Personal Scrum Quickstart Guide

Greetings, fellow humans! It is I, Emily Breder, returned after a long sabbatical from Bernie’s blog to give you the how-to you’ve been waiting for: how to take the most popular of Agile methods, Scrum, and apply it to your everyday work without a software development team, or even a software project.

Bernie and I have been running our daily scrum for a few months now and have been amazed by the jump in productivity we’ve experienced. Yes, even I, the Original Productivity Nerd have been amazed by how much good our wholehearted attempt at Scrum has done for our respective businesses.

There are a lot of “commonly accepted truths” about Scrum which have been proven to be merely circumstantial during this Agile experiment.

Scrum can’t be done easily by a distributed team? Wrong! Too difficult to run over multiple time zones? Must be a team of 3-9 people? Start with multiple Product Backlog sessions to define the Product Roadmap? Nope, nope, nope. Absolutely has to be done via face-to-face conversation? Wrong again, and despite my delight in poking holes in the status quo with this, I’d like to jump into the meat of this blog:

How to Start Your Own Personal Scrum

The Three Pillars of Scrum are Transparency, Inspection, and Adaptation, and our three steps will fall right in line with these concepts. The ideal Scrum is easy to start, simple to see what’s happening at a glance, and it’s easy to draw up a new backlog if something wipes out your plans.

One more thing: a “sprint” is a one week work period in this method. A new sprint starts immediately after the old one.

Here’s how to get started.

1. Start your Scrum Board in Trello and add your Scrum partner.

Add five columns to your Trello board:

  • Product Backlog (everything on your roadmap but isn’t immediate–ideas and such),
  • The Pen (a place to pull things and break them down when you’re ready to start working on them),
  • Sprint Work (things you’re working on RIGHT NOW),
  • Review & Retrospective (everything you’ve finished this sprint),
  • and Artifacts (for static documents, frequently accessed links, etc.).

Who to add to your team? People you trust to call you on your bullshit. No Scrum experience required!

What’s important here is that trust already exists. Trust can be built into your work team over time and with a lot of effort on the part of your Scrum Master, but we are talking about a Personal Scrum here.

This is your Transparency element: someone who knows you, someone who you trust, and someone who can say what needs to be said without damaging your relationship. Only one other person is necessary; a single partner to help you, and whom you are loyally committed to assist in the same way.

If you don’t know at least one person who fits this description, I would venture to say you need to work on trusting yourself first so that you can make better friends and colleagues.

More people can be added once you have things rolling but they must be in a position to minimize risk, A.K.A., be physically close to one of you. If they are six time zones away from you and five in the opposite direction from your current Scrum partner then trying to get your established meetings to accommodate them will kill your Scrum super fast.

2. Adopt a Daily Scrum: 15 minutes a day to update your partner on what you did yesterday, what you’re doing today, and what’s standing in your way.

Do your Scrum first thing in the morning if possible, but if not, just go for as soon as possible during the day. Try to keep it to the same time every day for consistency. I have Daily Scrums scattered throughout my day to comply with time zones from Europe to California. End of the day Scrums are much harder to manage, but if you have a strong relationship with your partner, you’ll make it work.

This is your Inspection element: help each other to overcome obstacles, especially when you can tell it’s an emotional block for your Scrum partner because these are the most difficult to field from the inside. If you can tell they are avoiding it, don’t let it go! Ask, “What can I do to help you get past this?” and offer any expertise or resources you have without hesitation.

Your Trello cards will come out of these Daily Scrums. On your Trello board, create a card in your Product Backlog for each “maybe/someday/eventually” item. If it’s more immediate, put it in The Pen for breakdown into tasks, which will go into the Sprint Work column when you’re ready to work on them.

3. Hold weekly a Review & Retrospective (R&R) and follow it immediately with a Planning session for the next Sprint. Don’t miss them, and don’t put them off!

As you complete Trello cards in the Sprint Work column, add them to the Review & Retrospective column. At the end of the sprint, immediately hold your R&R and examine the work that was completed, then examine your process and how you can improve it. An hour a week is all it takes for a personal scrum R&R.

This is your Adaptation element. Despite it being “after the fact”, it’s just as important as the other two.

If something isn’t working, MOVE ON. Dwelling on uncertainty is like nailing your own foot to the floor then flailing in circles wondering what went wrong and why it hurts so damn much. Adapt as quickly as you can to minimize risk then rest at ease knowing your work has been adapted to the current reality, giving it the greatest chance of success.

Life is comprised of constant change. Control of a process is an illusion. We are surfing the waves of karma which flow our way. Get better at surfing with practice! Remember your buddy is standing on the shore with a video camera for future Inspection. Learn to repackage what you are doing and what you already did in a way that is concise and easily understood to streamline the process as much as possible.

Bite things off one at a time, break them into small pieces that can be executed easily. One rule: No shaming or guilt! Keep going and remember that stumbling, failing, and learning is a part of the process.

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