Losing with Scrum – Epic Five – Three Months Later

Note: I, the author, am neither a physician, a dietician, nor a nutritionist. I’m a scrum coach. I’m not selling or endorsing any diet, food, or procedure. I’m applying an agile methodology and mindset to my personal life and sharing it here. 

Note 2: After some feedback, I’ve edited this blog from its original posting. I’ll explain in the text.

Recovery

Well, it’s been three months since my Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG). During these three months, not only have I had the surgery, but my father passed away and I got a promotion. Here’s a quick recap…

My apologies for the missing sprints.

The last three months

When I realized I had to undergo surgery, I began Epic Four with some much simpler stories.

As someone trying to lose weight as part of a healthy lifestyle transformation:

  1. I want to stop consuming calories at 8 PM, because my body stores unspent calories overnight as fat.
  2. I want to burn an extra 700 calories each day, as measured by the Watch’s “Move” measure, to ensure that I am getting exercise and maintaining a minimum level of activity. (note: this is adjusted for my recovery period).
    1. TASK: Work out enough to burn at least 200 calories per work day.
  3. I want to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, because when I don’t my body tries to substitute calories for rest.

As someone recovering from Open Heart Surgery:

  1. I follow the instructions of my physicians to minimize the risk of complications
    1. I sleep on my back, to minimize the chance of sternum injury.
    2. A do not lift more than eight pounds.
    3. I use proper wound-care procedures.

Take a look at those different sets of stories. Do you notice anything different about the first set and the second?

Want a hint? It’s all in the verbs.

Verbs Matter

If you’re not familiar with User Stories, they generally have the following information:

  • The person or role of the user
  • What the user needs to do
  • The business case

So… As an accountant I balance the books to ensure that we have a complete view of the organization’s finances.

When I first began practicing Scrum as a Scrum Master, I kept seeing a pattern in the stories written by our Product Owners. In looking at my own stories, I saw the same pattern. Let’s take a look at one of my stories.

“As someone trying to lose weight as part of a healthy lifestyle transformation, I want to stop consuming calories at 8 PM, because my body stores unspent calories overnight as fat.”

Do you see it? I don’t stop consuming calories, but I WANT TO! I don’t burn extra calories, but I want to!

The problem with stories that use “I want to” or “I need to” is that they can be satisfied with absolutely no effort; I didn’t say I was going to stop consuming calories, only that I wanted to. I want to stop eating at 8, burn extra calories, sleep 7 hours, etc. I can do all of that while eating pizza at 2 in the morning from the couch I’ve been sitting on all day.

I’ve actually done that, now that I think of it.

Let’s look at my complete pre-surgery story list:

As someone trying to lose weight as part of a healthy lifestyle transformation:

  1. I want to stop consuming calories at 8 PM, because my body stores unspent calories overnight as fat.
  2. I want to burn an extra 1000 calories each day, as measured by the Watch’s “Move” measure, to ensure that I am getting exercise and maintaining a minimum level of activity.
    1. TASK: Work out enough to burn at least 200 calories per work day.
    2. TASK: Work out enough to burn at least 400 calories per non-work day.
  3. I want to get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, because when I don’t my body tries to substitute calories for rest.
  4. I want to stop drinking diet sodas, to avoid any side-effects of such, and to not try to fool my body that it’s getting extra calories.
  5. I do not drink alcohol, because the calories add no nutritional value to my body.
  6. I will not have second helpings at meals, because this adds significant calories without exploring new tastes.
  7. I want to eat lunch every day, because when I don’t I tend to eat without thought to satisfy hunger before dinner.
  8. I want to consume a planned snack between meals WHEN HUNGRY, as a way of keeping myself from eating mindlessly and consuming more than I need.

I have six “wants”, one “will not,” and only one “do not”. This list prevents me from making meaningful change, because I don’t have to change, I just have to want to.

Some grammar fans might say this is an active vs. passive voice thing, but it’s not; the sentences say different things because the verbs are different. With active voice, the subject performs the action, while in passive voice the subject is acted upon. This is not that.

Let’s clean up the story list.

As someone trying to lose weight as part of a healthy lifestyle transformation:

  1. I don’t consuming calories at 8 PM, because my body stores unspent calories overnight as fat.
  2. I burn at least 1000 calories each day, as measured by the Watch’s “Move” measure, to ensure that I am getting exercise and maintaining a minimum level of activity.
    1. TASK: Work out enough to burn at least 200 calories per work day.
    2. TASK: Work out enough to burn at least 400 calories per non-work day.
  3. I sleep at least 7 hours per night, because when I don’t my body tries to substitute calories for rest.
  4. I do not drink diet sodas, to avoid any side-effects of such, and to not try to fool my body that it’s getting extra calories.
  5. I do not drink alcohol, because the calories add no nutritional value to my body.
  6. I have only a single helping at meals, because extra helpings add calories without exploring new tastes.
  7. I eat breakfast and lunch every day, because when I don’t I tend to eat without thought to satisfy hunger before dinner.
  8. I may have a planned snack between meals, but only when I’m hungry, as a way of keeping myself from eating mindlessly and consuming more than I need.

These are all shorter (good). Notice that story 8 still has that optional feel to it. That’s because this empowers me to NOT have the snack. It was originally written that I want to consume a planned snack. Now I may, but the story doesn’t assume I want to.

Is this all semantics? I submit that it is not. In my opinion, a meaningful transformation has to be actual, not aspirational; it’s not enough to want, Yoda would tell me not to try… I have to do.

But Wait!

