Action Expresses Priorities

Was Mahatma Gandhi a ScrumMaster? The title of this post is a quote of his and it perfectly describes the Sprint Backlog – the set of things you’re doing now, which happen to be the highest priority things based on business value (personal value for ScrumOfOne).

And check this. He was a leader with great influence, in service of others, yet no managerial authority. This sounds a lot like a ScrumMaster. Hmm…

Good Enough

Hello, artist. You creator, you. Don’t consider yourself an artist? Well, are you making something? Then yep, that means you’re an artist! (Congratulations.) You are translating this THING in your head, this idea, into something you can see/hear/taste/smell/feel, and then you’re most likely getting others to see/hear/taste/smell/feel it, too: Creating and Connecting.

Don’t mind me. I don’t mean to interrupt. I just want to see/hear/taste/smell/feel this thing you’re up to. Wait, you WANT to show me? Awesome! Gee, thanks! So, to share this with me, you’ll have to stop creating. Not forever, I know, and you might not even be DONE, but in the continuum of its creation process, you are showing me one state.

This is a challenge to artists of all types: Is this thing done enough for me to share?

If we had infinite time, money, focus, and other resources, we’d want to make it perfect. PERFECT. So with that ideal in our heads, we keep going. We keep refining. We keep tweaking. We keep… going. We keep… not stopping so that we can ship. And this is bad. Hey, don’t look at me that way. Listen to Voltaire:

Dans ses écrits, un sàge Italien
Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.

Essentially (from an Italian, yet in French): perfect is the enemy of the good.

Let me ask you a simple question. Do you know the future? Don’t lie, now. No? I didn’t think so. That’s OK, neither do I, and that’s the point. How do you know if this plan you have for this thing you’re making will really matter or create real value? How do you know if this thing in your head is really the best form for it to take?

People stink at planning. (What percentage of projects that you’ve been a part of have ended on time and on budget without continually updating the plan along the way to better match reality?) Scrum recognizes this poignantly human weakness and embraces it by espousing that we ship and ship often; at the end of each sprint, we have a potentially ‘shippable’ product.

At the end of each sprint, you have created a version you can share. For my earlier ScrumOfOne stories, they were ones I would share with… me: personal utility, whether it was more frequent use or a deeper use.

I started ScrumOfOne (talk about incrementally evolving THIS idea…) when I first moved into my current place. The floors were a mess, the bathroom sink was disgustingly clogged, and everything I owned was suddenly piled into my kitchen. Now what. You prioritize. The kitchen sink became a safe zone – I would shave there for a while, overlooking Mass. Ave. The toilet became lickably sterilized – my butt is high maintenance. The shower was scrubbed, but not gleaming white – baby, but solid steps for survival before living with some luxuries. The fridge doesn’t have to be wiped before populated with sustenance.

What type of artist was I then? I was desperate. I was crafting a livable space – for me – which was good enough (great for a time). And now, she and I are crafting this space for us – which is great (awesome going on awesomer).

First strive for Good Enough. Get to Great later.

You might find Good Enough IS Great, but that’s a Taoist revelation for another time…

Hide And Seek

Ever play ‘Hide and Seek’? At work? Try it some time – it’s what the cool (and productive) kids are doing.

The idea of a Sprint, a block of time to do stuff, is simple. And there’s magic in the web of it.

It is magic in that it protects a constant while still embracing change. Before a sprint, you set up what you will do for that duration – this list is called a Sprint Backlog. Once you enter the sprint, this magic box of time (I do two weeks), your Sprint Backlog is shielded from the weather. It might be calm and sunny, where you’re not really pressured to deviate from the plan. Other days, you might be in the middle of a crazy sand storm & hail front, where you’ve got what feel like forces of nature vying for your attention. Regardless, unless it is something catastrophic, Scrum espouses that you stick with implementing the Backlog for that Sprint; changes in priority and direction are handled in the Product Backlog (the larger list of things to do), which is then addressed in between Sprints. This allows you to get stuff done and not be affected by emergent distractions, usually changes in direction. Simple, yes no?

This is a strategic modus operandi. Let’s adapt this thinking to the realm of the tactical.

