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Product Management

Scrum Strategies for Summer Break

Tyler Hilker
April 30, 2019

Ah, summer. Even once we’re out of school, this time of year brings a sense of potential and excitement. And yet, it can feel like we’re just flying by the seat of the pants most of the time (maybe because we are?). It’s hard to be intentional about how we spend time with those that mean the most to us, especially during the summer when everything feels carefree and school-year constraints disappear.


Fortunately, there’s some collective wisdom we can tap into: a lot of everyday goodness in the unexpectedly-adjacent ways we spend our time at work.

Ugh, not another “Work is life” post

I get the skepticism, I do, but bear with me for a minute: life and work are both made of people. The people systems in the workplace have undergone significant study and thoughtful working-out, so there’s plenty to learn from them.


There are a handful of similarities between summer break and building a product, including the fact that our success is often defined by how well we manage these tensions:  

  • Desired outcomes; uncertain means
  • Independent humans; social needs
  • Lofty expectations; grounding reality


This post will complement specific tactics* called out by others with some approach-level thoughts on how to guide not what you do during the summer, but how you spend the time.


For a primer on Scrum, I’ll point you to Alison’s What is Scrum post. Below, I’ll dig into the following values borrowed from Scrum & Agile approaches:

  • Team up
  • Set a wide vision
  • Think small
  • Set appropriate expectations
four kids exploring the Bonneville Salt Flats with blue sky
The crew exploring the Bonneville Salt Flats


Team up

First, decide on your “Who.” You’re probably going to spend a lot of time around other people — carefully consider who that will be. Our “tribes” — family, groups of friends, and/or other communities you’re intentionally and consistently a part of — have a massive effect on who we become.


Your tribes could be:

  • Your partner and/or family
  • Your close friends
  • Sports teams & families
  • Neighbors
  • “People at the neighborhood/community pool”


Last year, my “tribe” — wife & four kids — took a long road trip into the Western US: 30 days, 13 states, 6,000 miles, all kinds of fun. Along the way, we were to stay with and see many people that mattered to us, but this was the crew that mattered most. We were in it together and that framed how we chose what to do and (most of the time) our attitudes. We each knew that we weren’t going to 100% enjoy everything we did (even the parents), but the “we not me” perspective would make the time worth it.


Product teams — small, cross-disciplinary teams collaborating towards a meaningful product — are like tribes within the tribe of Crema. They help provide an understanding of who’s responsible for X, who to consider for Y, and so on; in short, it establishes a circle of concern. Teams that don’t have a clear understanding of a “who” can often waver on decisions and struggle to make meaningful progress. This is important with our clients, too: if someone other than our primary point-of-contact provides different direction than we’d discussed, we’ve got to schedule an alignment conversation quickly.


Keeping the tribe in mind will give everyone a shared sense of belonging and, as we’ll see shortly, expectations. Reminding each other up front and throughout the trip that “we’re in this together” was a great help in slowing down to see things from another’s perspective and engage on an entirely different level.

Expansive views of Bryce Canyon brown rocks and blue sky
Expansive views of Bryce Canyon


Set a wide vision

It’s easy to think of specific things we want to do in the warmer months: camping, beach time, pool time, vacation, stay inside next to the AC vent, etc. Yet, those activities alone can leave us feeling unfulfilled.


Similarly, in the product world, the gravity of known specifics sucks us into feature factory mode, delivering functionality of questionable value because we’ve lost sight of the larger objectives. Agile’s core belief is that it’s not just the delivery of software that matters, but the delivery of meaningful software, which is best measured in outcomes, not outputs.


Outcome-oriented questions to consider:

  • How does the tribe want to be different at the end of the summer?
  • How might we make the most, not just do the most?
  • How do you want to be different?


Examples might include:

  • “We want to end the summer refreshed.”
  • “We want to spend as much time outdoors as possible.”
  • “We want to develop a tighter sense of who we are as a tribe.”


Our road trip began with something like, “Visit lots of national parks & see lots of people.” However, as difficulties arrived — e.g., forgetting shoes and a pillow in a hotel, setting up & taking down the tent in pouring rain — we quickly found our theme and rallying cry for the rest of the trip: “Adventure!” It was there all the time, but calling it out reminded us of why we were really doing this in the first place.


    “An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered; an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered."

