Managing Life Using “Personal Scrum” | Jesse Fewell Managing Life Using “Personal Scrum” – Jesse Fewell

Managing Life Using “Personal Scrum”

By March 10, 2009Blog, Uncategorized

Last night, Excella Consulting held its monthly Agile Center of Excellence meeting, where someone joked about using Scrum to manage life outside the office. At first glance, it might seem silly to plan a wedding or coordinate the kids’ after-school chores/soccer/science/music activities with daily stand-up meetings and a velocity chart. I mean, why go through all that overhead when you have real work to do?

Well, don’t laugh, but I’ve actually tried it. Indeed, it turns out I’m not the first. A quick google of “Personal Scrum” yields some curious notes from Pete Deemer, Khaled Hussein , and Vasco Duarte. My results, though, are rather mixed, and I offer them here for your review.

The Personal Scrum Process:
First, some technical details. I started by creating a Personal Backlog of tasks in Microsoft Outlook 2007. Everything I could think of that I wanted to get done, I recorded as a Task in Outlook. For each item, I entered an estimate for how many hours it should take me to complete a task. Every Friday at lunch, I would review how much work got done, and prioritize my tasks for next week.

Entering estimates on my Personal Backlog in Outlook

Entering estimates on my Personal Backlog in Outlook

Sounds like a breeze, right?

Personal Dysfunctions Exposed by Personal Scrum
Management guru Ken Schwaber says that using the Scrum method is akin to inviting your mother-in-law to the office: she’ll expose everything you’re doing wrong, and then leave it up to you to fix the problems. As it turns out, this is exactly what happened, and the pattern is the same as they are at the office:“Going Solo Means Going Nowhere”. Here is what I mean:

  1. The Big Things Are Still Overwhelming – For a while, I’ve wanted to redesign my website. But when I think about the right layout, the right photo, the right skin, how to install logos for my social networking profiles, how to pull in my twitter feed – each of which takes time – it gets really overwhelming. So during each Friday review, I put it off. Or I do only one task and take for ever to get to the next task. When I’m the one prioritizing what work I do in a given week, I tend to go for the easier things, so that I can predict at least something will get done. What I really need is a team or a coach to talk me through step-by-step the steps involved in, say, learning a new language…and then to follow up with me later to see if I tackled that one small next step.
  2. Self-Discipline is Still Hard – Each Friday, I would paste my list of completed task list from Outlook into Excel and add up my overall output to create a velocity chart. Here is what that looks like:
    Personal Task Hours Completed Each Week

    Personal Task Hours Completed Each Week

    . As you can see, I’m not very consistent. In the end, sticking to a declared set of priorities *is a hard thing to do*. You can see the deeper truth of this by reading these posts about thedifficulty of single-tasking. Without a team or coach around me, I’m left to follow my own distractions. My daily huddle consists of 2 team members: me and my computer…and the two of us easily go WAY off track.
  3. Finding Time Is Still Hard – If you look closely at the chart above, you’ll see that it’s been over a month since I last did my weekly review. It turns out that Friday meeting-with-myself either gets co-opted by an urgent task, or I get distracted by less tedious task of online gadget shopping. However, I’ve never missed a daily huddle with my project team at the office (unless I was out sick). Why? Because it’s much easier to blow off a commitment to myself than to blow off a commitment to my team. If I start missing the monthly demos of the system we’re building, people will wonder whether I care about my job and that will lead to some unpleasant conversations and consequences. But not when I’m flying solo. These “common time commitments” are manifested as good old fashioned appointments. If we make an appointment to talk about something at a specific time and place, we’ve made a commitment to follow through. This is why I exercise much more often when I take a class from a gym or a martial arts studio…not showing up carries a financial and social penalty than just deciding on my own not to go jogging.

To combat these deficiencies, you need a team. That team could be a spouse, a buddy, a counselor, or whatever. Whenever you slip up, your wingman will be there to nudge you back on track. Because, in the end, Scum is very much is like a mother-in-law: I’ve done everything she asked me to do, and I still feel inadequate…