On the Yellow Brick Road

Week 14 Back in Minnesota (but spent in Topeka)

As the title indicates I spent this past week in Topeka Kansas.  I was able to come home on Dec. 23 and work from home this past week.  It has been truly a blessing to be home with my family.  I feel recharged and ready to face the challenges of returning to Minnesota on Sunday (Jan 2).

I made sure to spend a lot of time with Benjamin and Catalina doing very normal things like watching football, TV shows and movies with them.  We talked about school, books and the computer games they are playing.  It has been a good week to reconnect with them.  I am so very glad to have the time with them. 

Trudy and I also spent a lot of time talking and reflecting on where we are at and how things are going for us.  And it was good to have the face-to-face time with her.  Skype is nice but seeing someone in person while you are talking to them conveys so much more information than a 'fuzzy' face on the screen does.

I had a chance to finish reading my friend Don Webb's book Webb's Weird Wild West (check out the review) this week which was also made this week an enjoyable one.

And of course we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ on Dec. 25.  Our celebration, more than any year that I can ever remember, truly focused on the love that God blessed us with by sending Jesus to be our savior.  We also celebrated that we were all together for an extended period time.  So while there were few gifts to unwrap under the tree, the love that unfolded during the week was more wonderful than any physical gift a person could give or receive.

As for work, well the team did a great job considering the mess they were handed at the beginning of the sprint on Dec. 21.  Essentially they had to work through almost a years worth of technical debt that built up like snow piles at the end of a driveway.  Eventually you either have to dig yourself out or stop driving your car.  Well the digging has started.

They almost have their development and test environment back up and running.  They should be able to start working on getting it back to the same testable state it was in before the merge happened.  All three teams dug in and worked together, across time zones, to identify and resolve problems.  Hopefully with the four days left next week they can finish the work and be back up and running for the first business sprint starting in two weeks. 

All of the teams have been busy identifying technical debt that needs to be worked on so we can turn those debt items into stories and put them on the product backlog for the product owners to prioritize.  I need to help the product owners understand that if we don't work on these items first we will never get any business value out the door.  I hope by asking the question "Why do you think Release 1.0 failed?" will help them think about this.

In any case that is my problem for next week.

Book Review - Webb's Weird Wild West by Don Webb

Disclaimer:  I have known Don Webb since the early 1980's.  We got to know each other when we both lived in Lubbock Texas and were both playing in the same role playing group.

I have been reading Don Webb's fiction off and on for the past thirty years and in that time he has astounded, horrified, and left me laughing so hard I could not breath.  The stories in his latest book, Webb's Weird Wild West, are definitely astounding and a bit horrifying.  Mr. Webb's first story "Jesse Revenged" reads like a classic pulp fiction western with the assassin who killed Jesse James finally getting his just rewards.  The last story "The Martian Spring of Dr. Woodard" is a classic Don Webb story that combines the normal daily life, with science fiction and a healthy dose of sexual adventure.  My personal favorite stories are "Common Superstitions" which retells the Old Testament story of Jonah with a very interesting twist at the end and "Night of a Thousand Eyes" which combines science and mystism into a terrifying tale of both going terribly wrong.

So if you like Western tales, horror stories, science fiction, and strangeness pick up a copy of Webb's Weird Wild West.


Week 13 Back in Minnesota

This was probably the hardest work week at Ceridian yet.  As a Scrum Master it is my responsibility to make sure the team follows the process and works the process.  Part of that process is to make sure there is enough work for the entire sprint.  Two of the teams did not end up with enough work (at least as far as the 'dashboard' shows) for a full sprint.  My boss was not happy.  Heck I wasn't happy.  The other team is still unwilling to commit to anything.  The product owner is now very frustrated with the team and has expressed that frustration to me.  This has added to my own frustration.  All in all, a bad way to end the week.  I will be working remotely this week (12/27 - 12/31) so hopefully we can get some traction on the roadblocks since there will be fewer distractions.

The good thing about this week is that I came home to Topeka for 10 days.  I came home on Dec. 23 and don't go back to Minneapolis until Jan 2. Trudy, Benjamin, and Catalina are the best Christmas gifts I could have this year and I have been enjoying every minute I get to have with each of them.  Just sitting around watching movies, TV shows, and talking is great.