— G.K. Chesterton, On Running After Ones Hat, All Things Considered, 1908


Without a shared frame of “Adventure!”, inevitable inconveniences of a trip this long could have turned our tribe into a van-load of grumpy lumps.

green ferns with bigs crawling throughout
Itty bitty ferns, all around and oft-overlooked


Think small

By now, you might already have some of the big rocks planned out: summer camp, vacation reservations, etc. Those milestones are great! And kudos to you for planning ahead that well.


The thing is, we often try to shove too many big rocks in so tightly that 1) our over-inflated expectations get dashed; 2) we exhaust ourselves and everyone involved, and; 3) we neglect the margin in between the big rocks, the space where the little things fit.


The Agile Manifesto is largely about the way teams work together, not what they work on. So for product teams, a defining attribute of health isn’t the features it delivers, but the small ways in which they interact as they go about their work: daily rituals, thoughtful feedback, small relational calibrations throughout the day.


Whether you know it or not, your tribe probably has small rituals that drive interactions throughout the day. One after another, these interactions can begin to shape even the “big rocks” in unpredictably positive ways.


Over the course of our road trip, we listened to 6 audiobooks (from the library) & many podcasts together. This gave meaning & created shared experiences in between “big rocks”. There were even a few points where we pulled up to a highly-anticipated destination and the kids would have rather finished the chapter/episode than get out of the car.


Ways to think small:

  • In the evenings, talk together about the plans for the following couple days
  • Invite others into your preparation work, helping build anticipation around upcoming events
  • Take on new perspectives in familiar activities: on a hike, get low to the ground or challenge the tribe to see how many different trees/animals/rocks/bugs you can find.

Double Arches canyon with blue sky
Double Arches


Set appropriate expectations

The picture above was taken from the back of Double Arch at 7:55 a.m. on a Friday. The previous night, we had come to the park and watched the sunset through these same arches. Because “Adventure!” we thought, “We should come back for sunrise in the morning.” So we described to the kids our vision & context: 1) how great we thought it might be for all sorts of reasons, and; 2) the effort it would take (waking up early, longer day of driving,  etc.). They were game. And for an hour the next morning, we had one of the most popular spots in the park completely to ourselves.


Agile values are similar: responding to change over following a plan in order to reach the best outcomes. When product teams prepare work for a sprint, they’ll estimate the effort for a given issue.  At Crema, the team will estimate the work together, but the one doing the work has deciding authority in the final estimate.


This enables a few things:

  • Growth of the person doing the work
  • Ownership of a task & its results
  • Shared framing & expectations of roughly what, when, and how the thing will be addressed


If you’ve spent any time in a service role, you probably know that proper expectations are arguably more critical to a project’s success than any other responsibility. In almost any scenario, frequent communication helps minimize the distance between expectations, planning, and reality. And whether it’s in daily standups or over breakfast, the whole tribe’s got to be involved.


We did quite a bit of exploring on our road trip, doing things we’ve never done before. Driving long distances, hiking difficult trails, etc. My wife & I began with different expectations of what could be accomplished, but quickly learned that, not only were our expectations different from each other, they were entirely outside the bounds of reality.


For example, the kids might enthusiastically complete a wonderful hike, but crumble into a train wreck of exhaustion & emotions a few steps into the afternoon attempt (we should have seen that coming). We quickly learned they, and even (especially?) we, benefit more from taking more time on the hike and an entire afternoon of downtime to recover. It was the difference between, “What will our tribe enjoy and remember well?” rather than, “How much can we get done?”


So when we began with lighter expectations and margin around activities, we found the freedom to enjoy the time with each other more. We had room for the small things mentioned above. More margin around fewer activities enabled richer experiences because we had the emotional, mental, and physical wherewithal to enjoy the moments within.


Tips for setting healthy expectations:

  • Plan for energy, not just time
  • Invite the tribe to plan a focused experience together
  • Explore multiple facets of a single experience
  • Make room for — and embrace! — the unexpected


***


In the end, the goal of a great summer plan is to do cool things and enrich your tribe. You don’t have to take a huge road trip to put these ideas to use. Let us know what Scrum-ish approaches you’ve used to make the most of your summer!



— — —


* Here are some great resources that get into specific tricks & methods borrowed from the software development world. Please note: while I’m a long-time parent, I, nor anyone at Crema, is certified in parental guidance in any meaningful way to provide clinical recommendations.


Sage Strategies Of Agile Families For Less-Stress Parenting

What Is Agile Parenting?

Manifesto for Agile Parenting

How to Raise a Happy Family: Advice From A Software Developer