Moment of Parental Pride

My son, an elementary schooler, participated in his school’s public speaking contest.  Initial participation is mandatory for all students, but then a top 10 is selected for another round, and from that there’s a top 3 (and 3 alternates) who compete to win. Normal enough.

Now, the thing is that my son is a super bright, amazing dude with a palette so high that he could probably store acorns in there. We’re addressing it over time, but it’s meant all manner of speech issues, which were exacerbated because he picked up the habit of speaking fast from both his parents. So, last year, we tried to get him out of the contest on the grounds that it would just be embarrassing for him, but the principal (who is amazing) gave us a look and said that the kids who are going to have the roughest time are the ones who benefit from it most. So he did it, and that was the end of it.

Sort of.

This year, he actually put some work into it, and came back from the first round with the proud announcement that he had made the top ten.  We were blown away.  We did all the right parenting things, emphasizing that this was the result of his hard work and so on, and treated this as an absolute victory lap.

Then he made the top 3.

Now, I say this like it was an accident, but in reality he was busting hump practicing and improving.  We were delighted and supportive, but this was coming from him.

So today was the finals, and he won for his grade.

We were floored and delighted.  This has been very nearly a made-for-tv-movie kind of thing, and it has so fantastically driven home the lesson that HE can do these things. I really hope it sticks.

And in the realm of lessons, there’s an amusing sidebar.  There’s another kid in the class who is very socially capable, able to do funny voices and so on. He also made the top 10, but ended up as an alternate because – frankly – he goofed around rather than work.  My son was surprised and remarked to my wife at how good and funny this kid was, and she looked back at him and said “You’re right. Imagine how he could have done if he’d worked at it.” You could see the understanding hit the kid like a hammer.

So, given that one of our biggest goals is to not produce the kind of bright slacker that both of his parents are, this felt like a big win for everyone today.  I have no idea if he wants to follow it up, but if the kid wants to make a podcast, I am all over it.

Learning SAFe

For an array of reasons, I’ve decided to become familiar with SAFe (the Scalable Agile Framework) and it’s proving an interesting education. The underlying model is not bad, and in fact it has one or two practices I wish I had known about earlier. My favorite? If you have multiple teams working on stuff, collect sprints into “increments” – buckets of 5 sprints – and have high level planning around that. Fun extra caveat – you only plan on 4 working sprints. The 5th sprint is nominally for creativity and exploration, and I love that idea, but the fact that it could also be used for hardening or deployment is a nice bit of flexibility.

Cynically, yes, it’s just a different wrapper around quarterly planning, but I admit I like the idea of models rolling up which is sort of the point of things like SAFe and Scrum@Scale.

Downside? I could not tell you why, but the diagrams I’ve run into as I learn SAFe are consistently horrible. I don’t think it’s necessary intrinsic to the framework, but the keystone image you see when you first go to find out about SAFe looks like this:

And I think that sort of establishes a tone of erring on the side of comprehensiveness over clarity. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it was definitely at odds with my expectation of something in the lean & agile space. That might just be on me, though.

Three Bullet Points

3bullI had reason to go through a LOT of archived video from old company meetings. Several years worth.  It was kind of fun, if only to see how things used to be (especially haircuts) and how things had changed, but it was also a real grind.  When we recorded these meetings, the thinking was that it would be a permanent record of what had been discussed – something we could look back on and learn something from.

In practice, I’m pretty sure I was the first person to see some of these videos ever.  Not because the material was not valuable, but because no one is going to go back and watch hours of videos for possible insight when there’s actual work to be done.

Obviously, this is an argument for good record-keeping around meetings.  Have an agenda, capture the key points and decisions, make sure that’s available.  That sort of document is much more skimmable, so it might at least see some use.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad, we often will have meetings that don’t have any documentation, and the prospect of going back and creating documentation seems daunting and wasteful.   I sympathize with this.  I really and truly do.  But there’s another option:

Just capture three bullet points.

Not even long ones.  One post it note or index card should give you enough space.  It’s not hard, it takes no particular time, and it’s easy to archive or communicate.

Now, I get why there may be some resistance to this – your meetings are complicated! They’re nuanced! Any attempt to summarize them in this fashion will lose all the critical information that you spent all that time putting into the slide deck!  I completely understand.


If the content of your meetings really matters that much, then you probably are having no problem keeping them documented.  No one would willingly surrender such treasures.

