Recently, I started a new job as a Scrum Master. This is a result of the work I’ve done over the last year and definitely, this is the topic for another blog post – I have a lot of things to share in that space. On the other hand, I’m so happy about that achievement because after a few months in that role I feel that this is something that I was looking for from the beginning of my professional career.
However, today’s post won’t be about my current work but will be about the Scrum framework itself. The context is that I’ve been using that process in many life situations and I would like to encourage you to do the same. The article is not short, but I think that you will benefit from it.
Shall we start?
What is the Scrum?
Scrum is a lightweight Agile framework created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland. Originally, it was created for the software development industry but currently is also popular in other industries. The most up-to-date information about the framework is available through Scrum Guide, the last version is from 2020 and you can it here.
In a nutshell, Scrum is an iterative and incremental approach – in other words, small Increments of a product (feature) are developed in short Iterations (called Sprints). Sprint is a container for the other four events. The framework is based on transparency, inspection, and adaption, it also consists of three artifacts, a team of people, and trust which is built on the five values.
All quotes in the later sections of this post are from the Scrum Guide 2020.
The implementation process
I will not be talking about what the implementation of the Scrum framework might look like in the work environment because this is also a topic for another discussion. Instead, as stated at the beginning of this article I want to show that you can this very good approach for your “private” life.
From my point of view the process of implementing Scrum in your life can be as follow:
- Enabling transparency, inspection, and adaptation
- Living of Scrum Values
- Implementation of Scrum artifacts and events
- Formalize your “Scrum Team”
Enabling transparency, inspection, and adaptation
As stated in the Scrum Guide:
“Transparency enables inspection. Inspection without transparency is misleading and wasteful.”
Inspection enables adaptation. Inspection without adaptation is considered pointless
as you can see above all 3 things are connected to each other and any of them can be omitted. Let me describe each and everyone in the context of life.
The emergent process and work must be visible to those performing the work as well as those receiving the work
This is how the Scrum Guide described transparency. A good example of lack of transparency is a situation where you did something wrong or you’ve spotted some bug but you are afraid of telling anyone else (or your team).
What does it mean to implement transparency into life? First of all, we need to be transparent in terms of our relations to others and the world which means that:
- you are telling the truth;
- you are open and honest about your feelings and opinions;
- you are able to not overcommit;
- when you are doing something for other people you are transparent in terms of the work that you are doing for them;
- when you have your own audience (for example as a blogger) you are not afraid of telling about your mistakes and the real work that you are performing;
- you are presenting yourself as you are in reality
Secondly, is all about how transparent you are to yourself which can be described in terms of that you:
- are not denying your weaknesses;
- are aware of what you need to learn to accomplish something;
- know if something is that you would like to do or don’t;
- are doing the things that are in accordance with your identity;
- know (more or less) the direction of your actions;
- wanna share the knowledge and lessons learned with others;
The next pillar of Scrum is Inspection.
The Scrum artifacts and the progress toward agreed goals must be inspected frequently and diligently to detect potentially undesirable variances or problems. To help with inspection, Scrum provides cadence in the form of its five events.
In terms of our case, the inspection is the constant observation. If you are transparent with your work, and relation to others (and yourself) you are most likely to observe how things are going.
In this context, it also means that you are not ignoring any facts or situations and your observations are going much deeper than only looking after that what is on the surface. Also, the inspection must happen on a frequent basis which means that it has to be somehow your habit.
The question is, on the other hand, what you should do with the results of your observations? This is where adaptation comes in.
If any aspects of a process deviate outside acceptable limits or if the resulting product is unacceptable, the process being applied or the materials being produced must be adjusted. The adjustment must be made as soon as possible to minimize further deviation.
This is what adaption means – if something doesn’t work or is going in the wrong direction you need to act and implement a change in a process or plan to make it work properly.
A Scrum Team is expected to adapt the moment it learns anything new through inspection.
This is always how life works – people need to adapt themselves to changing environments. If you enable transparency and inspection that adaptation will be much easier. But I will repeat it again, that adaptation means that you need to act, nothing good will happen without that.
Living of Scrum values
The second step is to understand and use Scrum values. In my opinion, this is the most important part of Scrum.
As stated in the Scrum guide we have five values: Commitment, Focus, Openness, Respect, and Courage. Let’s talk about introducing each of them to your life.
Commitment is all about your determination to you reach your goal. This is what differentiates people who are talking about their plans from people who really doing something regular to make them happen.
On the other hand, that value, for me, means that I’m not worrying about obstacles and I’m finding a way to overcome them. Also, mistakes and failures are something that makes me stronger, instead of giving me a chance to give up on my dreams.
