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Agile new years' resolutions


In the spirit of talking about new years' resolutions that worked, I thought I would mention my general strategy for making change that I have found very helpful. In much the same way that the Pomodoro method is like miniature Scrum for time management, I find that Scrum can also be used effectively for personal change.

First stop: the epic user story

Consider a typical new year's resolution, like "get in shape." If you were looking at it like a Scrum story, you would immediately see that it lacks both the "as a" and the "so that" clauses, which help to give the context and purpose information we need in order to prioritize our stories. So, that change would make it something like:

If we were grooming that story, we would see next that it's way too broad. What does "get in shape" mean exactly? Time to break up that story into measurable parts. So, let's say for you "get in shape" means to be thinner, and to not be out of breath after doing things that you used to be able to do without trouble. That's two new stories right there:

Tasking the stories

With sufficiently specific and measurable stories, you should be able to task them now. Starting with the first story, describe the tasks you need to complete for the story to be done, and list them:

...or something like that. (You get the idea.) For something like quitting smoking, the tasks might be to find a cessation program, to go to see your doctor about it, to go mountain biking, to change your commute route to go around the gas station you usually buy your cigarettes from, and so on.

Start your daily scrum

The easiest way to do this, if you already do one for work, is to do a personal daily scrum just before or just after the one for work. It will serve as a good reminder, and you've already been ripped out of the zone so it won't bother you much. Just note what you did yesterday for your stories, what you will do today for your stories, and any impediments that are preventing you from moving ahead. If you skip the standup, or if you haven't done anything for two days, or if you have any impediment that you've made no progress on, that's a huge cause for concern and you should devote specific time to recommitting, clearing your impediments, and so forth.

Conduct a sprint review

For many new years' resolutions, a two or three week sprint is not enough time to actually finish a story. Maybe your goal would be to make significant progress, or duplicate the progress made in a previous sprint. Regardless, at a specified and regular interval (either two or three weeks), review your progress, including taking measurements against your story goals. Review your approaches to the stories and decide whether they need tweaking, and whether your tasks are sufficient or need changing. Take that day to look back on your progress; congratulate yourself on success and take a hard look at failure to see what you could do differently. Finally, recommit to the stories and to your approach for another sprint. Rinse and repeat!