In the corporate environment (ah, cube land), you’ve got meetings, folks walking by and chatting, and guys flying stunt maneuvers with their (awesome, yet annoying) toy helicopters. These are distractions. Sometimes, they’re welcomed. Other times, when you’re in the zone or earnestly trying to get stuff done, they suck, and the DJ Tiesto-grade headphones that you bought for yourself as a Christmas present blasting progressive house don’t drown out the high-pitched whirring of spinning blades. Let’s apply some of the magic from Sprints and lessen the suckage:

Play Hide and Seek – block out time, space, and attention.

Block out time: Go into MS Outlook. Got a couple of hours that you would like uninterrupted? Create a meeting with one mandatory attendant – you! (awww…) Now when others are setting up a meeting that includes you, they’ll look at other available times, or think they’re super-important and double-book you while apologizing. (booo…)

Block out space: Go to a conference room. Hide. Wouldn’t it be cool if they made grown-up versions of Study Hall? It’s a sacred place where work gets done. Phones and pagers are silenced.

Block out attention: Turn off instant messaging. Turn off email. Do you really need to know the second you get an email via a pop-up in the lower-right corner of your screen?

Got any similar tactical tools you’d like to share?

Top Of Mind

Half a year ago, I wrote about how I prioritize my ScrumOfOne backlogs. (Hold my horses… more than one personal backlog, I say? A future post covers this…) What I am finding now is that while, yes, each backlog is prioritized based on its vision, the backlog for the current sprint consists of items that are top-of-mind.

Idealism is great. It also takes discipline. While, yes, taking steps to grow me via my different facets is the road of continual life improvement I prefer to take, sometimes dealing with boxes after a recent move is an itch I feel I must scratch. (Hold the smart phone… what’s this ‘facets’ business I’m talking about? Did I just throw in the kitchen sink? Nope, that’s FAUCETS, and that future post will cover this, too…)

Yet, removing post-move clutter (floor-al chaos?) does not feel important, especially in that strategic sense; I don’t feel like I’m growing, nor investing in myself… I feel like I am delaying. So, fine, I could work on that and take direct steps towards life mission output and processes, but this does nothing for day-to-day living conditions. Thus, both strategic goals and tactical goals are top-of-mind. Oh, horsefeathers, what do I do?

Of course, rid myself of the refugee motif in the apartment. While, yes, tactical vs. strategic trade-offs are not usually this drastic, I try to accomplish the lesser of the two evils anyhow, thus choosing to tackle tactical backlog stories first. Thankfully, David Allen of ‘Getting Things Done’-fame agrees with this approach. After getting control (mastering workflow) is getting perspective (horizons of focus), where we start with addressing next actions (buy cat food) before addressing principles and purpose: get deck-clearing capability first before being able to think at a higher level.

There you have it, folks – how I prioritize my sprint backlog with more ease of mind: address tactical stories at the top of your mind, thus preparing for strategic stories by clearing your mind.

Short-Term Press Release

You have a direction in life? Holy cow! Congrats!

Wait, you don’t? That’s cool. Having a direction for life is pretty major. Let’s start with setting a direction for, say, the next two weeks.

Before I found my life calling, I had a large prioritized list of things I wanted to be and do. Spanning numerous aspects of myself (musician, ScrumMaster, runner, host, boyfriend, …), I had little focus to my stories within each two-week Sprint. At some point, I adopted something I read in ‘Rework’ by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson, a couple of guys from 37signals: the concept of a short-term press release – What is the exciting new thing you will share proudly with the world at the end of your Sprint?

The Sprint Press Release became a focal point about which my stories would congregate and, in a sense, filter themselves. A theme would arise. The similarly-themed backlog items would, through the Sprint, help each others’ completion because they were related. They would all share the same spirit, that which is represented not by the sum of parts (functionalities of all stories, combined), but by the whole, an example of punctuated evolution where a new functionality emerges that is relatively large, possible only because the smaller stories were completed.

Thus, rally stories within each Sprint around a theme. They’ll be easier to get done, and because they’re along the same vein, that’s a sense of –

You have a direction for the next two weeks? Holy cow! Congrats!