This is one of the key elements to realizing any plan. What you can do to be focused even more?
- Eliminate distractions (or minimize at least)
From my point of view, this is an obvious one but the list of distractions is not limited to social media, notifications, TV, and so on. The biggest thing that makes our focus worst are the ideas that popping constantly into our minds. Of course, we can stop our thoughts but we can note them down and “get them out” from the head (at least for some time).
- Increase, slowly, the work time blocks
How long are you able to work on one thing, without break, and without feeling tired? In my opinion, the time when we can work in full focus can be extended by training. By this I mean, every day (or week/month) to add a few minutes to the current “full focus” block time.
- Find the right time for deep work
Cal Newport describes deep work as “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task” (by the way I encourage you to read his book). From my experience, I prefer to practice it in the mornings, instead of evenings or somewhere during the day. You might have different preferences and it’s important to find the time that suits you.
The third Scrum value is openness. Living that value for me means that you’re:
- Curious about the world
This is about the mindset that you have not limited your knowledge to the things that you already know but you’re constantly looking for new resources and interesting people from who you can learn new things
- Honest about challenges
When you’re facing a problem (aka challenge) you’re not hiding it. Instead, you are looking for solutions and you are honest about your problems to, for example, your co-workers.
- Open to feedback.
Feedback (the right one) is a very powerful personal development tool. If you are open to that you will benefit from it, for sure.
Respect, in terms of other people, I think it’s self-explanatory. However, I’d like to take that value to the next level and remind you that you need to have respect for yourself as well. It means respect to your:
- Time – you manage your time while you minimize minutes and hours on the things that you are not interested in or on the things that are not giving you any value.
- Energy – that you take care of your rest (not only sleep) and also manage your time to don’t feel exhausted (yes yes, everyone has limited energy every single day..).
- Feelings – that you do everything to feel good and you avoid living and spending time with toxic people and working on the things that basically make you unhappy.
Courage, for me, it’s a willingness to try. If you are trying new approaches, you will be making a mistakes – but at the same time, you are not so much worried about them.
There are several reasons why we are afraid of mistakes (and failures) including :
- We would like to be perfect and we don’t wanna show to the world our weaknesses.
- We are afraid of what other people will think about us.
- There is no culture in society/work of trying new things, no matter if it will bring success or not.
- We will take failure personally which decreases our self-esteem.
- We imagine the catastrophe that will happen if the situation will not go in the right direction (aka worst-case scenario).
What is my approach to mistakes (and failures)?
- Is the best way to try new solutions and assess whether something is working or not.
- Is a sign of progress and my development, because sooner or later I will find the right solution
- I don’t take them personally, I just move forward and try to learn from the failure as much as I can (aka lessons learned).
- I try to encourage people with whom I work that failure is not something wrong and it’s not a waste of money and time.
Implementing Scrum events, artifacts, and commitments
The next step from the list is to look at and implement Scrum events, artifacts, and commitments.
Four scrum events – Daily Scrum, Sprint Planning, Sprint Retrospective Sprint Review – are “located” in the container ( and also an event) called Sprint. Artifacts are Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and Increment. Every artifact has its own commitment. Let’s describe how you can implement all of these elements into your life.
The Product Backlog is an emergent, ordered list of what is needed to improve the product. It is the single source of work undertaken by the Scrum Team.
This definition is giving you the view that, in terms of your activities, the product backlog is everything that you should do to achieve a certain goal. Just to be clear – if you have multiple goals you need to have a separate backlog for each of them.
The implementation of that is really simple and straightforward – you have to have one, central place, where you can put all of your tasks. Over the years I’ve tried multiple physical and online tools and I gather a few requirements for each of them. In terms of the online app:
- That app should have easy access from every device and from every place in the world.
- The interface has to be as simple as possible and with features like a calendar, to-do list, column board, and normal text editor
- There should be a system for reminding about the tasks
- There is a possibility to share notes/meetings/tasks with others
When it comes to the physical version of the backlog:
- It needs to be big, enough to accommodate everything for the entire year
- At the same time, it should be small enough that you can take it wherever you go
- It also should contain things like calendars, to-do lists, and empty pages for notes.
Currently, my choice is an online tool because of a simple reason – there is a small chance that I will lose it. Maintaining the product backlog is a habit. In other words – you have to learn to update it on a regular basis.
The commitment to the product backlog is the product goal. This is basically what you would like to achieve and it can be called a future state (aka “start with the end in mind”).
Sprints are the heartbeat of Scrum, where ideas are turned into value.
They are fixed length events of one month or less to create consistency.
