When the going gets rough

Up until this point I have been writing about Agile practices outside of work, but today I am going to focus on agile at work. Specifically on trusting the Scrum process — especially when crises occur.


My place of employment has been going through a lot of transition in the last few years and it has led to all kinds of frustration. Change always does that. As a result of the organizational changes both of my Scrum teams now include new developers and there are fewer of them. Some of the new team members are good, and some are not up to the same standard that we are used to. It takes time to build a good team.

As a result of these changes to my teams, work has been proceeding at a slower velocity. We are working on that in various ways, but recently I have had a couple of urgent requests from stakeholders come my way where the requestor specifically asked if we could do something “outside the sprint.” When I have asked what that means, I don’t get an answer.

I do know what that means, actually, but no one wants to say it out loud. It means I need this other thing (this unplanned thing) done ASAP and I don’t want to have to give up any of the other work that is already in progress and it cannot wait. It also means I don’t want to think about reality.

I understand urgent requests and am all for responding to changing needs (of course!), but I cannot advocate trying to work around or outside of the Scrum process. In my opinion the only thing that can happen is that all the work goes even slower causing even more frustration.

To all you stakeholders and product owners out there who get feel that Scrum doesn’t work in a crisis please try to remember:

  • Scrum is all about getting the highest priority work done first. If the focus changes from one goal to another sprint-to-sprint to resolve urgent issues, that is just fine. The process is designed to be flexible that way.
  • There are a lot of ways to work on improving velocity, but sacrificing the Scrum process is not one of them. You will end up waiting longer for everything instead of solving your urgent needs and the team will never improve.
  • Developers are not like coat hangers – you can’t go out and buy more or borrow from someone else’s closet just because you have more coats than you usually do. Developers need ramp up time on any project. QA is important.
  • In a crisis it is better to solve the problem than to create more with a band-aid.
  • It takes time to build a good team.

Bullet Journals are Agile

bullet_journalHave you heard of a Bullet Journal? If not, the Bullet Journal site will explain it all to you in detail, but here is my summary:

A Bullet Journal is a personal version of Scrum.

If you are familiar with Bullet Journals or have one yourself you may already have realized the goals and potential benefits of keeping one, but if you’re also a Scrum Nerd like me, you may have also realized how the techniques also line up to The Scrum Guide and the Agile Manifesto.

The Scrum Guide’s statement on Scrum Theory says:

Scrum Theory:

Scrum is founded on empirical process control theory, or empiricism. Empiricism asserts that knowledge comes from experience and making decisions based on what is known. Scrum employs an iterative, incremental approach to optimize predictability and control risk.

Three pillars uphold every implementation of empirical process control: transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

-The Scrum Guide

Transparency, inspection and adaption is exactly the process one follows when keeping a bullet journal.

Additionally Scrum is described as being:

  •  Lightweight
  •  Simple to understand
  •  Difficult to master

Again, I would say this is all also true of Bullet Journals.  It is a simple concept that takes time and refinement to employ in a way that is truly effective on an individual level.

Bullet Journaling is described as:

Bullet Journaling lives at the intersection between mindfulness and productivity. A system that adapts to your life every single day. The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less.

– bulletjournal.com

Let me explain my thinking:

  • Rapid Logging is the first instruction in getting started with Bullet Journaling. Rapid logging is the technique used and it consists of four components: topics, page numbers, short sentences, and bullets.
    – In other words it contains just enough information as is needed.
  • Future Logs and Monthly Logs are used to help establish the daily log
    – Sounds like a Product backlog and a Sprint backlog to me
  • The Daily Log and Migration – the daily log is established the night before for each day and tasks or items from the day before are migrated to the new day.
    – Daily Stand Up anyone?
  • Refinement – the process of bullet journaling requires constant refinement. Indexes and symbols and habits need to be established over time to make it work on an individual level. This requires practice and reflection regularly.
    – Refinement of the process is an important goal of the retrospective
  • Goals – Just like a sprint, Bullet Journals help users establish and keep track of their progress towards defined goals. Those goals are personal.

I made an attempt at bullet journaling about a year ago. To be frank, things in my work life became so haywire that I abandoned a number of practices and am now establishing new ways of working for myself. I have decided to re-start my bullet journal to see how it aligns with my agile practices both at work and at home. I will periodically post on my progress.

Anyone who’s interested in hearing more about Bullet Journaling should definitely visit the website, but also watch this great TED talk by Bullet Journal creator Ryder Carroll.

Summer Kanban – Zoe’s POV

At the end of week one I held a short retrospective with Zoe.  I kept it simple and asked 3 questions:

  1. How do you feel about using the board overall?
  2. What do you like about it?
  3. What don’t you like about it?

Despite some complaining I got at the start of the conversation when we were setting up her tasks for the next day, her responses to my retrospective questions were largely positive. Here’s my summary of what she had to say.