But if they’re not being documented, then an incomplete document is better than nothing.  It can capture key decisions, or just be a pointer to other information which is documented but maybe hard to skim (like video recordings).

If you’re still uncomfortable with this idea, do me a favor and think of a meeting you had last week.  Any meeting.  What can you remember about it?  There’s a non-zero chance the answer is “nothing”, so try to pick one that you recall.  What do you remember about it?

Unless you cheated and checked your notes, I will bet that your recollection lines up pretty well with a few bullet points.  You remember why the meeting happened, what was decided, and anything urgent that came. up.  Anything more detailed than that maybe lives in your task list or your personal notes, and those things are being dealt with appropriately.

And that’s as it should be.  The goal of the meeting is to unpack things in the moment, but then allow everyone to proceed. If something is important, it will generate its own work.  The meeting itself needs only a few bullets to pin itself up in your brain.

Still skeptical?  Give it a try for a week. It’s not a lot of work, and can be done in a notebook, a text file or anything else.  At the end of the week, take 30 seconds to look over the bullets and see if you think anything is missing.  Maybe it will be an unnecessary exercise.  But if you are used to getting to the end of the week and wondering how you lost so much of your time to meetings, it just might help you get a better sense of your own reality.

And if you use that information to start demanding better meetings? Well, that’s just a bonus.

The Fitbit Helps Too Much

Fitbit experiment is looking like a failure. My steps have not been great, but I’ve been sick, so I’m not actually thrown off by that. The problem is that the Fitbit is INCREDIBLY GENEROUS in in interpreting steps. I woke up this morning to discover I had 820 steps already, and it similarly adds hundreds every time I take a drive.

So, back to just the watch. Annoying, but workable.

A Man With Two Is Never Sure

img_0165I am about to start rocking a smart device on each wrist. It’s going to look goofy, but I am driven by necessity. See, this past weekend I went to a convention and got in about 30,000 steps over the course of the weekend. Back when I was tracking my steps this would have been a pretty normal weekend, but I’ve been off that habit long enough that I am embarrassingly sore this morning. Enough so to make me want to get back in the habit.

The problem is that I stopped when I switched to the Apple Watch. It’s a great device, and I love mine, but it is crap as a pedometer. Not because it can’t track steps (it can, very well) but because that information is not privileged in the interface. Either I have to drill down into the health app to see my steps, or I have to use a third party app (pedometer++) which is great, but which can’t display in realtime because of the watch’s limitation.

Intellectually, this shouldn’t be a big deal. It’s just a few more seconds and a few more clicks to check my steps – how in the world can that have a drastic impact on behavior?

My suspicion is that it’s all about keeping the information at top of mind. When my steps are presented to me, I stay mindful of them (and the associated behaviors) with no effort on my part. When I have to find them, that introduces enough friction that it’s easy to forget to check, and by extension to then forget the behavior.

That’s the theory. An alternate theory may be that I have just been slacking, and I can’t rule that out. But I have enough experience to know that if I try to solve this problem with good intentions and brute force willpower, then I’ll have a few good days before it all collapses for perfectly legitimate reasons. I need to build a ramp, and in this case, this ramp is going to mean wearing two watches.


Post Formats

I may need to tweak the theme to support headless posts for that true microblogging experience. Small challenge, but not a big deal.

Slightly more annoying: the iOS app lets me do everything except configure the size of images, so that is a bit more of an annoyance.

Anyway, that’s all pretty much inside baseball, and I mostly wanted to make two remarks about the iPad, now that I’ve been using it for a bit:

1. The pencil attaching via magnet is amazing and wonderful and the magnet is always about 20% less strong than i expect.

2. I love the physical shape of this, but it is flat and dull and I think I may need to explode with stickers upon it.

Quick Test

6EC335AA-C97C-4AC9-BD77-D27A31A190DEOk, so for sheer simplicity, I paid for a WordPress account and copied the blog contents over to it, in part because I genuinely am not sure how the current url resolves at all, since it’s pointing to a defunct address that is somehow ending up at my Lightsail install maybe?  I am genuinely not sure, because all indications are that it should not work.

Anyway, I directed the DNS to point to this address, and hopefully that will work with a little time.  If not, I may let WordPress manage the DNS, but I kind of don’t want to because they seem bad at it (they charge extra for very basic stuff like privacy protection, and if I decide I want to leave WordPress, I don’t want to have to fight them for the domain name).  So, the next part is a bit of waiting, which I stink at, but so it goes.