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.


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).


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.

Suddenly Deserve A Cupcake

My roommate, sophomore year in college, had a few phrases. My favourites were the euphemism of “intellectual clutter”, and the toothily grinned “treat yourself“.

(He also had a classy way of explaining vectors that involved demonstrating the resultant vector with a directional bobbing of his head between outstretched arms, his longer hair waving behind him like the circular ripples spawned when skipping stones at a steamy summer soiree. (My explanation of vectors is less classy and more… phallic. (That’s because vectors have both magnitude and direction. (Now you can’t unlearn that. (You’re welcome.)))))

This blog post is a continuation of the last, where I talked about leaving room in your Sprint for both the planned and unplanned, allowing yourself to be both proactive and reactive, where stories are thus either strategic or tactical. I can’t help but picture a yin-yang symbol at this point, so the Taoist in me is high-fiving me (from within) (odd… deep… deeply odd?) over my incorporation of balance into Sprint Planning. So let’s address value and effort, specifically for these ‘tactical’ stories that suddenly arise from time to time, by stepping through the Product Owner’s point of view.

The Product Owner is in charge of the vision of the product. For my ScrumOfOne, I view myself as a package of products (Merrill the musician, Merrill the financial responsible, Merrill the home dweller, etc.), each with its own vision. From any particular vision, there are epics, which are just large stories, which are broken down so that they are small enough to be taken into a Sprint, but within the context of its product backlog, a story has both value and effort. Value is indicated by its priority in the backlog. Effort is indicated by an assigned number of points.

All those items in those lists (stories in Product Backlogs) stem from a vision by the Product Owner.

So whether the Product Owner is telling the team to keep implementing stories from the Sprint Backlog (the planned), or to address issues that have suddenly arisen that can’t wait for the next Sprint (the unplanned), the direction is given based on what will get us closer to the Product Owner’s vision. Using this motivation, we will generally work on the thing with the next highest priority (subject to other Scrum principles like reducing work in progress to reduce waste and completing the Sprint Backlog to increase morale and allowing team self-management). Thus, if an unplanned task is suddenly a story with value, then like any other story towards a product vision, it should get points assigned for effort.

Is this cheating?

All I have to do is say that what I’m doing is good for me (something towards a product vision), and I suddenly deserve a cupcake (give myself points for the ScrumOfOne Sprint Backlog).

It sure feels like cheating, especially since it seems almost too easy! If I take my lady out on a date, I get points for a story completed that would have been from the ‘Be a good partner’ product backlog. If I have a friend visit, I get points for a story completed that would have been from the ‘Be a good friend’ and ‘Have a welcoming home’ product backlogs. If I get inspired to work on a project, I get points for a story completed that would have been from the… product backlog associated with that project.

In the corporate realm, sudden stories are taken in and worked on by the team, so you can bet your socks there are points associated with that effort!

Taking this to the extreme, you could be in extreme-reactionary mode, only doing things that come up. In the software realm, this is like only making bug fix releases and never building new features. In the ScrumOfOne realm, this is like only reacting to life and never taking initiative.

The second half of the Interrupt Pattern addresses this by programming an automatic abort of the Sprint if the buffer for unplanned activities overflows. So if the buffer for tactical stories is 15 points per Sprint, and the green light is given for a story that would mean we would complete 16 points or more of stories that were not from the Sprint Backlog, the Sprint pre-maturely ends and there is another re-planning. This drastic measure sheds light on the evident misalignment between planned priorities (Sprint Backlog) and actual priorities (embracing all interruptions).

So (…I tell myself…), if something comes up that is technically a distraction from the Sprint Backlog yet not a total mess (intellectual clutter), then feel OK taking it. Just remember to give yourself points afterwards (treat yourself).