Steve’s Agile Life: Size Affects Pursuit Of Value

(This column is posted at, and Steve’s Tumblr)

Let’s talk Sprints and organization. If you’re new to my whole “Agile Life” thing, this is me using Agile (specifically Scrum) to make my life more productive and less stressful. Sprints are periods in Scrum used to choose – and do – work. It’s not linear planning, more “I can get X done in Y period.”

So I’m doing Scrum for my life, and my sprint is a month, not the traditional two weeks. I do this because my life has a monthly cadence, with monthly meetings, events, and the like. This also means I focus on value differently than if, say, I used two week sprints or the even more (insanely) daring one week sprint.

I have a larger timeframe, so I focus on more kinds of work (stories that deliver value) because I both can do more and have more to do. Thus where a two-week sprint might have me focusing on a generator, a monthly sprint may bring in more projects and work.

Because of my sprint size, I focus on value differently. I deliver multiple, unrelated kinds of value – where a smaller sprint may mean I focus on fewer kinds of value, and those are probably related. I’ve wondered if this dilutes my ability to focus, but also see some advantages.

Here’s an example:

  • In the first two weeks of every month I have three professional meetups – maybe four. These meetups each take up an evening.
  • If I have a monthly cadence then these big blocks aren’t as big a deal as I can fit tasks around them or just do some later. I have adaptability, but work might be diluted.
  • If I have a two-week sprint, then I have to think more of what to accomplish in that time, working with those “block.” of time. I’ve got a bit of a tighter backlog, but the focus is on specific value. For instance maybe I’d make these two weeks even more “business” and do studying, etc.

So smaller sprints means a narrower focus on value – and an opportunity to focus. Why not, I wonder, go by two-week sprints, and these “business blocks” could be enhanced if I also used that time to do studying for certifications, etc. However . . .

. .. this is also my life. That has a few complications:

  • Some work is very hard to “block” like writing. That’s intellectually exhausting, and though I’d like to try, I’m not sure I’m going to, say, write an entire book in a two week block.
  • This big picture lets me adapt easier because there’s more room to shift around. Because of the monthly cadence, I tend to “step on my own toes” less.
  • My “life” commitments are a bit more variable than work. When’s the last time your boss suddenly visited and slept at your place? ¬†OK, don’t answer that.

Your life may be different, so you’ll have to find the sprint cadence that works for you. However, you might be surprised.

If you’re a Scrum Master or Coach, these “life Scrum” and “life Agile” experiences are valuable to develop empathy. By using these techniques in your life, you literally live them and live the roles of all members – Scrum Master, Team Member, Product Owner. Because of that, these experiences are burned into your brain in a visceral manner – next time your team debates value and sprint size, you’ll remember what it was like.

– Steve