Scrum-ish: applying Scrum principles to your ever-changing workweek

Scrum-ish: applying Scrum principles to your ever-changing workweek

We’ve known and worked with Jenn Hamel for more than a decade. Today we’re excited to share a bit of her expertise with you! (See Jenn’s Q&A with Alan about how Agathon operates as a remote team here.)

My plans are brilliant. Really! You should see them some time.

At the start of each week, my calendar looks like a vibrant patchwork of five beautifully synchronized Google calendars that lay out all of my perfectly laid plans and goals.

And then, early Monday morning … my 6 year-old throws up.

(sigh)

Suddenly, my carefully planned Monday fades like a Thanos snap, and it ripples across the rest of the week. I’m suddenly playing calendar Tetris, canceling some things, postponing others, and generally feeling frustrated that my daughter had the audacity to impede my plans! (I’m joking… kind of!)

It’s easy to get disgruntled and overwhelmed by unexpected life events like this—especially when you’re walking a tightrope each day with family, work, friends, and trying to be fully present and fully yourself in each role. But here’s the thing I’ve realized lately: there’s a less rigid and more flexible way to approach my weekly plans.

I call it: Scrum-ish.

I recently attended a 2-day Scrum Master training seminar hosted by Mountain Goat Software. Not only did I learn a ton about this very logical product development framework; it also made me realize that I could apply it in daily life situations, especially when an unexpected event throws off my carefully laid plans.

A quick recap: what is Scrum?

For those who aren’t familiar, Scrum is a product development framework that uses a collaborative and iterative approach. More often than not, it’s used with technical teams, but it can be used for other things too (see ScrumYourWedding.com for instance!).   

In the past, more traditional methods like Waterfall—which is a more defined, phased approach to project management—was the default process. But Waterfall forces you to think through and plan for most of the product before you even begin.

Scrum is an empirical process—one that helps teams make small wins during each Sprint (each lasting somewhere between one and four weeks)—and to adapt as new information comes in or changes arise. Although it requires quite a bit of buy-in from the team and the organization, it’s a pretty brilliant approach.

So, what is Scrum-ish?

This is my made-up term. I’m going rogue here; this is not at all acknowledged or supported by the Scrum Alliance. I want to respect that true Scrum is more involved than this blog discusses, but there really are some great elements to Scrum that can help the rest of us keep control of our constantly changing weeks, as well as have a sense of accomplishment at the end of each one.

For example, on that fateful Monday my daughter got sick, my Sprint goal that week had been “Write two blog posts and prepare intro emails to ten people.”

My Monday was going to be fully dedicated to writing, but suddenly I didn’t have the luxury of a 6-hour block of time to work. I had 15 minutes here and 20 minutes there while my daughter binge-watched Netflix with a bucket at her side.  

So I reviewed my goal for the week and figured out what I could do in a handful of Scrum-ish sprints.

Instead of six glorious, free hours to write, my Monday looked more like this:

Disinfect the house, snuggle with my kid, and—in between gobs of laundry—choose pictures for my posts, write a couple paragraphs of a post or two, work on the list of ten email recipients, and intermittently snuggle with my kid some more.

Tuesday through Friday included some immovable calendar items, but I still went back to my Sprint goal and realized that the goal could be broken down into smaller tasks that were then snuck in and around the other immovable tasks.

Although I had to start working a little earlier than normal on one day to catch up, my week wasn’t wrecked. I finished the two blog posts; I finished the emails; and—most importantly—I didn’t feel like I lost control of my week because of one day that went awry.

Applying Scrum-ish to your workweek

So how can you implement this agile approach I call “Scrum-ish” to your weekly planning?

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Define your Sprint length

For many Scrum teams, the standard length is two weeks, but since I work alone, my personality fits best with a one-week Sprint. Each Monday, I use a combination of my Google calendar and this Weekly Planning Grid from Stayforth Designs to plan when I’m going to work on certain pieces that support my overarching goal.

Define a Sprint goal each week

This is so critical! Some weeks I struggle to see the forest for the trees; I focus too much on the sheer volume of tasks on my plate and miss the common thread. This is when I force myself to take a step back and ask, “What is the most important thing I need to accomplish this week?”

Once I realize that one goal, all the tasks that previously made me dizzy begin to filter through this new lens: they either support that goal or they don’t. The ones that do support it go in my calendar; the ones that don’t either fill in the remaining time or get punted to the following week.

Goals should have a couple key elements:

Goals should be realistic

Don’t cram every minute of every day with something. You need to account for real life. Out of a 40-hour work week, Scrum says your Sprint should account for 26 hours of that, with a portion going to Corporate Overhead and Unplanned time.

Scrum is realistic—life happens. Unexpected stuff comes up. Companies ask you to do other stuff. So don’t fight it. Plan for it!

Goals should have “just enough” detail

Goals should be only as specific as they need to be. So, in my fateful week, my goal was to “Write two blog posts and prepare intro emails to ten people.”

Which posts would they be? I wasn’t sure yet. My goal gave me enough wiggle room to discover what topics were going to resonate with me that week and adapt. As long as I finished two posts, it didn’t matter which two they were. How long would the intro emails be? I wasn’t sure; I wouldn’t know until I begun writing.

Give yourself enough specificity to be accountable, but enough padding to discover and adapt.

Which brings me to…

Set up accountability

Traditional Scrum teams have something called the “daily scrum” when the team meets to share:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What will you do today? and,
  • Is anything getting in your way of doing these things?

This daily, 15-minute meeting provides transparency and accountability within the team.  

Now, since I’m an independent consultant, I don’t report to a team each day. So, instead, I connect with a friend on Mondays and tell her what I’ll do that week; on Friday, I send her a note about what I completed.

It may feel kind of strange at first, but I swear to you, there’s something powerful about telling someone what you’re doing to do. Even if they’re the most understanding, flexible person on the planet, there’s something about saying the words “I will do this…” that make you want to do what you said.

Maybe it’s just a bit of pride at stake, but regardless, it’s a good spur to get you to do what you know you need to do.

This may not be a purist Scrum approach. But Scrum is a brilliant framework that’s essentially grounded in collaboration, teamwork, transparency, accountability, and—ultimately—doing awesome work in a constantly changing world

And really, that’s my heart too.

(Preferably without vomit.)

How do you manage your time?

Whether you follow a particular time management framework or have a system of your own, we’d love to hear what works for you!

P.S. See how Trello can help you organize your to-dos and projects here.

Scrum-ish: applying Scrum principles to your ever-changing workweek

Jenn Hamel

Jenn loves helping teams that do good in the world streamline their processes in order to grow their impact. She has 20+ years of project management, operations, and team leadership experience in a variety of contexts (but please don't calculate how old that makes her!).
Jenn Hamel

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