This post is a real-time exploration of a topic that is new to me, in this case, a “product development strategy” called scrum. I want to explore this new concept on its own merits. I also want to demonstrate the way my information-gathering process works. I’m a divergent thinker, so my mind races off in all directions, most of which may seem irrelevant or ridiculous to someone who is better informed. As I learn more, my focus starts to contract again, until finally I have a solid understanding of the subject. My learning curve is a very long, flat line, with a suddenly steep ramp way off at the end.
Why would the average person, a person who does not develop software, care about a “product development strategy”? I have a suspicion that this thing called scrum echoes a seasonal work rhythm that would be a natural, practical fit for most people. I think it could be even more valuable for an individual working on personal projects than for a working team.
In a nutshell, the way I understand scrum to work is that one person owns the project, and the team works together to break it down into a task list, called a “product backlog.” The list is broken down further into a “sprint backlog” – work that needs to be done in a sprint, usually two weeks but not more than a month. Each person chooses a task that suits his or her skills and interest. Everything must be completed by the end of the sprint time period. In software, this is when they “ship it.” Then it’s time for another sprint. Anything else that needs to get done, but realistically can’t/shouldn’t be started until after the current sprint, is added to the product backlog. The team meets for a 15-minute “scrum” every day to report progress.
How would this work at home?
Let’s say I’m trying to “get organized” and my house is cluttered and in need of a serious spring cleaning. I’ve got this passel o’ kids/roommates/pets who may or may not be on board. Where do I start? I can break down the areas of the house into two-week sections, and work only in that area until it’s done. If I can’t convince anyone else who lives with me to help out (or at least stop being afraid of the vacuum), at least I can ride herd on them and keep them from adding more clutter in that sprint’s focus area. Gradually, the clean and organized portion starts to spread, until finally the whole house is done. I can schedule a party on a specific day so I have a built-in deadline.
Let’s say I’m trying to “get in shape” and I’m overweight and I have no idea what I’m doing. (Purely hypothetical, of course. I was born in a gymnasium with a free weight in each hand. Weren’t you?) I can set a small goal that I aim to reach in a two-week time period, and pause for analysis at the end of the sprint. If I didn’t meet my goal, I can crunch numbers and try to figure out what happened. #1: Figure out where the gain came from. #2: Stop gaining. #3: Get used to what maintenance feels like. #4: Lose some weight. #5: Adjust to how physical changes can trigger emotional changes. Two weeks is a short enough period to make course corrections, and also a long enough period to see a trend line start to emerge. If the trend line is not sloping even a tiny amount after two weeks, there is a flaw in the plan somewhere.
Let’s say I’m a writer/artist/Maker and I’ve got a bunch of unfinished projects. I can plan a sprint and a hard deadline for each one. At the end of a sprint, I can look at my work basket or my table or my draft folder and get a better sense of how much I can realistically produce in a set time period. When I decided not to take on any further craft projects until I had finished everything I had currently planned, it took a solid ten years. In fact, I’m still working on the last one. (It wasn’t until I got to the tail end of all these crafty things that I started writing; the response to my writing has been far better than the response to any particular hat or scarf or children’s toy I ever made).
This is my novice understanding of scrum. Next, I’ll read a couple of books and a bunch of articles on the topic. Either this will help me to understand something really cool and useful, which is great, or I’ll realize I had no idea what I was talking about, and I’ll revert to my own warped ideas and lose interest in the idea that originally caught my attention. That’s fine, too. It happens. I’m finding that the idea of establishing a production schedule longer than a week and shorter than a year is really attractive and helpful for me at this time. Maybe it can help other people, too.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.