04 Nov 2014, 17:30

scrums as a service

I have a lot of trouble getting started some days.

Part of this is the paradox of choice regarding all the stuff I need to do, but part of it is that it doesn’t matter much, for a goal the completion of which is weeks or months away, whether I get started this morning at 8am or 8:15am. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop applying just because it’s 8:15am. This happens even with things I really, really want to do and am excited to do, except there it takes a slightly different form, which is that I feel as though I’m putting off getting to do the fun thing (without making it impossible to do the fun thing, as in putting off going to the movies, which can be put off until the theater isn’t open). That is, it feels oddly virtuous to avoid doing the fun, productive thing that I would like to do.

I’ve read about and tried various things to combat this.

  • pomodoro timers
  • limited work hours
  • filtered or throttled internet

These are things that were unworkable or didn’t seem to help much. Throttled internet isn’t especially compatible with my usual methods (I’m googling around for quick answers to questions a lot of my day), and limited work hours just meant that I felt less guilty when I knocked off for the day, assuming I’d get more done tomorrow. The 25 minute timer is a great idea if you’re not having much trouble getting started, or if length of work is the primary problem. Of those, the timer plus limited work hours together came closest to helping, since not starting the timer at time X would mean at least one fewer block of work that day, which is an effect that I can wrap my subconcious around immediately. The small size (so it’s easier to get started) is in direct conflict, though, with the number of units being small enough to have a major effect on my perception of how much is lost for the day if I don’t start right away.

I found two things that really help.

  • other-directed scheduling
  • close deadlines

The thing these have in common is that they require other people to assist. Someone else has to be available to have a check-in at the start of the workday, or someone has to be prepared to be satisfied or disappointed depending on the status of a deadline.

Neither of these were a huge problem when I was going to work where other people were depending on my meeting deadlines (which were always only a few days away at worst), and expecting me to show up for scrums. Working alone has not provided that external motivation.

Hence this idea: scrums as a service.

One of the features of Agile development is the daily “scrum”, where everyone on the team meets, or calls in, and gives a brief progress report and sets expectations for the next work period. The purpose of all this is to give everyone on the team an idea of where the project is, and to provide an opportunity to resolve problems that require collaboration between parts of the team who don’t normally interact, and so on. However, for the purposes of this post, the part that seemed most helpful was the schedule and inherent deadline. Setting a time to meet means that at that time the people involved are working – are in a working mindset, ready to talk about what was accomplished since the last scrum, and what they hope to accomplish before the next. Doing this at the beginning of the workday seems most helpful to me for getting started, and doing it at the end seems most helpful for having an impending deadline. When I’ve worked in a shop with scrum, only a single daily scrum was usually used (separate meetings, of course, were often scheduled at the scrum), but I wonder if, for procrastination assistance, a start-of-day and end-of-day meeting might be helpful.

Bookending the workday with these meetings could have other salutary effects, such as helping set boundaries between work and home, something that those of us who work out of the home often have issues with already. In an ordinary daily cycle, there would be a push to get as much done as possible between start and finish, and a clear delineation of the workday’s end.

I imagine signing up for such a service and setting my start and end meeting times and methods (Skype, Google Hangout, Vidyo, whatever), and then calling into a start meeting, where the “scrum master” gets started, calling on those present to describe what they hope to do today (or did since the last meeting; perhaps there would be separate groups for those who do one meeting a day and those who do two), managing the discussion to prevent monopolization and to bring things to an close 10 or 15 minutes in.

Some differences from scrums I’ve participated in would be natural; after all, since this is a service, people wouldn’t necessarily have any idea what others were talking about, at least at first. Also, this would probably be less useful for those in a stealthy startup or whose company wouldn’t allow them to discuss what they did even in bite-sized form. Perhaps for such folks, the “scrum” could be just the scrum master and the worker, somewhat more expensively. Also, this is a motivational tool rather than a development methodology, so burndown charts and other agile paraphernalia would be missing, as I envision it.

Someone focused on one or two adjacent timezones might have two runs of 15 minute meetings, 7am to 9:30am at the half hours, and 2:30pm to 5pm similarly. At a maximum of 10 people each, that’s 120 person-meetings per day (can I use “person-meetings” as a unit of measure?). Assuming a cost of $75/person-meeting/month, so a person like me who would prefer a start and stop meeting every day would pay $150/mo, this would top out at $108K/yr before accounting, overhead, and taxes. Maybe a little too low to start as a scrum master in DC or SF, but possibly competitive in much of the rest of the US.

Does this service exist already? Let me know @randallsquared or randall@randallsquared.com.

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