Podcast Ep. 94: The Power of Words with Dan Neumann

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Episode Description:

In today’s “solocast” of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast, Dan Neumann wants to talk about words and phrases. If you had a magic wand and could change any word or phrase in relation to Scrum and agility, what would it be?

In this episode, Dan shares the four words and phrases that he would change for all Scrum teams – and, if it were possible, why he would like to see them go away altogether.

Listen on Google Play Music

Key Takeaways

  • Resources vs. People
    • Don’t confuse the people on your team with resources
    • If you mean “people”, say “people”; don’t say “resources”
    • You consume resources (i.e. time is a resource that you can use to achieve goals)
  • Commitment vs. Forecast
    • Commitments are something you keep
    • When we’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty, a more appropriate term to use would be “forecast” rather than a commitment
    • When you’re dealing with your Scrum teams, make sure that “commit” is a term that is held back; think more in terms of forecasts (and especially forecasts with a probability of when you will be able to deliver, such as: “We forecast with 90% confidence”)
  • Grooming vs. Refining
    • Grooming is something you do to a dog; a more appropriate term for what you want to do to your product backlog in the Scrum world would be to “refine” it
    • Think of “refining” as the removal of things that are impure or low value
    • “Your product backlog [is] not a dog; don’t groom it”
  • Deadlines vs. Goals & Targets
    • Deadlines traditionally refer to drawing a line in the sand (and if you cross said line, you’re dead) – which isn’t a very motivating term nowadays
    • More appropriate terms would be: goals and targets
    • “We have a target of releasing the new product on January 1st”
    • With targets, you can introduce the concept of a “cost of delay”, when you miss a target date
    • Having goals and targets with specific dates coupled with a “cost of delay” will allow you to make much more informed decisions about how to prioritize work

Mentioned in this Episode

Transcript [This is an auto-generated transcript and may not be completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar.]

Intro: [00:03] Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought. The podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host coach and agile expert, Dan Neumann.

Dan Neumann: [00:16] Hello, and welcome to this episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast. I’m your host, Dan Newman, and happy to have you listening today. You might be sitting there going wait me? Yes. You happy to have you listening. So thank you for doing that. And I also wanted to give a shout out. I’m super excited to have the Agile Coaches’ Corner now listed as one of the top 30 agile leadership podcasts by the website So we’ll put a link to that listing in our show notes, you can find those at And if you’re interested in seeing what the 29 other shows that are listed there, I’m happy to say we’re amongst some very good company. So thank you for that recognition. I got an email on that from Anuj Agarwal, who is the founder of feedspot. So thank you. It’s, it’s a nice recognition of the effort that we put in there and the value that folks are getting out of this podcast. So thank you very much.

Dan Neumann: [01:19] This week you may have noticed, we also did a special episode on artificial intelligence with Dr. Jerry Smith and a special guest host Christy Erbeck. And if you’ve been listening, Christy has talked on a number of pretty interesting topics here on the podcast. So, um, it’s a little bit of a different episode in that it’s a more technical and about applying artificial intelligence for business results. Today I want to spend a little bit of time with you talking about words and perhaps as part of my, uh, my very interesting childhood. So I may have mentioned it in a previous episode. Um, my father was a Lutheran minister and of course, ministers preach and saying stuff is, uh, is important. So as a child, that lesson for good or for ill was, was passed along. So we ended up with, uh, some car ride conversations where I would say, you know, this sporting team versus that sporting team. And it was quickly pointed out that no averse is something in a hymnal versus is what you have when one team plays another team. So for those of you that have met me in person and maybe are charmed by my interesting dysfunctions, I think I came by them naturally. So when people, so when people are talking and using some phrases, there are some that, uh, just kinda make the hair on the back of my neck, stand up also for people that know me, there’s no hair on top of my head to stand up. So the hair on the back of my neck stands up. So I’m going to give you kind of a rundown on just, I think, four of those and a little bit of insight as to why, if I had my way I’d like to see them just go away probably first and foremost for me, um, is resources specifically when we are confusing resources with people.