  1. How do you feel about using the board overall?
    She said she really likes it. She felt it made her less likely to procrastinate and helped her avoid having to do everything in one day. She said that as a visual learner and someone who likes hands on, this was was right up her ally.
  2. What do you like about it?
    Zoe said she felt it made a long to-do list a lot less overwhelming and more organized. It helped her to plan each day and served as a good reminder.  She also said it was fun and felt good to move the post-it notes over to the done column.
  3. What don’t you like about it?
    Zoe’s biggest dislike was she felt it was a little overwhelming and it was hard to know what to start first. She thought she might like it broken down more, but as we talked about it we came to the conclusion that what was missing was priorities. She also felt she might want the board to be online, but as we discussed that further we agreed that having it in the kitchen where we can all see it was better because we couldn’t forget about it.


Action items I took away from our discussion were:

  • Add priorities to tasks once they are moved into the “Doing Today” column
  • Don’t overload the “To Do” column – more stuff can be added as needed
  • Press on despite moments of complaining or eye-rolling


We started the new week with priorities as you can see…


Zoe also found a creative way to indicate something was partially done – see “Clean Room”

As you can see from the “Done” column, Zoe is off to Cape Cod for a few days. She didn’t bring the boar with her so I guess all these other tasks will have to wait while she’s at the beach. Fair enough.52028331865__A6B678BA-7617-4F16-AA54-C8289F16F212

Summer Kanban – Week 1

I created the board very simply using posterboard, tape and, of course, Post-it notes. My daughter, Zoe, was much more receptive to this entire idea than I thought she would be which really pleased me. We sat down together and came up with some tasks for the To Do section.  It was one task per Post-it so we repeated a few like “Go for a run.” The tasks were a mix of school work (summer math, reading, etc.), chores, and workouts to help her meet her fitness goals.

Here’s how our board looked on Sunday:


I reviewed the “rules” with Zoe and my husband, Rob, on Sunday. Because I was heading out of town on Sunday night, they were going to have to manage the board while I was gone.  I asked them to send me pictures each day and when I got home on Wednesday night we talked about the progress.  I was happy to see that they had mostly followed the plan.

As expected Zoe selected too many tasks on the first day so she was unable to complete them all. Day 2 was smooth and everything moved from Doing Today to Done. On Wednesday night I noticed there were a couple of items stuck in the Doing Today column so I asked Zoe about them. She said it was raining during the time she set aside for weeding so she was unable to complete that task. I agreed that was reasonable so we indicated that task was blocked. I’m not sure why she was blocked on cleaning her room, but as a parent of a teenage girl, I’m just glad that one got moved over at all.  I’ll let it linger a bit.



  • Overall it has been a successful first week.  As you can see in the Done column, a lot of things made it there which made me happy. I didn’t nag Zoe and I think that made her happy.
  • She did not regularly finish all the tasks for a given day for various reasons – some unavoidable, some avoidable.  I believe potential velocity is something that needs to assessed on a daily basis.
  • I intend to do a short retrospective on the activity with her tomorrow and I’ll publish her point of view next.

Summer Kanban Experiment

My 15 year-old daughter is very active and good about getting her homework done, but when left at home for a day with nowhere to be, she can easily lose the entire day in her phone or Netflix. As you can imagine, it drives me crazy when I get home from work and ask: “Did you do your reading?” or “Did you clean your room as I asked?” or even “Did you eat lunch today?” and instead of the “yes” I am hoping for I get “no” or worse yet, a blank stare.

This summer my daughter is going to 3 different camps, but she will have a total of 4 weeks at home with no real plans. She has things she wants to do with that time like start  running, get her summer reading done, get ahead on chemistry for next year. And I have things I want her to get done like cleaning her room and doing her summer math packet. She also, understandably, wants to have time to do nothing.

In the past I have helped her manage her homework and other chores by using a weekend backlog which we prioritize together. This has been successful for us both because we set the expectations and both agree and then I leave her to it. We check in occasionally but I don’t worry that she’s forgetting something and she doesn’t have me nagging her. I will post more on this later. But for the 4 weeks of summer I think we need something more so I am going to try making a Kanban board for her.

I explained it to her today and we talked about a good spot to keep the board and we listed out some tasks. She leaves for her first camp tomorrow and I will get the Kanban board set up while she is gone. Additionally while she is gone I will also be thinking about:

  • Ways to estimate tasks
  • How many tasks she can reasonably get done in a week (what is a good starting velocity?)
  • How we will check in daily (daily stand up)

Agile In Real Life

Hello and welcome.

Let me introduce myself: I am a Certified Scrum Master, Certified Scrum Professional and passionate Agilist. I’ve been using agile methodologies at work for over 6 years and have seen how it leads to better results from happier teams. Frankly it has been a life-changer in my career and I am quite evangelical. I currently work as a Product Manager and lead 2 Scrum teams and serve as and Agile Coach for my teams and a few others in the organization.

In addition to being a Product Manager and Agile Coach at work, I am the mother of a a very active teenager. She is a multi-sport athlete who also attends a special program for science as part of her school day. Both my husband and I have full-time jobs and on most days she needs to get somewhere, get home and get homework done.

A few years ago as my daughter’s activities and homework both increased it occurred to me that some Agile principles could be applied at home to make things easier to manage and to also make my family happier and more efficient.

The purpose of this blog is to share my real-world use of Agile principles both at work and in my home life and hopefully pass along some helpful ideas.