Days Of Future Presents

There is a movie out now called X-Men: Days of Future Past. No, I haven’t seen it, so I don’t get if there’s something to the title beyond a convoluted curiosity, but that won’t stop me from bastardizing it to paraphrase this one quote by Alan Watts from a lecture of his that somebody entitled Life Is A Musical Play.

If you cannot live in the present, then you cannot enjoy the future for which you have planned.

This was said in the context of discussing how planning isn’t useless, but it is useless if you can’t enjoy the present moment. If you can’t enjoy the Day of Present Present, how can you enjoy the Days of Future Presents?

It’s an interesting consequence of what it means to “live in the now”.

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).

How Not To Forgive Myself

Two guys walk into a bar. (Ooh, a joke…) One guy says, “Hey man, good to see you again.” (Alright, so this next part will be the funny part…) The other guy says, “Hey man, I don’t entirely want to be here.” (…well that was hardly worth a chuckle)

That’s what I actually said to him! Was that rude? (Oh, it’s not a joke, Merrill’s the second guy.)

At my Scrum Product Owner training session over three months ago, I met a Product Owner, started talking about my application of Scrum to Personal Development, heard how he was into using Scrum for Professional Development, and then took the conversation back up a couple of days ago. (A man-date?)

So when I told my buddy that I didn’t want to be there (“I was being a wicked rude jerk-face”), it was in the context of how I see a necessary level of forgiveness from the Product Owner in ScrumOfOne. In ‘regular’ Scrum, this is analogous to the practice of building a buffer into Sprints: a reservation of a part of the velocity for things the team or Product Owner decides to get done that arrive mid-Sprint. (You mean you can’t stick to a plan for a full Sprint?)

It’s because you can never plan what opportunities may arise or what fires may suddenly need putting out – and definitely not for a full Sprint. (Oh.) Thus, I almost NEVER fully follow through with what I set up at my ScrumOfOne Sprint Planning meeting. (And what, you beat yourself up for this?)

And I feel bad (oh) because I see these remaining Sprint Backlog items at the end of two weeks, staring me in the face from the glowing rectangle that lives in my pocket. (‘Glowing rectangle’, that’s funny.) This is what I brought up with my buddy. (Did you mention how you talk to yourself in your own blog posts?)

By me grabbing a drink with him, I’m NOT doing something I had already set up for myself. The forgiveness comes in if I ultimately believe that the activity I DO do (tee-hee) is effectively a story that gets me closer to some vision for myself. By chatting up somebody in the thick of promoting Scrum at corporations, I knew I would learn a tonne (the metric ton, good choice) about the various adoptions of the framework, and I think we were able to devise some concrete next steps for getting professional development underway where he is.

(I get it: doing the man-date meant you didn’t do stuff on your Sprint Backlog, but in the larger picture, it’s all good.)

So now here is my struggle: I want to replace the notions of forgiveness and anxiety over not accomplishing carefully prioritized stories towards building the product(s) of me, with the notion of judgement-free doing.

Yes, I’m trying to weave the Taoist concept of Wei Wu Wei (effortless action), or at least a consequence of this idea, into ScrumOfOne.


(Yeah, he needs all the help he can get!)

Blogging Break

Hello, Internet. Are you celebrating the Extended Winter Solstice season? You bet your sweet tushie I am, too. So are the Mayans. So are the zombies. So are any number of over-sized monstrosities waiting to wreak havoc on your favorite over-sized metropolis. Enjoy the show. It’s a celebration. (And if you’re waiting for Jesus, don’t hold your breath – that’s happening in 2443, as per Futurama.)

I’m going on a sprint-long (or so) hiatus to finish up deciding on Christmas presents, purchase Christmas presents, wrap Christmas presents, give Christmas presents, receive Christmas presents, unwrap Christmas presents, whinny like a pretty pony with glee grunt like a caveman with cool indifference. This will take a little over a fortnight (or so).

As I look back on this sweet ScrumOfOne blog o’ mine, I grunt with glee (like a cavepony?) at how this writing endeavour has fulfilled one of its requirements, which was to document the evolution of my approach to and focus of ScrumOfOne. Starting over half a year ago, I pushed to publish a post twice a week (or so), where I over time shifted away from the ScrumMaster side of software personal development, to spending time talking about what is the Product Owner arena: setting the vision, prioritizing stories, and balancing a ‘forward’ motion with the flow of life, taking on more Taoist concepts as of late, and most recently reflecting on lectures by life coach Martha Beck.

From here, I have a couple of concepts I can’t quite comfortably reconcile, although MB’s work seems to have given me… an answer? The two thoughts:

  • There is an approach that feels very Western. Scrum talks about taking a vision for your product, or in my spin, your self, and implementing pieces of ‘potentially shipable’ functionality (new things that you are / have / can do) in a prioritized fashion. All this while embracing change (you don’t exist in a vacuum, life happens around you can’t help but interact with it) as well as practices that promote transparency, inspection, and adaptation. I am a Certified ScrumMaster and thus have a decent understanding of this philosophy.
  • There is an approach that feels very Eastern. Taoism talks about the essence of things, how we’re all one, and a bunch of concepts that sound quite deep. Applying some of these to personal development translate to getting out of your own way to discover your essence, and then do that, which will end up being without effort. This is doing without doing, action without action, or wei wu wei.

I am convinced that all the advice we hear about how to live a better, more fulfilling, more ‘successful’, higher functioning life are all facets of the same gem. This is what I’m trying to understand. And then apply. And then share.

I want to live it, to then give it.

There are 20 draft blog posts waiting to be fleshed out, and I can’t wait to dive in. After, of course, a break that will surely be relaxing (or so).

Death And Manure And A Microphone

I’ve recently been getting into Alan Watts, an English philosopher who has a lot of Eastern-styled wisdom to share to Western audiences. And he does it so well since he’s studied both, having written books on Zen and having been an Episcopal priest. And then he’s got that British accent, so, c’mon, anything you say with a British accent is basically truth. He’s essentially unstoppable, with a lot of his lectures on YouTube.

One quote of his that recently caught my fascination was the following:

Everybody should do in their lifetime, sometime, two things. One is to consider death. To observe skulls and skeletons and wonder what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up – never! That is a very gloomy thing for contemplation, but it’s like manure. Just as manure fertilizes the plants and so on, so the contemplation of death and the acceptance of death is very highly generative of creating life. You’ll get wonderful things out of that.

David DeAngelo talks about this in one of the deeper sections of his DVD program, ‘On Being A Man’. By embracing the fact that your own death can happen, doesn’t that give you another view on life? Doesn’t that re-prioritize what you plan on doing today? All that stuff you’re worried about or that annoys you on a day-to-day basis, kinda small potatoes in comparison, no? It’s small stuff. Or, as my former supervisor would put it:

Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s all small stuff.

Thus, I went to RadioShack and bought a microphone.