Sunday, October 16, 2016

How we used to Scrum and XP to keep the conference on schedule

Last week, I attended and facilitated Scrum Day Portugal. This was one of the best conferences I have ever attended: Great talks, new information, great discussions off-line both with participants and speakers! And despite starting 15 minutes late, we finished on time. Everything just flowed! How did we do that?

It didn't start out that way. Scrum Day Portugal is a two day event. I arrived Tuesday afternoon, half way into the first day. The speakers were interesting, the talks were great, but we were running late. It felt like a death march project, even though the conference had barely begun.

My job was to facilitate the second day. We had a really tight schedule! Seven igniter talks followed by 2 Pecha Kuchas and 3 ½ hours of Open Space. I realized that staying on schedule would be both challenging and really important. If people are exhausted at the Open Space, they can employ the law of two feet (leave), and all the air goes out of the event. This would be a disaster. How to fix the problem?

Tuesday night, the speakers went out for dinner together. We talked about the problem. A big challenge was that most participants arrived late on Tuesday, and would probably do so again on Wednesday, so we could not just ignore our customers and start on time. Another challenge was that one speaker needed more time than originally planned. Not knowing how late we would have to start, we couldn't decide how to address the scheduling problem. We agreed to make the decision Wednesday morning.

On Wednesday, I invited all the speakers to a daily scrum, shortly before the opening was scheduled. While I tried to make a plan for the start times of each speaker, Chet Hendrickson started writing cards on the table. He made a card for each speaker, the coffee break and lunch.
Visualizing the program à la XP

At this point, I gave up on my “spreadsheet”! Using Chet's cards and the original schedule, we calculated the duration of each session. We agreed to start 15 minutes late, but keep the original timings. So we calculated the new start times for each speaker. What about the speaker, who needs more time? “I can shorten my talk, no problem!” said Manny Gonzales, CEO of the Scrum Alliance (when was the last time you heard a CEO volunteer to shorten their talk?).

What about transition times? There are no transition times, this is the time each of us starts. “Oh, so I have to shorten my talk a bit.” We all understood the problem and the goal. We had implicitly agreed to do our best to make it happen.

“The key word is responsibility,” explained Chet, “Everyone in the team has an obligation to do the right thing. The cards are a tool he uses in Extreme Programming to visualize system architecture, and thanks to the visualization, everyone knew what they had to do.

How did we stay on time? During the each session, I just needed to know who the next speaker was, when their session was scheduled to start. The speakers asked for a friendly wave at five minutes before the end of their session, so they could remain aware of when the had to finish.

In the worst case, a session ended in 1 whole minute late. Some of the speakers over-compensated (shortened), so by lunchtime, we were back on the original schedule!

So the conference ran smoothly and everybody left the conference with a smile. What does this have to do with Scrum and XP?
  • Someone was responsible for the process, and raised the questions. In Scrum, that person is called the Scrum Master.
  • The team got together to figure out how to achieve the day's goal. In Scrum that's called a Daily Scrum.  We left the meeting with a plan and a common goal.
  • The Scrum Master remained focused on the process, giving friendly reminders when it was helpful. 
  • The time-boxing gave us orientation and helped us deliver a great conference. 
  • Visualizing the problem and giving it to the whole team made solving the problem much easier. (I don't know what Chet calls his board, but it's a great approach.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

How to beat procrastination with My Personal Agility


As I started my quest which led to creating what I now call 'My Personal Agility,' my goal was to get more done of what really matters.  Today, I stumbled on a TED talk by Tim Urban (author of the amazing 'Wait but Why' blog) that explains why that is so hard to achieve. We are all procrastinators. How can we beat the urge to procrastinate?



Urban talks about the 'Instant Gratification Monkey' who seizes control from the 'Rational Decision Maker.' The monkey wants to do fun stuff, not hard stuff that's important but whose value is far off. The only thing that the monkey is afraid of is the 'Panic Monster' - if the deadline is near enough, panic will set in, the monkey is scared off and the rational decision maker can get to work.

And what if there is no deadline? No panic monster to raise its ugly head, so you never get anything started, much less finished. So procrastination is paralyzing.

Urban's solution was to visualize the weeks in your life and tick them off as you age. This should create a sense of urgency by inviting the Panic Monster into the room. But somehow, ticking off the weeks until I am dead is depressing, and at least for me, that would be even more paralyzing!

How does My Personal Agility help you beat the urge to procrastinate?

The Six Questions of Personal Agility

The six questions of Personal Agility offer a more uplifting approach:
  1. What really matters?
  2. What did I accomplish last week?
  3. What is important (of all the things I could do)?
  4. What is urgent (really has to get done this week)?
  5. What do I think I can accomplish (this week)?
  6. Who can help? 
Bonus question: What do I want to do today?

The answers to Question 1, What really matters, give you guidance for saying yes or no to the many things you could do. It also reminds you what you really want to do.

Question 2, What did I accomplish last week, is an opportunity to celebrate what you have accomplished in the past week. This produces the happiness hormones to keep Instant Gratification Monkey happy and content.

Questions 3 and 4, What's urgent and what's important help you order your thoughts and think about what you want to be doing this week. Some of your time will be for important goals, some will be for putting out urgent fires, and some for having fun!

Question 5, What do I think I can accomplish, is about setting reasonable goals for the week and giving yourself a deadline. This might be an invitation to the Panic Monster, though I believe if you produce enough happiness hormones through question 2, you won't need the Panic Monster as often.

Question 6, Who can help? Why is this question here? As humans, we can accomplish more in collaboration than by ourselves. If you are stuck, this is a useful question, because a new person is always a new source of ideas.

In my case, I found myself unable to ask the first five questions on a regular basis, so I asked myself who could ask me these questions. The answer was obvious, and I asked my wife for help. She offered to meet with me once per week, to ask me these questions, so I can answer them. I call her my Personal Agility Coach. By having a weekly appointment with my Personal Agility Coach, I can reflect on these questions, produce some happiness hormones for what I have accomplished, and remind myself what I really want to be doing this week.

Depending on your context, your Personal Agility Coach could be a life coach, a mentor, a Scrum Master,  a fellow student or even your spouse! Just use a board, like Trello, to visualize the answers to the first 5 questions. I call this Your Priorities Map. Then meet with your Personal Agility Coach once per week or so to celebrate your accomplishments, answer the questions, and remind yourself what you want to be doing.

How I do Personal Agility

Peter's Personal Agility
Artwork thanks to @fredzen