Scrum for one? Not so sure.

I work with a team who cancelled their showcase.

Due to a combination of holidays, vampire infestations and other one off occurrences which led to only having one developer available for the sprint. The developer and the stakeholders did not want a bunch of people, all looking at the poor, single, developer and asking what he had been up to during the sprint.

I guess that makes sense, after all Scrum is a team sport. A showcase and retro with one person seems an bit over the top. In fact, even with 2-3 people the overhead of scrum seems excessive.

So I got to thinking, what would I utilize if I was on my own? Would I have a sprint? Would I appoint myself PO and Scrum Master and have a backlog that I was in charge of? Would I have a daily stand-up to share the impediments I faced with myself?

I think I would draw the line at having a meeting with the one amigo to break my stories down together, but I would probably still want to track my work.

I know people who use a Kanban wall instead of a todo list to keep on top of their work. I think I might stick with the todo list but the value of focus and transparency still counts.

While I would certainly track my work visually, I would not bother at all with any of the scrum roles. I would just be me. So work visibility is in and role definitions is gone.

Would I have a sprint? I guess it depends what kind of work I am doing.

When I do creative work I often use the Pomodoro Technique, which is essentially 25 minute sprints with 5 minute breaks and then going for a walk or getting a bit to eat after a couple of hours. That is kind of sprinting but it is not a feedback cycle outside the single pieces of work.

But maybe a weekly goal setting session is a good idea.

Actually, I have found a lot of success with WOOP based goal setting for big pieces of work. That is where I set an optimistic goal (a wish) and then imagine how good it will feel to succeed (the outcome). Then I imagine the impediments that will stop me achieving the goal (the obstacles) and finally plan what I could do if the obstacles occur (plan).

So I would start my week with a goal and with a plan to respond to my inevitable distractions.

When I put it like that I wonder why some Scrum teams begin the sprint with a goal like “we will complete the list of stories” when they might be better off agreeing a goal, imagining success and then predicting and planning for the likely threats to success. Anyway, for my one person team I will focus on having a goal that is more than just completed todo items.

But I don’t have a formal planning meeting. I can replace that with a cup of coffee and some goal setting, followed by a walk or a snack.

Is that really enough though?

Maybe sometimes I should do some continuous discovery as well. Instead of just assuming I know what people want, maybe I can stroll over to talk to them and ask some questions about what they want.

I can take my whole team with me, since it is only me. When I have some work done I can also take it with me to show my customer in another visit. Or I can skip that if I am just bashing through some work.

Now I can spend the rest of the day getting on with my work.

Next day though, it is probably time for my first stand-up. Or more likely my sit down with a coffee.

I will get out my todo list, tick some things off (or slide my post-it notes across my desk) and then confirm what I plan to do for that day. Then I will go for a walk or get a second coffee, before setting up my Pomodoro timer and getting stuck into the work again.

But wait, maybe I should have a definition of done or some acceptance tests. I don’t think it will take a lot of debate with myself, but for each thing I plan to do I should know what standard to achieve and what success looks like.

Being the entire team of the one amigo though, I think I will sometimes say that I am starting a piece of work without a clear conclusion. I won’t call it a spike or and MVP, I’ll just call it something I want to do. If that is the case then I will define success for my sprint (the outcome in WOOP) and then decide which other things need a definition of done. Nobody is watching me so I will create a clear outcome when it is worth testing against and an open outcome when I am exploring new ideas.

After several daily sit-downs and a bit of work, I will reach the end of the week. Should I reflect on what I have done?

Actually I do think that is valuable. I will run through what got done, what didn’t and what isn’t really working for me.

I also find it valuable to remind myself of what I have accomplished and maybe where I stuffed up (fell short of my expectations of myself and my goals); which goes beyond just reviewing what I have crossed off todo list.

So I will do that. I will call it my weekly reflection with a glass of wine or sometimes just a pen and paper. The documentation will either be nothing or a work journal with notes in it. Probably the latter if I only have one glass of wine :).

My artefacts are now a todo list and a journal.

So I have ditched the roles and the mystique and I am left with:

  • A goal for the week (or whatever stroll length I choose);
  • An expectation that I will encounter impediments and a plan for some of them if they happen;
  • A way to make the work visible – todo list, Kanban board or whatever;
  • A daily sit down with a coffee and a review of my todo list;
  • A definition of done for some things;
  • Potentially a visit (or zoom chat) to someone I am delivering the work to; and
  • A reflection on how my week went.

That doesn’t sound too far off Scrum, if I forget about eating chickens and eggs or having people walk around calling themselves master or owner or things like that.

If that works for 1 person though, should it work for 2? If it works for 2, should it work for 3? At what point would I actually move from strolls to sprints and sitting down to standing up?

Can I have a team of 5 who set a weekly goal, stroll over to visit people when they want some input and sit down for tea or coffee each week?

When should I start using a burn down chart, a cycle time average or a scrum master? When should I use formal ceremonies? Is it just to do with the number 7?

In other words, is my decision to use Scrum vs Stroll-approach based on the the number of people in the team; where a single stroller works alone, but somewhere around 5 you need more processes and artefacts?

I don’t think it is just about numbers though, there must be a lot of other factors.

I work differently when building a course to when catching up for 1-1 coaching. So I would adopt my stroll framework a little depending on the kind of work I was doing. I also work differently when pairing with some people to when I pair with others.

I wonder now, what factors beyond the number of people I have in my team, should lead me to adopt a different path to creating my way of working?


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