Dan Neumann: [03:14] So resources. Coal is a resource. You dig it out of the crown, you burn it up. It’s gone. Time is a resource. You can use it for hopefully achieving goals. Maybe for relaxing. You consume resources. Trees are a resource. Some trees get chopped down, turned into paper products, toilet paper. That’s a resource. It was in short supply here during COVID. And I want to really encourage you not to confuse the people on your team with toilet paper. So if you mean people say, people don’t say resources. Computers, resources, people are people. If I had that one, I just stopped there. I’d take that win and I’d go home. So let’s not confuse resources with people. Don’t confuse those two. Another one that comes up in the Scrum community sometimes is committing. And I believe that did come through at one point where teams were asked to commit to certain work within the Sprint, delivering certain product backlog items, whether those are stories or not commitments are something you keep come hell or high water. So if I tell you I’m going to be somewhere, I will be there. That’s a commitment. I’ll make a commitment to be there. When we’re dealing with lots of uncertainty, a more appropriate term versus a commitment is to make a forecast this afternoon around three o’clock or so I’m going to hop in the car and I have a roughly four hour drive to get to Akron, Ohio for a race that I’m doing tomorrow. I plan to catch up with my aunt and uncle there and spend some time getting back familiar with them and what’s happening in their life. But I’m not committing to being there by 7:00 or 7:30. It’s a forecast. We may have to make a couple stops along the way. I have no idea what traffic’s going to be like. So it would be inappropriate to make a commitment. Now I’m going to commit to being at the starting line at 4:42 in the morning, because that’s when the race starts, but my forecast is more appropriately the term to use. When talking about what time I’m actually going to get to Akron, because tomorrow morning’s commute is only three miles from my hotel to the starting line. So that is something I can commit to and I’ll build in buffer and I’ll get there. So when you’re dealing with your Scrum teams, make sure that commit is really a term that is held back and start to think more in terms of forecasts and forecasts, maybe with a probability of when you will be able to deliver those. We forecast with 90% confidence, we forecast with 50% confidence. We have a forecast with 10% confidence because it’s really a stretch. So look to shift that term.

Dan Neumann: [06:25] Okay. Two more: One of which is grooming. So this is a term that has again, fallen out of favor for the most part within the Scrum community, but it’s still taking a while to get hold. So grooming is something you do to a dog. You clip it’s fur you, trim its nails, and you have a better looking dog, but it’s still a dog. The more appropriate term for what you want to do to your product backlog in the Scrum world is to refine it. And you think of refining as removing things that are impure or low value. You think of gold going through a process of being dug out of the ground when it’s lots of big rocks and through a fairly intense process, that turns into a more pure state of gold. So consider that with your product backlog. It’s not a dog don’t groom it. It’s a product backlog you’re looking for value. You want to optimize it. So look for that gold. And the last one that came to mind for me is deadlines. And as I recall, having learned once upon a time, the deadline was from when we had prisoners in camps back, I dunno, civil war era. If I remember right, I could be wrong. Maybe somebody would Google and fact check that, and it was expensive to actually build a camp. So all you did was draw a line in the sand. And if you cross that line, you are dead. Somehow that became an appropriate term for use in the business world. Now we have teams and there are deadlines. Well, that’s not a terribly inspiring view of the world. More appropriately. Let’s similar to forecast, replace that with goals and targets. We have a target of releasing the new product on January 1st. We have a target of a product getting on the shelves for black Friday in the United States. The day after Thanksgiving is a big shopping day. And so that would be a very valuable goal to hit or a valuable target hit either of those terms. I don’t care. And then with those targets, you can introduce the concept of a cost of delay. So for a lot of deadlines, the difference between let’s say June 7th and June 21st is no big deal. You could deliver a product on either of those. And there’s a very cost of delay for something like a product for consumers. If you miss that black Friday date, there’s a huge cost of delay. If you are dealing with tax deadlines and regulatory concerns missing that date has a big cost of delay. If you fail to pay your taxes in the United States, your federal ones by April 15th, there’s a big cost of delay for that.

Dan Neumann: [09:21] And so given your goals and targets with specific dates, coupled with a cost of delay will allow you to make much more informed decisions about how to treat those and how to prioritize work when push comes to shove and you realize your forecast is going to be challenged. So stay away from deadlines, start talking about goals and targets. And with those start talking about percentages confidence in percentages and costs of delay. So a little recap of the four things, and I’ll let you get back to your very busy day. Let’s start calling people, people. Let’s start forecasting work instead of committing to it, refine your backlogs and set targets for your teams or even better, set targets with your teams instead of four of them, we’ll get into some of those other terms, maybe another day. So thank you again for listening to the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast. And I look forward to maybe hearing from you if you had a magic wand and there were words or phrases you could magically change or stop people from using, what would that be? Let us know or tweet it to us with the #AgileThoughtPodcast. Thank you.

Outro: [10:40]
This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought. The views, opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips for this episode and other episodes at

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