Category Archives: tactics

Berry With A Beat

I am now a professional mime.

When the Internet decides to be slow, in turn cutting out the audio component of a meeting I’m in the middle of with my teammates in Romania or India, the HD webcam stays rolling, like an out-of-date analogy, my face lights up, like Garry Kasparov playing chess, and my hands are all over the place, like an Italian stereotype.

I lead teams that are not in the same room, so to mitigate the 3 continents and 10.5 hours between me and, say, Vivek & Mihai, I:

  • tell stories to bring people together, like how I ran into Kevin Spacey at a Starbucks
  • show and tell the random things lying around our conference rooms, like little trinkets like oversized clothes pins and 3D-printed Sesame Street characters
  • intonate exaggeratedly, because our budget doesn’t allow for teams to have studio-grade microphones & speakers to share speech subtleties
  • apologize liberally, because I am often cutting people off since it is not always clear when somebody has finished sharing their thought because of an audio lag
  • pause often, because teammates often start talking for a few seconds before realizing they have yet to unmute themselves
  • insult them flatteringly, like, “oh no no please, the top of your head is so well shaped… please don’t ruin this experience by showing the rest of your face.”
  • explain that what I had just said was a joke, because sarcasm does not always travel across national borders fully intact
  • crack jokes, because it brings people together via laughter

I will sing and dance and still be productive so that people know that when you come to my meetings, you know you will leave with a little more funk, and your day will be a little sweeter. This is my flavour of ScrumMastery; I am a berry with a beat. My goal is for you to leave as a berry with a beat.

Oh, what joy it is to create a berry with a beat.

Pain Is Just Information

I took a systems physiology class in college one summer, and on the very first day, the professor said, “If there’s one thing you remember from this class, it’s that ‘Pain is just information’.” Pain let’s you know something is up. Or down. Or out of place. Or stuck in place. Or generally amister amiss.

(This blog post is about a conversation from work. I’ll try not to make these boring and solely technical, but if you decide to give up on reading this because you’re emotionally distraught over Scotland not being its own country, remember: Pain is just information.)

Now that I’m a ScrumMaster by day (your local superhero by night), I get to talk through sticking points that my team members have with parts of the process, and the point that was sticking this time involved the Sprint backlog.

(I can’t believe it… to be your own country… you get to stay up as late as you want, eat haggis whenever you want, drink scotch whenever you want…)

During the Sprint, something may come up that we as a team end up working on, with the Product Owner’s blessing, that wasn’t planned for in the Sprint Planning meeting. The question is: If we can add things to the Sprint mid-Sprint, why can’t we remove the things we now know we won’t get done mid-Sprint?

(…skinny dip with my sheep in whatever loch I want…)

Seems like a decent enough question: by accepting sudden stories, you’ve already blown out the original plan, so why not update the plan based on new information? Since the Spring backlog is what the team committed to doing at Sprint Planning, it’s easy to understand why the team doesn’t want to see this thing they know won’t get done: it’s embarrassing, or it induces anger, or it elicits some kind of negative emotion (or else the team wouldn’t be asking to get rid of it), some kind of pain.

(…wear kilts as short as I want…)

The way I sell this is via acknowledging this ‘pain’ as not necessarily bad, but useful: at the end of the Sprint, the stories that do not get done represent a quantifiable adjustment to consider during the next Sprint Planning session. If no ‘outside’ stories were brought in mid-Sprint, then the undone stories represent the team planning to do more than they could pull off. If the story points associated with the dragged-in ‘outside’ stories were the same number of story points associated with the undone stories, then the undone stories were neatly ‘displaced’ by the sudden stories and the team did a spot on job of estimating how much work it could pull off.

(Did you hear about the Scottish cross-dresser? He wore pants.)

Sure, it feels icky to leave things undone, especially when you said you’d do ‘em, but if it’s because the Product Owner asked you to do something else, then heck, it’s totally not your ‘fault’ – the person in charge of prioritizing work… reprioritized work! And this was the particular scenario of the sticking point – there was pain, and it was reframed as information.

My systems physiology professor would be proud. If I only remembered his name… this sucks, I really liked that guy… man, this is embarrassing…

(Pain is just information.)

Oh shut up.

Sleep Well

I recently talked with a guy who went through a break-up. He detailed how it was hard to adjust, but he didn’t lose any sleep over it – he truly feels the right decision was made.

This got me thinking: that’s what life’s about: go to bed each night and when you look back on the day, truly sleep well (let go, be at peace).

This got me thinking some more: that‘s similar to another way of thinking about what life’s… about: go to your death bed and when you look back on your life, truly die well (let go, be at peace). Time scales are different, and this has been explored almost two years ago.

Besides making this connection, I want to offer one more insight: add another time scale: the Sprintly time box. Thus, go to the Retrospective and when you look back on the Sprint, let go & be at peace.

Oh no… we can go one more round: one more time scale: now. Let go & be at peace at all ‘now’s. Maybe that‘s what life’s about.

I’ll sleep on it.

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 voilĂ , 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, voilĂ , 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…

Quirktastic or Corporate Bingo

Ever read a passage from an article on a lazy Sunday afternoon while sipping a cappuccino, and say, “Man, I totally gotta lift that and make that the basis of my next blog post?”

Nope, me neither.

I also remember watching my dad speak to everyone in the town square on the Fourth of July. He was up in this little white gazebo, and he was talking about the state of the city. He used the word “ain’t” at least a dozen times, so afterward I gave him the gift of feedback. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Are you really trying to help me get better or are you embarrassed?”

I said, “Honestly, a little bit of both.”

He said: “Son, this is who I am. And look out there. This is who they are. And if they can see me be imperfect and be the mayor, then one of them will aspire to be the mayor, too. People prefer their leaders with flaws because it makes these positions more attainable for the rest of us.

Here, Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit, in an interview by Adam Bryant for yesterday’s ‘Corner Office’ column of the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times, talks about his parents. In the process, he talks about the benefits of appearing human when in a position of leadership. Sure, the mayorship appears more attainable, and I would argue that is because the mayor appears more relatable.

Ever listen to a public relations message or a corporate pep talk and it is littered with stuffy-sounding jargon? “At the end of the day”, “Productize”, “Quality Initiative”, “Deliverable”, “Going Forward”, “Opportunity For Improvement”, some buzzphrases sound self-aggrandizing, some of these come off as adding no value, some do both, and man do these really grind my gears. They are very effective at being incredibly impersonal. Don’t use them.

Be relatable.

Hell, I’m trying, but that’s because I’m really a robot.

A handsome, charming, Spanish, sword-fighting robot. Don’t tell my wife.