Today we are going out to see the new Narnia movie and hopefully later in the week Ben & I will go see Tron while Trudy & Catalina go see Tangled.

Trudy is doing pulpit supply this Sunday and next Sunday, so I have the joy of seeing her do what she is called to do again.

Week 12 Back in Minnesota

I have been living in Minnesota for three months now and in spite of a couple of really hard weeks here without Trudy, Benjamin and Catalina, I am sure I made the right decision to come back.  Living away from my normal support system has taught me that I can make it on my own, if I have to and that is important.  I have been learning how to depend on myself for my own stability and how to be resourceful again when things don't go well.

Work has gone well this week.  I was able to guide the team thru a process of developing their technical debt and other ideas into a set of stories which they had never really done.  We also did a quick story sizing exercise, which again was a first for them.  It really is no wonder that they never could commit to anything.  They never really had any input into the size or scope of the work.  They are all still very nervous about their own ability to accomplish what needs to be done.  But I can see a change in the kinds of problems we are encountering now.  The 'system' is getting better.  It took a long time to create the mess and it is taking a long time to clean it up.  I do remind them of where things have gotten better.

Back in Topeka, Benjamin just finished up finals week.  He is doing very well in school.  He has a number of honors classes and has gotten very involved in debate.  I am proud of how he is growing into a fine young man.  I am trying to encourage him to finish his last merit badge so all he has to do get his Eagle rank is do his project.  Hopefully he can finish that last merit badge in Jan. and be ready to do his project.

Catalina had a school concert and her winter recital which I missed.    She is also playing in the church's bell choir and I have missed when they have played.  She is doing very well in school.  

Last week I mentioned the snowstorm, I should say that the official snow total from last weekend at the Minneapolis airport was 17".  Around town people told me they probably had anywhere from 20" to 24" of snow.  Here at Dale & Cindy house the snow is piled at the end of driveway at least 5' high.  

I am currently reading How the Might Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In by Jim Collins.  It is interesting to read about companies and projects that I have some familiarity with.  I am finding the book is not only a good one for understanding companies but any organization and even individuals (most especially myself).

Week 11 Back in Minnesota

This was one of those interesting weeks at work.  The QA team was able to make some very significant progress on testing the application.  One of the senior QA leads mentioned in a standup call that the application is noticably more functional in the past week than the previous sprints.  Unfortunately team morale is low because they sense they won't be able to invest time in technical debt work that needs to be done.  Part of what I have to help the team with next week is to describe the technical debt as 'stories' and then provide a compelling reason for the product owners to want to have this work done. 

On a personal front, it turns out our home owners insurance is not going to cover any part of the water damage that occured on Thanksgiving day.  You can read more about that flooding on the Week 9

I am very grateful that both Benjamin and Catalina understand that Christmas is not about getting gifts but about celebrating the arrival of Jesus in our lives.  I am also grateful that I will be home for Christmas.  I have made arrangements to fly home and back to MN instead of driving.

It has been a hard week for me personally.  I have been missing Trudy, Benjamin & Catalina a great deal this week.  It didn't help that I had a head cold for part of the week and wasn't feeling very well.  It is easy for me to get lonely when I use to having my family around.  I will have to say I did take having them around for granted which was my mistake.  I hope this experience has taught me not to take Trudy, Benjamin & Catalina for granted.

The week here in Minnesota has ended with a 'bang'.  First of all old friends invited me over to their open house.  It was nice to see Angela, Adam, Angela's dad and their friends.  It was good to have other people to talk to.  One couple brought over their 9 month old daughter who let me play with her a little bit. 

The second part of the bang which isn't so great is a full blown Minnesota blizzard.  I helped shovel snow this morning, there was at least 5" - 8" of snow at 9am.  By 1:30pm there was another 6" - 8" of snow.  The snow on the side of the driveways is piled up about 5' high.  The mailboxes are almost covered over on the street side.  The wind is blowing at 20 mph (with much higher gusts).  Local TV station as of Dec 11 at 3:30pm is reporting ~12" of snow in the area.

To keep warm I am drinking my friend Jerry Sparkman's (may he RIP) spiced tea and listening to Chubby Carrier.

I hope all of you are keeping warm.