Category Archives: sprint backlog

Plan For Less

Lately, I’ve pulled off this seemingly impossible goal: complete all the things I planned to do per Sprint! My secret? Plan for less.

By planning for less per Sprint, yes, I leave myself open to do more and to go with the flow …of the day. This means a couple of things, and I think of it like an equation:

My Sprint Backlog = low number of planned stories + high number of unplanned stories

To get the most out of the planned stories, I have them associated with my Sprint Goal, which used to answer the question, “What is the exciting new thing I will share proudly with the world at the end of my Sprint?” and nowadays answers the question, “What do I want to make sure I get done by the end of my Sprint?” This sentiment is more practical, more self-serving, and way less stressful, ’cause all I have to do to accomplish this declarative Sprint Goal is one or two small and specific things. A few hours of focus effort, et voilà, I can proudly wave the flag of the Republic of Productivity (I hear David Allen is the Prime Minister).

To get the most out of the unplanned stories, I look in two places.

First, I’ll look at my Product Backlogs. I just look at the top, ’cause that’s where the high-priority items are. If there’s something there that is convenient to do, or that I’m particularly inspired to do, voilà, I cherry pick. These Product Backlogs then serve as reminders of all the cool and/or important things I want to do.

Second, I’ll look… around. I’ll look at anything that is not a list. Whether it is doing something spontaneous or living like a millionaire, most of my Sprint Backlog stories end up being emergent stories as of late. As long as I check in with myself often enough, I can maintain a level of strategic personal growth while embracing… life.

Folks, this is the most empowering version of my ScrumOfOne experiment I’ve found for healthily balancing the Agile constraints of personal development through Scrum, with the dynamicity of daily life.

I’m hesitating to press the ‘Publish’ button. This post just ain’t that funny… it’s not inspiring… it’s not captivating. While it’s unsettlingly dry, I write this because it is settlingly culminating.

Since I cut my Sprintly time-box in half, I’ve had more practice with performing the Retrospective and Sprint Planning per Sprint ‘turn-over’: it takes an hour and change. From the more opportunities to adapt, I’ve removed how I used to feel like a bum for not getting done the things I’d ‘commit to myself’ to doing, and actually get more stuff done. And I’ve been punting on this particular post for a while because this is effectively a report on research.

I used to do shit like this, and it’s been kinda sucky. Now I do shit this other way, and things’ve been way more rockin’.

Oh, that’s right. That’s what this blog is about. Where’s that ‘Publish’ button…

What Are Days?

You ever notice that sudden plans are usually fun? For me, sure, what’s cool is the thing that is planned, but it’s equally neat how, like, 2 hours ago, this idea of a plan wasn’t out there, and then, all of the sudden, somebody came up with it and then it was acted upon.

Wham – you blink.

Bam – you enjoy.

If I could only remember that the days were not bricks to be laid row on row, to be build into a solid house, where one might dwell in safety and peace, but only food for the fires of the heart.
- Edmund Wilson, Critic and Writer (1895-1972)

This is my way of saying that this last Sprint, I’ve had an extraordinarily large number of emergent stories, and I’ve gone along with them. Dinner here. Movie there. Oscar-watching party somewhere around the corner. Sprint Goal nowhere close to being accomplished.

Yet – and I think that as you get older you become more OK with things like this – I’m more OK with things like this. I’m trying to remember that our days are indeed meant to be gut-level exciting.

Halve It Your Way or A Shovelful of Sugar

Eating your own dog food, or dogfooding, is like the practice of practicing what you preach, which can feel like having to taste your own medicine when the medicine ain’t so tasty, or if it isn’t Gmail.

Want to piss off a software developer? Tell her she’s got less time to code something. This isn’t specific to coders, of course, but this is more the realm I work in, so I can speak to it. She’ll thrash. “Leave me be,” she’ll say. “You foul beast,” she’ll add. (“And stop speaking for me,” I’ll type on her behalf, parenthetically.)

Being told there’s less time to do stuff sucks. The Scrum response to this is to, well, do less stuff.