Everything that you need to do is to divide your time into iterations in the length of a month or less. You can do this in your tool for product backlog as well as on paper. The important thing is to know when the sprint starts and ends because it has implications for other things from the Scrum process.
At the beginning of the sprint, there is an event called Sprint Planning. The main purpose of that event is to create a Sprint backlog that contains answers to the following questions:
- Why is this Sprint valuable? In other words – the sprint goal. What you would like to achieve in the upcoming sprint?
- What can be done in this Sprint? In other whats, you have to pick up as many items from your product backlog item as you are able to do in the sprint. While doing that you need to take into consideration your capacity so your available time when actually you can do the tasks. In the beginning, it might be hard to estimate how much you can do but that knowledge will be higher with the next sprints.
- How will the chosen work get done? What do you have to do to complete every task from the previous point? In order to do that, you may create sub-tasks, break down larger tasks into smaller ones, and so on.
The sprint backlog might be adjusted during the sprint but these changes cannot have a bad impact on the sprint goal. The outcome of the Sprint is Increments, so the mini-goals take you closer to your overall goal.
Let’s see what is going on during the sprint.
The purpose of the Daily Scrum is to inspect progress toward the Sprint Goal and adapt the Sprint Backlog as necessary, adjusting the upcoming planned work
This event is happening every day of the Sprint. In our case is basically the moment at the beginning of the day when you plan your work, prioritize them and check what is your progress toward the sprint goal (and if there are any blockers).
I used to do it on paper because I have the feeling that it makes me more confident about the things that I have to accomplish.
At the end of the sprint, there are two important events that should take place in order to follow Transparency, Inspection, and Adaptation. The first one is the Sprint review.
The purpose of the Sprint Review is to inspect the outcome of the Sprint and determine future daptations.
Sprint review is the moment to present what has been done to the Scrum Team and external stakeholders. In our example, external stakeholders might be your co-worker or anyone else for who you are doing something. It is also a time to gather feedback from these people.
The purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to plan ways to increase quality and effectiveness.
This event is a scheduled time to reflect on what was good during the sprint, and what was not, and based on that plan improvements to increase effectiveness. It is also an opportunity to check what kind of your problems you had during the sprint, how you solve them, and what kind of lessons you could take from them.
Just to be clear: you don’t have to wait till the end of the Sprint to implement some improvements, you can do it anytime. All of the Scrum events should be scheduled in advance so there is no way that you don’t have time for them.
The last thing from the Scrum implementation list is to have a defined Scrum Team.
The Scrum Team
This is the point that actually I should mention and explain at the beginning of this article, but it’s here – at the end. I did it with the intention.
The Scrum Team consists of:
- Product Owner (PO) who is mainly accountable for effective Product Backlog Management.
- Scrum Master (SM) is mainly accountable for the Scrum Team’s effectiveness and establishment of Scrum as defined in the Scrum Guide.
- Developers who are committed to creating useable Increment each Sprint.
More information about each of the roles you can be found in the Scrum Guide. In terms of implementing Scrum into your life, you are a Product Owner, Scrum Master, and Developer at the same time.
Is it a bit controversial, right? I know. In software development, mixing the roles is not a good idea (however if PO or SM is doing some coding they can be also called Developers). In terms of the things that you are doing in your life, I think that you can take all of these roles as one person. Of course, if you are cooperating with someone and would like to use Scrum for that, differentiation of the roles is a good idea.
You may ask if you’re the SM, PO, and developers at the same time what are your’s tasks?
- Maintenance of the Product Backlog (adding/removing items, breaking them down into smaller ones) and setting up the Product Goal
- Creating a Sprint Backlog, Sprint Goal, and the plan for the accomplishment of the items in that backlog (Sprint Planning)
- Preparing, every day of the sprint, the plan and checking how close you are to the Sprint Goal (Daily Scrum)
- Work on every sprint day on items from the Sprint Backlog.
- Present your work and gather feedback from the other people (Sprint Review)
- Reflect on your processes and tools and determine and implement improvement (Sprint Retrospective)
- Create a useful increment (aka mini goal) for every sprint
- Removing blockers and solving problems that you may face
I think that list is not completed but I’ve tried to capture the things, that, in my opinion, is the most important.
We are almost there, to implementing Scrum into your life. I think it will be more clear with the example so let’s move on to the real-life one which was the case for me – creating my blog website.
We are already there. It was a long article but I hope that you will start using that. As a closing note, I would say that using Scrum in your life will not happen overnight. Is a process that requires time as well as effort from your side.
I’m curious about what you think. Of course, if you have any additional questions, feel free to post them in the comments.