pulled off their list of New Year’s Resolutions – each one; they deserve a Nobel Prize in Discipline and/or Stubbornness. At least the folks doing Lent have a fighting chance since it’s a MUCH shorter time to keep some resolution. I’ll bet on those guys any day over some schmuck who says they really believe they can keep something up for a year.

So, gentlemen, allow me to submit a modification to the impractical prank you’re peddling while keeping the intent:

Give Resolutions a chance: shrink that time box down from a year to a fortnight.

And make them smaller, so that you could pull them off in two weeks. And make them clear, so that you know when you’re done.

Personal Overhead

This is the post where I share my ScrumOfOne existential doubts.

Do I doubt this whole “Using Scrum for Personal Development” idea? Yes I do, yet I think it’s somewhat healthy. It is very encouraging that Scrum encourages critical thinking by building in a time to be retrospective and thus adapt: choose to amend the set of processes I’m imposing upon myself, which includes killing off all that overhead altogether! There is a question from ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’ by Timothy Ferriss that fits this all too well:

Am I being productive or just active?


Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?”

I’ll admit that I feel this ScrumOfOne idea is kinda my baby; I really like the idea and have found it key to managing how I purposefully get things done. So that I can analyze if these ‘Scrummy’ practices are a good return on investment, I have turned to these existential questions from ‘Rework’ by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson:

Why are you doing this?
Is this actually useful?
Will this change behavior?
What could you be doing instead?
What problem are you solving?
Are you adding value?
Is there an easier way?
Is it really worth it?

Man, those questions are straight-up down-right (left hook?) harsh! And I like ’em. A lot. They bleed with the spirit of Getting Real. I had huge plans: waking up at 5:31am to step through the three questions (I even convinced a buddy to be a part of this pre-dawn Scrum), stepping through and documenting a formal Retrospective, writing a PERL script to manage a text-based Product Backlog, reading weekly a set of quotes & phrases & book notes I’ve collected over the years as my personal set of Psalms. These weren’t just plans… I actually did them for a while!

So do I still do all this? Hellz no! These ceremonies were just not sustainable for the long term. My commute schedule changed, so 5:31am turned into an ungodly hour to be awake, although I still have the domain name. My Retrospective currently covers what happened over the past two weeks, how process adaptations fared, and what process tweaks to adopt. My Product Backlog is a Google Doc with the Sprint Backlog at the very top – a text editor in the cloud suffices. My hours-long re-centering read now happens monthly. I pared down the personal overhead to manageable levels based on fruitful returns.

Sure, ScrumOfOne takes discipline, which connotes a struggle, though what I’ve found as I’ve been massaging this system of processes is you can change the nature of the motivation when you see the fruits of your labor. The morning stand-up has turned into 15 minutes of alignment, mental prep, and a generally feel-good start to my day. It’s a trigger to personal finance documenting, reading a few fruity-sounding affirmations, and walking into the day with a purpose. When I do this, I literally walk differently. (I do!) This whole Scrum business is just that transforming.

Thus the system continues, yet only because it started with a habit: a small step: the seed of a fruit I hoped would work out. Upon processes that proved their own worth, I added, modified, and removed (…mostly removed) as I evolved this personal overhead, like trimming a fruit tree.

Alright. Seriously. What’s up with all the fruit in this post? I think I’ll grab a pear…