Category Archives: tactics

Are you Lazy? Get a Routine

I’m pretty useless after the dance party.

After dinner, the table mostly put away, and our daughter’s toys mostly… not put away (yet), the CD player goes on, and the dance party begins.

Matt Heaton steps the tiny masses through basic behavioural norms like stopping and going. Then there’s a Wombat Dance. (We have a 2-year-old, so this all makes sense.) Before Matt, but still in popular rotation, we had Karen K and the Jitterbugs, wherein you, too, may want to be a Jitterbug, or have Pancakes for Dinner.

At some parentally appointed point, the music stops.

At some later painfully negotiated point, toys are put away.

At some even later peacefully navigated point, our daughter is in bed.

At this point, I’m pretty useless.

There’s 1-2 hours left in regulation time before the daily game is over, and I’m not really in the mood for anything creative or productive. Personal growth-related activities? Pfft, grrrl, please.

So what’s a citizen to do? Continue reading

Soapy Water Wisdom

Being hungover (or was I still drunk… I forget, it was college) was the best thing for me during a Physics test. Here’s how one of the questions went:

Given a buncha formulas we’re giving you, mostly in Greek, and some assumptions like you’re living in a world with no friction that is all at sea level, turn this set of Greek letters into this other set of Sanskrit letters. Just kidding. Greek letters. Have fun, pal.

Does YOUR head hurt when you read that? I’ll assume it does ’cause you want to humor me. Thank you. You’re very kind. Now consider my aforementioned added cranial crankiness and you will believe me when I say I looked that question square in the iota and thought:

I’ll give YOU freakin’ frictionless maritime Greek letters.

And thus I did. Slippery sea-faring alphas to Teflon tidal omegas. Got one of the highest grades in the class for that test, too. My secret?

This shit just HAS to make sense.

I didn’t have the brain bandwidth to be creative: I could only methodically use my initial set of formulas and power through incremental changes to turn them into this other thing they wanted. Successfully re-deriving an equation is one of my biggest academic satisfactions. Because I am a dork. Brazenly drinking (shots of) vodka.

Fast-forward a decade and change, my child is 3 months old, and through the practice of doing dishes, I have re-derived the Kanban notion of limiting work-in-progress, and the Lean notion of single piece flow. Because I am a dad. Barely treading (soapy) water.

Much like the early months of college, the early months of Zephyr’s childhood are a sleepless blur. Thank goodness I have Twitterial evidence of this time, because conversationally, I can only recall chaos. At home the first 2 weeks of her life, my job was easy:

Given your wife has turned into a milk factory, both adult parties mostly without sleep, and reducing the house of any physical or emotional friction while keeping it afloat, turn Day 0 into Day 90. Have fun, Papa.

‘Twas a very reactionary time, which meant I was often interrupted, including when washing dishes. Not having a dishwasher meant, per my primitive process, soaking a tubful of things in hot soapy water, abrasively removing residue from the individual items in said hot soapy water, then setting the tub’s worth aside to rinse and set in the drying rack, all in one batch. Batch size = 1.00 tub.

‘Twas a very repetitively reactionary time, which meant the interruptions shed light on the flaws in my dishwashing ways, since per interruption:

  • The tub full of hot soapy water would go cold.
  • The tub plus set-aside washed but not rinsed items would often sit and take up room in the sink.
  • Washed but not rinsed items would sit all soapy.
  • My wife would get pissed at the clutter due to any/all of the above.
  • I would get pissed due to any/all of the above.

Besides the last 2, the above represents in-between states of dishwashing: they’re not in a dirty stacked pile, and they’re not cleaned in the drying rack. They are abandoned, mid-process, and to start the process back up requires some extra work, like adding back hot water, clearing out the sink if we want to do something else with it, or re-soaking the washed but not rinsed items to work off any soap residue that dried on. These in-progress items are considered waste by those who study Lean.

