My Agile Life: Be Your Own Best Boss

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

(My continuing “Agile Life” column, where I use Scrum for a more balanced and productive life continues).

One of the better bosses I had, when seeing a report I had created, noted “Now I understand where we are and I’m worried.”

Why do I say he was a better boss? Because his reaction to seeing disturbing data was to then figure out what to do. He didn’t kill the messenger (me) or berate the team (everyone else).  So, solve the problem.

This provided what’s known as Psychological Safety (, feeling I and we could take risks.  Ironically I was laid off a few months later – as was he – due to other reason.  I felt so bad for him being laid off I forgot my own feelings of annoyance.

Psychological Safety is crucial for good management and good Agile.  Agile philosophy and methods depend on feedback and authenticity so people can respond, communicate, and improve.  Without that it will fail -and trust me, I’ve seen some doozies.

In personal Agile, you’re everyone – the boss, the product owner, the scrum master, the team, the analyst, etc.  Psychological Safety seems to be a bit irrelevant here.

But I realized it’s not.

Ever berate yourself for mistakes?  Ever beaten yourself up over missing something?  Hard on yourself?  You probably have done all of this – you haven’t provided yourself with psychological safety.  You’re being the Bad Boss to yourself.

This is very common.  This is probably near-universal.  I’ve encountered many people who beat themselves up constantly, and worse of all excuse it.  They’re their own battered spouse, their own abusive parent, their own tormentor.

Honestly, a lot more of us probably need to be in therapy.  But back to Agile before this gets too depressing.

To be productive, you need Psychological Safety, even in your own personal life.  How can you achieve that?  A few things I’ve found:

  • * Honesty.  Be honest with yourself self, admit your mistakes and flaws and issues.
  • * Cooperation.  Work with yourself to improve.  Coach yourself.  “You” are on the same team.
  • * Enablement.  Help yourself get better so you don’t repeat mistakes and can improve.
  • * Review.  Review what you do to improve what you do.  It becomes regular, it becomes habit.
  • * Empathy.  Let yourself “feel” what you feel, its like having empathy for others but you’re taking a look at yourself.
  • * Humor and fun.  Learn to have fun, let yourself have fun, enjoy things.

It’s not easy.  But it’s better than the alternative.

Being your own worst enemy is, well, the worst.  This is because you can never get away from yourself.  How about being a good manager to yourself instead?

(By the way I do plenty of books for coaching people to improve in various areas, which may also help you out!)

– Steve

My Agile Life: Overwork

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

(My continuing “Agile Life” column, where I use Scrum for a more balanced and productive life continues).

Uhg.  So as you know from my blogging about agile techniques, I’ve been getting overloaded.  I’m trying to fix this with some success.  So here’s what I’ve been trying.

  • Velocity.  Velocity, the measure of work done in a timeframe, is a big part of Scrum.  One reason to measure it is to see what you can do – but another is to make sure you’re not overloaded.  I can tell my usual workload doesn’t quite work out, so I’m trying to reduce it a bit here and there.  EXAMPLE: Restructuring how much I put into a given project a month.
  • Effectiveness.  Do things better.  I’ve found you can also save time just by doing stuff better.  EXAMPLE: I made graphic templates for upcoming graphic work.
  • Letting go of the schedule.  Work done on time doesn’t matter if it’s poorly done.  You have to re-evaluate and re-assess your schedules and in some cases dispose of them entirely.  EXAMPLE: I had some library donations to make that kept getting interrupted, so I had to accept “it gets done when it gets done.”
  • Iterativeness.  The flipside of efficiency is to not try to be perfect.  Some things are iterative, things you do over and over or regularly.  These can be improved, or mistakes compensated for.  EXAMPLE: Cleaning.  If I miss a hard water stain in the shower it won’t kill me as I’ll fix that next week.
  • Capture.  Be sure to capture any big blocks of time you want to use for something.  EXAMPLE: I have some convention speaking coming up so I literally put it in my schedule as a big block of time to note “I will be doing nothing else then.”
  • Sizing.  I’m sticking with the Fibonacci numbers for sizing my work – in hours – as it seems to produce better estimates.

I’ve also looked at things that mess up my planning and scheduling and productivity.  The Antipatterns.  They are

  • Loading Up.  When you find your maximum velocity of work, it doesn’t mean it’s what you should do.  It’s what you’re capable of when you push yourself.  What is you sustainable rate?
  • Lumping.  When possible break things down so you can calculate your workload – and because it lets you adapt better.
  • Missing lumps.  Some things are just purely about a time commitment, like “setting aside X hours to relax.”  Some things are better lumped together just so you’re not micromanaging.
  • Not looking at value.  When you do something ask what makes it useful – believe me there’s some surprises in there.
  • Bad Deadlines.  Again, deadlines should serve quality, not the other way around.
  • No goals.  When you don’t have goals, you can’t plan.  We often substitute panic, deadlines, etc. for goals – those aren’t goals.  Goals are positive.
  • Done over quality.  Doing something fast poorly can be worthless.
  • Rigidity.  Agile methods are about embracing change, and if you have to keep things rigid, you’re not Agile.  You need to find ways to be adaptable.

Hope these help you out.  Something to look out for in your own life – and anyone you manage.

(By the way I do plenty of books for coaching people to improve in various areas, which may also help you out!)

– Steve