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The Secrets of Scrum Project Management

Scrum is a powerful project management tool that will help you get more done faster. Scrum is closely tied to the Lean Methodology in business, which is all about developing a minimum viable product to get to market quickly, failing faster (or “learning faster” if you prefer) to learn what people actually want, and pivoting when you discover your original idea isn’t going to work or isn’t actually what people want or need.

Scrum fits in quite nicely with those concepts by helping you to accelerate your development and making sure you don’t spend years creating a product or service that nobody actually wants, or is irrelevant by the time you are done.

Another reason why Scrum is so powerful is because it uses very simple, easy to understand practices that anyone can learn and apply to almost any project.

I recently began using scrum for all of my projects – from digital marketing campaigns to e-commerce and application development – because it really does work.

Keep reading to learn the secrets of Scrum project management and just how easy it is to start implementing Scrum.

Step 1) Write Stories not Specifications.

Avoid long project specifications that no one will ever read and don’t contribute to an overall understanding of the project. Instead, write short stories that describe what you are trying to accomlish, from the point of view of the person or group of people who will be using the output of your project.

If your story is too large (called an epic) then you will need to develop several smaller stories that can be considered discrete elements of the overall project.

To illustrate this point, let’s use the example of creating an e-commerce website where customers can order any fine art print available in the world. From the customer’s point of view the Epic story becomes, “As a customer, I want to be able to order any fine art print available and have it shipped to my front door.”

That is your Epic, which must be broken down into smaller stories that can be considered discrete projects.

The descrete projects can be prioritized, scheduled, and completed in an order that helps you get online faster instead of spending years in development only to discover the market has changed and the same opportunity or need you saw 2 years ago is gone.

In our example, a smaller more manageable story coming out of our Epic would be, “As a customer, I want to be able to browse fine art prints by artist.”

Great. That’s a discrete element of the e-commerce site and you can map out all the tasks involved in making that story a reality.

Step 2) Create Your Backlog

One you have all your stories written out you need to come up with all of the tasks involved in each story.

Each task should be a discrete element and once it is completed it can be implemented and used be the customer right away. That’s how you know it is really “done.”

This list of tasks becomes your “Backlog”, a list of all the tasks in all the stories that need to be completed.

Step 3) Rate and Prioritize Your Backlog

Now that all the tasks are defined you are going to determine how much effort each tasks requires. Notice that I did not say, “how long each task will take”. Humans are terrible at figuring out how long something will take, but we are very good at measuring things relative to each other.

That means we are good at measuring the amount of work a task requires relative to other tasks.

Get your team together and have them rate the amount of effort each task will require using the following numbers from the Fibonacci sequence: 1,3,5,8,13 (and optionally 21, 34, etc).

Why those numbers? Because they are far enough apart from each other to have meaning and make your team really think about their ratings.

To avoid bias or “me too” thinking, give each team member cards with those numbers printed on them and have them rate the task by placing the card face down in front of them. Then have all team members turn over their cards at the same time.

If your team’s ratings for a single task differ by no more than two number in the sequence, then just add them up and take the average. Now you have the tasks effort rating – your team’s estimation of the amount of effort requited to complete that task.

However, if the ratings differ by than two numbers in the sequence (a “3” and a “13” for example) then have the team members with the lowest and highest numbers explain their thinking/rationale and then have the entire team re-rate the task.

Do this for each task in your backlog.

Step 4) Prepare to Sprint

It’s time to get ready to work. It’s time to get ready to sprint.

A sprint is simply a discrete period of time (usually 1 – 3 weeks) during which your team will attempt to accomplish a set of tasks.

Note: As much as possible, try to keep your sprints the same duration each time.

Now get out your whiteboard and create three columns with the following headings:

Backlog, In Progress, Done

If you haven’t already, write all the tasks on sticky notes, along with their effort rating and place them in the “Backlog” column. Place the higher priority items near the top and the lower priorities near the bottom.

Next, choose the tasks that are going to be completed in the current “sprint” and put them in the “In Progress” column on your scrum board.

You can have rows or columns for each team member so you can keep track of who is responsible for each task, or you can have team members sign their names to a task – whatever floats your boat.

Now, ready, set…

Step 5) Sprint

It’s time to get down to the business of completing the tasks in the “In Progress” column.

As the tasks are completed (and completed means done, no further work required, and the feature or output can be used) move the sticky note to the “Done” column.

Keep going until all sticky notes in the “In Progress” column can be moved to the “Done” column.

Step 6) The 15 Minute Daily Status Meeting

While you are going through the sprint, gather your team every day for about 15 minutes and have each team member answer the following three questions:

1) What did you accomplish yesterday?
2) What will you do today?
3) What is impeding your progress?

This will help you uncover areas that are slowing the team down and allow everyone on the team to pitch in and help out where needed or even taking over tasks that are more “up their alley.”

These daily meeting are usually called “The Daily Standup” and usually take place with the team members standing as a way of reminding everyone to keep their comments, questions, and answers short and to the point.

Step 7) Measure your Speed

Once you’ve completed a few sprints you will be able to accurately estimate how long the project is going to take.

How? Remember when you ranked all the tasks based on the amount of effort each required? Well, after a few sprints you can total up the value of the completed tasks to see how fast you are going.

If your sprints are 1 week long, and in the first sprints you completed tasks with a total rating of 10 effort points, and the second you completed tasks with a total combined rating of 12 effort points, you know your completing, on average, 11 effort points per sprint.

Look at the total value of all the remaining tasks. Let’s say it’s 100. You know you’re completing about 11 tasks per sprint, so that’s 100/11 or about 9 more sprints. And since each sprint is 1 week long, that means the project will be done in 9 weeks.

The great thing about this method of coming up with a project completion date is that it is not an estimate, it’s not a wish, it’s not even a goal – it’s a realistic completion date based on how fast your team is completing the tasks in the project!

Step 8) Keep Sprinting

Keep completing sprints until the entire project is done, course correcting along the way, and always looking for ways your team can go faster!

Once you’ve got the hang of Scrum, you and your entire team will be amazed by the results.

Copyright 2017 John Schmidt