(This deserves a parenthetical paragraph. Did you know there are 3 Japanese words for waste? There’s muda, which is stuff that doesn’t add value, which includes things done before they need to be. There’s mura, which is unevenness like the pooling of work-in-progress, like my dishwashing process above. There’s muri, which is unreasonableness like not having enough time or spirit to do a process. There. You now know Japanese. You’re welcome.)

Any extra work, when you’re under the physical stress of continuous non-continual sleep, sucks. So much like that Physics test, I’d face that sink and think:

This dish-washing shit just HAS to make sense.

So… I tried an experiment. I didn’t fill up the tub completely, but just enough to soak and wash and rinse the, say, utensils. Batch size = 0.25 tub. Interruptions had less of an impact, and I was less wasteful.

To be even MORE responsive to the changing environment, I tried another experiment. I’d still soak a smaller set, then wash and rinse one item at a time. Batch size = 1 fork. Interruptions had the least impact, and empirically, through limiting work-in-progress down to single piece flow, more things made it to the drying rack.

Being over-tired (or was I still dreaming… I forget, it was last year) was the best thing for me when doing dishes.

Moral of the story? Live in a place with a dishwasher. I’m so freakin’ serious. It is time back in your day, and that is your greatest commodity. Don’t settle, unless it’s some Zen activity for you, then that’s your thang, and I’m not going to get in the way of your joy. Otherwise, screw any Agile concept re-derivation mumbo-jumbo above (I mean, thanks for reading!): if you’re reading this (thanks again!), you most likely live in the first-world. Embrace this. Use a dishwasher.

ScrumOfThree

Since becoming a full-time ScrumMaster, I haven’t written much, unless it reflected on a significant event I wanted captured:

And then:

  • I became a father.

And through a year since:

  • I embrace the present moment a little more easily.

Diving into the above a bit, besides when we’re at the playground, or doing swim lessons, or other situations where I feel her life is in my hands, I’d say the most present I’ve ever been was just before and just after my daughter’s birth. A significant reason? My phone was off.

My phone wasn’t dead. My phone wasn’t almost dead. I wasn’t trying to be respectful. I wasn’t trying to hide. There was just absolutely nothing more important in the world (for me) at that extended moment, and the unquestioning clarity of that absoluteness has never… happened before.

I wonder when it will happen again.

My being unfathomably present was the only thing that could have happened (for me) at that extended moment.

I wonder when it will happen again.

Has this ever happened – for you?

Leave Cats Alone

There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
- someone who walks around in a hand-made, cat-skin coat

Does that phrase give you paws pause? It should. It should get you to imagine a world where skinning cats was a common enough activity such that the variety of methods was contemplated often enough to drive to a conclusion that was shared widely enough to stake its claim in our indeed vulgar vernacular as an axiom. WTF.

Yet, I care about that world.

I want to live in that world.

I want to live in that world… with the small detail of switching out the skinning of cats with the living of life in an Agile manner.

There’s more than one way to live life in an Agile manner.
- someone who walks around in a hipster, vintage, upcycled, locally harvested, hand-made, cat-skin coat

Step into this world with me.

Step into a world where I pined to be a Scrum Master (I practiced with the team of me while documenting the journey on this blog), where upon becoming a full-time Scrum Master, I have written just 8 blog posts. I became a father. I landed my third full-time Agile Practitioner gig, now as a start-up’s sole Agile Coach. And looking back on my own ScrumOfOne, I wonder how Agile I really am.

Those close have heard me complain about how caring for a new life has reduced my capacity to engage in personal development. This is measured by, um, how many things I can cross off a “stuff to evolve Merrill” list, and how often I check in with myself regarding my ability to, um, check things off said list, and knowing that I am working on the highest-value activities.

Step into a world where I’ve been too sleep-deprived and/or on duty to do any of the above personal development. I used to have a detailed backlog, and now I don’t. I used to have regular planning sessions and retrospectives, and now I don’t. I used to walk around feeling in control of my purposeful path on this pale blue dot, and now I don’t. (I used to not complain, and now I do.)

