Hell Yeah Test

Let me set the scene. (OK…)

Boston. South Boston. The Southiest part. South of Washington Street. It’s Sunday. There is this open air market. It’s filled with friendly people selling friendly things to other friendly people out in the open air. The air is so open and so airy (what?!) and so friendly that each tidal wash of this pleasantly invigorating life force is an intimate activity, since it’s among friends. (Oh c’mon…) Smiles are artfully and generously cast only to return like a boomerang of love. (Stop it, that’s just ridiculous…)

That’s when I walk into a trap (here we go…), albeit of my own doing. (Oooh, a twist…)

So, you know my thing about bow ties. I finally learned to tie one a few days ago (big whoop, it’s like tying your shoelaces, except around your neck) and have joined the ranks of the dapper, so why not augment my ability to parade my fashionable skill to the masses? (‘Cause nobody else does…) Thus, like a match made in open air market heaven, I happen upon a booth of bow ties. Custom bow ties. Friendly open air custom bow ties. (Snarky comment in three… two…) It was too good to be true. (They were made of bacon?)

In truth, however, it wasn’t good enough.

The bow ties were good, but they weren’t great. They were cool, but they weren’t awesome. They were custom, but they weren’t me. (That thing did not have a hemi.) I stood in that booth looking over the buffet, listening to the owners share their story, thinking about what outfit a particular choice would go with (ninja suit – can’t go wrong), learning how they were made in Thailand (BowTieLand?), feeling them pour on the pressure to buy like the management students they were. The longer I stayed, the more committed and bow tied down (niiice) I felt.

Through a break in the clouds, the wisdom of the commerce gods (Hermes? Mercury?) dawned upon me and I yanked myself away. I realized that none of the bow ties passed the Hell Yeah Test. (Now we’re making stuff up.) I didn’t make this up. I read it in ‘The $100 Startup’ by Chris Guillebeau (and then we made it up):

When presented with an opportunity, don’t think about its merit or how busy you are. Instead, think about how it makes you feel. If you feel only so-so about it, turn it down and move on. But if the opportunity would be exciting and meaningful – so much so that you can say, “hell yeah” when you think about it – find a way to say yes.

So yes, I walked away from taking on another piece of clothing I wasn’t excited about. And why shouldn’t that apply to anything else? Not just all purchases (a new rule I’m imposing upon myself) (oh, what a burden), but also… life? The big things and the small things. The big things meaning friendships, relationships, jobs, picking where to live, voting, other lifestyle choices. The small things meaning what to eat, where to eat, what to wear, what to do in your down time, what to buy, whether to buy a bow tie. Having the strategic and tactical driven by the Hell Yeah Test sounds like a sense of flow, yes no? (Hell yes no.) This test guides you along what excites you – what giddily excites you to your kiddie core. (Heck yes, please.)

Conversely, where possible, this also means don’t do things that don’t pass the Hell Yeah Test, like purchase a bow tie that doesn’t excite you. This thus turns into a very natural selector – in a sense, you’re listening to your body – essentially another version of following your intuition. I happen to like how it’s phrased here a lot better. Don’t you? (Hell Yeah.)

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 531am.com 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…

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?

Proof Of Concept

Got a grand idea? Is it… too grand? If you think it is, then you’re right: it is. This idea may be a vision, a Scrum story too large to tackle in one sprint – that’s why they’re called ‘epic’s. You think about the logistics for getting it done: you break the epic down into smaller stories. You do the Scrum thing, and now each story is independent, negotiable, valuable, ‘estimatable’, small/specific, and testable – all that good stuff. Yet, while they’re now small enough to tackle in a sprint, it might not do anything to increase your confidence level – you still can’t see this grand idea come to fruition.

Take some time to convince yourself – set up a story that is a proof of concept. Craft a story with a definition of done where you will be convinced that this seemingly lofty goal is indeed attainable.

Congrats – this is your Version One.

I see a couple of ways to set up stories towards an epic. You can start with the epic in all its grandiosity and dissect it into what are essentially building blocks: get this part of it done, then that part, where some of the later parts will build off of the previous ones. The problem with this is that you are working off of one version of the vision that does not allow for evolution. As you’re building up to this blueprint, what if the vision changes? Now you have stories done (components built) with a specific purpose in mind that might not be easily reused – waste.

The other way to eventually materialize this epic is to ‘get to done’ a version that is scaled down – a proof of concept. Scrum espouses shippable product at the end of the sprint, and I see this partially to the benefit of product development; the sooner the product ships, the sooner it can get into the hands of the user, the sooner feedback can be harvested and analysed, and the sooner we can get updated on how to keep building this product – if at all! Abandoning ship is always an option, and isn’t it much better to figure that out sooner rather than later? Steering the product in very different direction is also a decision that’s better to get to sooner rather than later.

Now, iterate. Take this Version One and incorporate feedback into the vision you’re building towards, the grand idea that may be evolving. This is how you take versions of ‘good enough’ to ‘great’.

Listen To Your Body

I was on vacation for the first half of the last sprint. For the second half, I powered through stories worth more points than I’ve done in a full sprint! But I almost didn’t.

I have this beautiful desk that was effectively inaccessible due to suddenly stackable mounds of stuff on top of and below my bastion of productivity – so you should now get a sense of the fire under my butt to make the space more livable. After work, I’d come home and attack post-move remnants of chaos – the refugee motif is charming for only so long. Every square inch of recovered surface was a win, an emotion stackable in its own sense, like the points of complete stories I was racking up through the week back.

Steamrolling towards a vision of a home where I’m not stepping over a box, I couldn’t help but notice competing motivations. My own medicine was dangerous: seeing progress in physical form and especially on a burn down chart was contagious. Although I was eating and resting enough, I felt like I was still running on fumes: fumes of will power. With blinders on, my body was trying to get a word in, edge-wise:

Dude, veg out.

“Don’t be weak!” I scolded myself, “Marvel at all this reconquered space!”

Dude, you suck. I require a break.

“Don’t be weak,” I whispered to myself through my teeth as I carried on. Yet, who was I kidding? I just wasn’t as efficient. You’d think this concept of taking a break is a no-brainer, but when you’re driven, slowing down represents a step in the wrong direction.

Unnecessarily long story short, I took a breather, recharged will power, and started back up again at a decent clip. This a great example of an idea in Scrum and moral of the story: work at a sustainable pace. So listen to your body and don’t get to the point where you’re body is talking to you in italics.

Dude, thank you.

You’re welcome.