The Year of Being Agile -- Active Management

Like any self-contained and self-referential system, agile has its own rather odd sounding terminology. For example, each team has a ScrumMaster and a Product Owner. The ScrumMaster is the person who keeps the team on track... not by telling them what to do, but by encouraging them to follow the process of agile. The ScrumMaster schedules the daily scrum meeting and keeps people on task. He or she touches base with the product owner to make sure the backlog is updated and prioritized for planning. And also runs the planning meeting, including making sure that team tasks (which are called stories -- again with the special names) are correctly framed and defined so the team understands what to do. The ScrumMaster tracks the team's velocity and uses prior information to help the team make better estimates for the current sprint. He or she is the team's main interface with the product owner.

The product owner, on the other hand, is the team's face to the customers. The product owner is responsible for going getting feedback from customers in order to get requirements, for writing stories that are needed for the backlog, and for keeping the backlog organized by adding new things and setting correct priorities.

I've been both a professional ScrumMaster (filling the role for up to five different teams) and a Product Owner for one or more teams (which is the role I play with my teams now). This is in addition to my more formal program management duties.

The point is that being a ScrumMaster or Product Owner is a real job that takes time and effort. And that's because agile projects require active management. You can't just decide what the team should do and then go off for three months and wait for them to do it. No, you have to be involved -- every day if you are the ScrumMaster and close to that for the Product Owner.

Now I've been making the argument that we are in a highly changeable world with unknown parameters and unknown success criteria -- a world where agile works really well. But that means you need to be an active manager. You need to keep your own personal and magical projects just as hands-on. You are the ScrumMaster, making sure the every day stuff keeps rolling forward. And you are the Product Owner, constantly generating requirements and re-prioritizing as things change.

Maybe you noticed that I've been a bit absent this past month? Well, it's because some personal projects of mine were in the midst of delivery and required very attentive and active management to make sure they came out OK. And it all started, as it often does, with a giant dose of magic. I'd been working a couple of vexing problems in my life -- the kind where there isn't any immediate mundane solution. So I magicked the fuck out of it.

It's a good story, with a happy ending. Solutions presented themselves to the problems -- and that's when the work began. See, these solutions weren't miracles. They were culminations of their own little projects, identified and worked through a bit of magic. Finding the solution was only the first step. So I've been extremely busy practicing active management. Babysitting these magical results through their working phases and to culmination (or in some cases close to culmination, the work isn't finished).

Add in all the things I'm already doing, including another amazing work trip (to France this time -- oh, the food!) and you can see that some items on my own life's backlog fell further down the priority list.

I'm glad to say that things are shaping up, but there's always more work to do. And that's the irony. The more magic you do, the better things go... but the more magic you do the more active management there is too. So I've been coming up with some ideas to help with this problem. For example:
  • Meta magic. I love doing magic for magic's sake. That is, spells for more effective spells, more accurate divination, or more spiritual help. Now I'm adding magic an easy time managing the magic I already have going. My spells manifest smoothly and without effort on my part -- that kind of thing.
  • System automation. When you automate a process it requires less active management (not none though, don't fall into that trap). So I've been working on ways of making some of my magic more automatic and automated. This includes process efficiency stuff (like streamlining ritual elements) as well as the crafting of semi-autonomous spirits to help with research and data collection.
  • Efficiency goals. These include enchantments for more energy and honing my sense of timing and personal priorities. I don't like to spell directly for more time. There are repercussions for messing with the flow of time with magic and while that kind of temporal magic can be useful, you don't end up with more time. No, better to enchant for better use of time or fewer things that waste time.
In any case my close management of a couple magical project is wrapping up (interesting that for one successful enchantment, success caused as much work as the enchantment itself). And while I'm trying to keep my pipeline full of new enchantments, I think that things will be a bit calmer in coming months. 


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