All the markers of DOING Agile have disappeared… replaced by the markers of BEING Agile.

(This epiphany didn’t hit me until getting to this very part of the blog post, so please stick with me.)

Though not along a path set via purposeful planning, I know my hours are spent on the highest-value activities: what is needed now and next for my family.

Though not formal, I’ve learned to use the small gaps in daily activity to reflect and prepare, reducing feedback loops and extracting Kaizen where appropriate.

Though not detailed, I now frequently use Siri & dictation & the iCloud-backed-up Reminders app on my iPhone as just enough process to make me effective. The different lists in the app serve as different ‘product’ backlogs. Weekly to daily ‘Sprint’ backlogs are established via setting a date per reminder, so the highest priority items are visible on my lock screen. My working backlog is in my hand at the single push of a button. With ‘the next’ literally at hand, my focus is freed to embrace ‘the now’.

Those close will now hear me contemplate how caring for a new life has increased my capacity to engage in the present moment.

And, uh, I guess that still counts as personal development after all. Hm. Well then. Just goes to show there is more than one way to skin a cat live life in an Agile manner write about the latest stage of my ScrumOfOne journey skin a cat.

My Interview And The Squiggle

In streamed a few strangers, trying to hide their smiles from each other and myself. They just came from the kitchenette, having colluded on how they would play out the next hour. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time – it was my interview.

If you are a software engineer, and you want a job coding, then it’s fair that your prospective employer asks you to code as part of the interview. So if you are a Scrum Master or Agile Coach, and you want a job … doing that stuff, then it’s fair that your prospective employer asks you to do Agile Coachy stuff as part of the interview.

And thus, we began role-playing a mock Retrospective, a best practice which follows from the 12th Principle of Agile Software:

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

I first asked this pretend team to step through the last two pretend weeks, collecting just the pretend facts, leaving out any pretend feelings, and having this written up and pretend physically displayed. This is a way to level set.

Then I went to the whiteboard and wrote “KEEP” in the top-left corner, “START” at bottom-left, and “STOP” at bottom-right. The exercise here is to ask the team to top-right corner think back through the two weeks, like we had just top-right corner done, and write down, one per sticky note, things top-right corner that we would like to keep doing, start doing, and top-right corner stop doing. Afterwards, we’d categorize them, discuss top-right corner them, determine which few things should be actionable, establish respective next steps Kaizen, then run a quick Retrospective on the Retrospective. This top-right corner has worked many a time before, producing quick wins with minimal pushback.

That’s when I top-right corner noticed the top-right corner. It was bare, and it made me uncomfortable. So I did what anyone in an interview situation would do: make stuff up. I drew a squiggle and said that I would later explain what that squiggle was for, giving myself time to figure out what that squiggle was for.

That’s when I top-right squiggle stepped the team through the exercise, and how we would top-right squiggle fill out the rest of the hour. When I top-right squiggle got to the top-right squiggle, I did what anyone in an interview situation would do: stay whatever was at the top of my head. I explained that the squiggle was a category for things you wanted to share that did not fit into the other categories.

Simple enough. Rub’ al Khali averted. The team drew pictures and put them there. Then they hired me. Now, when I run this flavour of Retrospective, the squiggle is used and loved.

INTERVIEW-RELATED POST-SCRIPT:

Before my first day had passed, I was asked to take part in a mock retrospective. I had a few minutes’ notice. Soon, I streamed in with a few strangers, trying to hide our smiles from each other. We had just come from the kitchenette, having colluded on how we would play out the next hour. Of course, I knew this – it wasn’t my interview.

SQUIGGLE-RELATED POST-SCRIPT:

Before my first month had passed, I was asked to run the Retrospective for a hackathon. I had a few hours’ notice. Soon, there milled scores of buddies, sharing beers with each other. We had just voted on our favourite projects in the cafeteria, having cheerfully coded over the past few days. Of course, I used the squiggle – it was from my interview.

Squiggle keyword density: exactly 2%.