After the initial post, I received this feedback from Alex Brown, who’s talk led me down this path in the first place…

Tom, Its great that your recovery is going well, and that you have resumed using Scrum for personal improvement.

You raise an interesting point about the importance of deliberate wording, and that “want to do” is not the same thing as “will do.” A good product owner recognizes the difference between the two and knows when to use one versus the other. But as with so many things in Agile, context is important here. I think “want to” entered your weight loss stories through the ones I had used that you brilliantly adapted to your needs.

I had given a lot of thought to whether to use “will” or “want to” in framing my targeted behavioral changes. In my case, the impediment I was trying to overcome to lose weight was one of focus and mindfulness to behavioral change rather than a lack of will power to see the changes through. By having a backlog to legitimizing the behavioral changes as something I should focus on I was already overcoming that impediment. I deliberately used the softer user story wording to avoid the Muri of unreasonable expectation…giving myself permission to occasionally fail a user story without the accompanying guilt and self-critique that is often an even greater impediment to sustained success.

Well…

He’s right, of course.

Muri

Muri (無理) is a Japanese word meaning “unreasonableness; impossible; beyond one’s power; too difficult; by force; perforce; forcibly; compulsorily; excessiveness; immoderation”,[1] and is a key concept in the Toyota Production System (TPS) as one of the three types of waste (muda, mura, muri).[2] 

Wikipedia – Muri

The problem with going the route I originally posted is that there is no room for error, for a bad day, for human frailty. And lordy, am I frail.

One of the wastes of Muri is unreasonableness. Let’s take a look at Story 2: I burn at least 1000 calories each day, as measured by the Watch’s “Move” measure, to ensure that I am getting exercise and maintaining a minimum level of activity. 

Is this reasonable for anyone recovering from open-heart surgery? Let me reiterate… I’m morbidly obese, and there are times when burning 1000 calories one day has me hurting the next day. I live in Florida, and we have these big storms that roll through, which make walking outside or driving to the gym impossible, and let’s not forget the 90 degree days with 90% humidity. In looking at this from a reasonableness point of view, it’s not reasonable. When I changed it from “I want to” to “I burn”, I set myself up for failure.

Other stories, like I do not consume calories at 8 PM, because my body stores unspent calories overnight as fat might be reasonable without the “want to.” When 8 rolls around, stop eating. Seems fairly simple.

I think the “reasonableness” test is an important one. With that in mind, let me try again…

As someone trying to lose weight as part of a healthy lifestyle transformation:

  1. I do not consume calories at 8 PM, because my body stores unspent calories overnight as fat.
  2. I do not drink diet sodas, to avoid any side-effects of such, and to not try to fool my body that it’s getting extra calories.
  3. I do not drink alcohol, because the calories add no nutritional value to my body. 
  4. I have only a single helping at meals, because extra helpings add calories without exploring new tastes.
  5. I want to burn at least 1000 calories each day to ensure that I am getting exercise and maintaining a minimum level of activity.
    1. TASK: Work out enough to burn at least 200 calories per work day.
    2. TASK: Work out enough to burn at least 400 calories per non-work day.
  6. I want to sleep at least 7 hours per night, because when I don’t my body tries to substitute calories for rest.
  7. I want to eat breakfast and lunch every day, because when I don’t I tend to eat without thought to satisfy hunger before dinner.
  8. I may have a planned snack between meals, but only when I’m hungry, as a way of keeping myself from eating mindlessly and consuming more than I need.

So, the first four are really binary decisions – either I do or I don’t. I don’t consume late calories, I don’t drink alcohol or diet sodas, and I have a single helping only. I’m good at binary decisions.

The second four are variable and, at times, out of my control. The weather or work may conspire to keep me from burning calories, and a headache or something else might affect my sleep.

For now, I’ll keep the binaries as will stories, and the others as want to.

And with that, let’s get started.

Epic Five Begins!

  • Date: September 24, 2017
  • Starting Weight: 336.3
  • Epic Definition of Done: 326.3

Stories

As someone trying to lose weight as part of a healthy lifestyle transformation:

  1. I do not consume calories at 8 PM, because my body stores unspent calories overnight as fat.
  2. I do not drink diet sodas, to avoid any side-effects of such, and to not try to fool my body that it’s getting extra calories.
  3. I do not drink alcohol, because the calories add no nutritional value to my body. 
  4. I have only a single helping at meals, because extra helpings add calories without exploring new tastes.
  5. I want to burn at least 1000 calories each day to ensure that I am getting exercise and maintaining a minimum level of activity.
    1. TASK: Work out enough to burn at least 200 calories per work day.
    2. TASK: Work out enough to burn at least 400 calories per non-work day.
  6. I want to sleep at least 7 hours per night, because when I don’t my body tries to substitute calories for rest.
  7. I want to eat breakfast and lunch every day, because when I don’t I tend to eat without thought to satisfy hunger before dinner.
  8. I may have a planned snack between meals, but only when I’m hungry, as a way of keeping myself from eating mindlessly and consuming more than I need.

Sprint Results

Epic Five: In Progress

View Epic One

View Epic Two

View Epic Three

View Epic Four



Categories: Epic Five

3 replies

Trackbacks

  1. Losing with Scrum – Epic Four – Coronary Bypass Edition – Agile Forth
  2. Losing (and Winning) with Scrum – Epic Two – The Scope of the Problem – 351.4 lbs. – Agile Forth
  3. Losing (and Winning) with Scrum – Epic One, 362 Pounds – Agile Forth

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