Folks, I am opening up a can of whoop-ass my own Scrumalicious dog food and halving my Sprints from a time box of two weeks to one week, which means I will proportionately plan to do fewer points worth of things per now-shorter Sprint. “You damn dirty ape,” I say through clenched teeth, “Why?”

I’ll tell me why.

Last Sprint felt a little too eventful, and I was able to track this using my latest Kaizen Story, which was

…to monitor which stories get implemented that are emergent and not related to my Sprint Goal.

In doing so, I monitored myself diving deep into emergent stories related to Bitcoin (invested in 1 BTC), Litecoin (invested in 10 LTC), and AirBnB (opened up our home to strangers). Were they things that ultimately help me out? The Product Owner in me thinks so, but they didn’t further me along the journey of accomplishing my Sprint Goal or getting done my reduced number of Sprint stories. To top it all off, I have yet to do the Retrospective, but I attribute that to getting food poisoning right at the very end of the Sprint.

I feel like I’ve fallen off the bandwagon.

Or have I?

Having relatively short time boxes neatly punctuates what can otherwise be an endless slog of personal development, in the ScrumOfOne realm, or software development, in the just-about-everywhere-else realm. It provides a point of transparency that you can then inspect, from which a specific practice of adaptation hopefully emerges. What I could clearly see was that the points associated with the emergent stories were greater than my predetermined buffer. This triggered a rather Scrumalicious adaptation which, aaugh, increases my chances of getting my Sprint Backlog (predetermined list of things to do) completed if I shorten that list and then shorten the time I next check in… with… myself.

It feels like punishment, which I’m imposing on myself, which is twisted; however, it is a practice designed to get the team to win. For good measure, I’m throwing in a period of grooming my own fur Product Backlog.

Naked

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?
Hyannis.

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).

Tornadee

Thinking back, the concept was a little trippy. There was this cartoon about a couple of tornadoes: a mama tornado and a baby tornado. The baby tornado is a little messy, yet definitely not as destructive as the mama tornado, and some cartoon character isn’t so appreciative of the little one’s Midas touch, so he tries to capture and put an end to the baby tornado. Luckily, the mama tornado swoops in at the nick of time and ‘saves the day’. My brother and I would call that baby tornado a “tornadee”. (The actual cartoon differs slightly from my recollection.)

When a team is created, there is a usual progression of development that moves from forming, to storming, to norming, and finally to performing.

Regarding my ScrumOfOne team… of one… I’ve already formed. (I’ve met myself. I’ve shaken my own hand. I did the trust fall exercise. It was embarrassing.) Before I get to performing, where I’m reliably completing ScrumOfOne stories with a sustainable and improving velocity, which is after I get to norming, where I’m completing ScrumOfOne stories with some consistency and smoothness in ‘working mode’ (living mode?), I would have to get through storming. This is where the different aspects and members of #TeamMerrill are still figuring out how to play well with one another, so beyond sounding schizophrenic, it can look a little messy.

Thus, lately, I’ve been a tornadee. (It’s a stretch, I know.)

Standard Scrum practice says to get through three Sprints before determining an average velocity one can work with, particularly for planning scope per release. Until velocity stabilizes (things are smooth), I think it’s fair to say the team is storming (things are rocky); a low-varying velocity is indicative of a well-oiled machine of a team.

As I enter Sprint #3 of restarting ScrumOfOne (Sprint 143), man am I seeing how I am not yet sustainably developing. And this is fine. I’ll get there. Sprint 142 had a velocity of 45 points, which is more than Sprint 141′s 37 points, but I’m still not getting all of my committed Sprint Backlog complete, which means a lot of my story points are coming from emergent stories. This is something I’ve been blogging about for the past two posts, which, besides being a fun brain dump, is most likely a subconscious suggestion to do something about it.

The Kaizen Story for Sprint 143 is thus to monitor which stories get implemented that are emergent and not related to my Sprint Goal. I’m setting up a relevant buffer of 13 points, which is about a third of my Sprint Backlog. This should help me get to norming then performing. I’m kinda doing being a tornadee. It’s 2014 already.