How do I do Scrum if I have no team?
— Participant at my last CSM class in Porto
I have long joked that my team consists of me, myself and I. How can I apply Scrum to my own situation?
— Peter Stevens
My Personal Scrum is a simple framework for people who want to become highly effective individuals. My Personal Scrum is based on the same values, principles and patterns as Scrum, but recognizes that organizing your life is a different challenge than developing a product in a team. The article explains My Personal Scrum and how to use it to become more effective.
I was initially inspired by an article Critical Things Ridiculously Successful People Do Every Day, by Travis Bradberry, in which the author suggested that such people manage the minutes, not hours. I decided that I wanted to be such an individual, but quickly realized that if managing the minutes is key, then such people must lead much more predictable lives than I do. My life is not that predictable. So I set out to create something that balances focus with flexibility.
Highly creative people have almost by definition more ideas than time to execute them, so deciding what to do and what not to do is the key to effectiveness. My Personal Scrum is designed to enable people to reflect on their goals and task planning at regular intervals, so you can ensure that you are doing the right things first, and can ensure that you stop working when additional work brings no further benefit.
I have used My Personal Scrum in its current form for about 12 weeks. My wife Sabine served as my coach for most of that time. We have been amazed at how we both have gotten much better at getting important things done (even though she is not formally doing My Personal Scrum herself). The weekly discussions on what’s important help us focus on activities beyond the urgent tasks of daily life.
I believe My Personal Scrum can help anybody become more effective.
In a business context, My Personal Scrum can enable managers and their staff to achieve high alignment and transparency about goals, forecasts and milestones achieved. In a personal context, spouses and partners can coach each other to set and achieve objectives together. And as a coach, you can use My Personal Scrum to enable your clients to identify and work toward their important goals in life and work.
Why My Personal Scrum?
It takes just as much time to flip a quarter as to flip a penny, but the quarter is more valuable. So where should you invest your time? On the quarters, i.e on the things that bring value to you.
Sometimes resting or “chilling” is the right thing to do, and that’s OK too. My Personal Scrum doesn’t try to tell you what’s important; it just helps you to recognize what’s important to you, so you can do the right thing.
My Personal Scrum enables you ask and find answers to the key questions that enable you to make better use of your time:
- What is important?
- What is urgent?
- What do I want to accomplish?
- What am I going to do today?
Like Scrum, My Personal Scrum is defined through a small number of roles, artifacts and activities. Each of them exists to help you ask and answer these questions, and ensure that your answers are still the right answers as you and your situation evolves over time.
Unlike Scrum, My Personal Scrum has no rules to follow. My Personal Scrum consists of a few agreements to make with yourself and maybe one other person, so that you ask yourself important questions at regular intervals. If you miss a week, it’s not the end of the world. If you find that certain aspects don’t bring you value, it’s OK not do them.
I think of My Personal Scrum as kind a gravitational force – it exerts a gentle, attractive guidance that always pulls me back to doing the right thing.
How does My Personal Scrum work?
In a nutshell:
- You meet with your coach or manager once per week to review the last week and plan the upcoming week.
- You discuss what’s important, what’s urgent, and what you want to accomplish this week
- You visualize your goals and tasks with a Priorities Map
- You reserve time for important, but non-urgent goals.
- You plan your day
I use Trello to visualize my Priorities Map and my calendar to plan my day.
Scrum defines three roles: The Product Owner, who is responsible for Why, the Development Team who is responsible for delivering the solution, and a Scrum Master, whose job is to help the other two roles and the organization get better at their jobs.
My Personal Scrum defines three roles, “Me, Myself and I,” “Your Personal Product Owner,” and “Your Personal Scrum Coach.” How these roles are assigned depends on your context. Optimally you will take on two of the three roles and get help from another person for about one hour per week for the third.
Me, Myself and I
If you are independent, that is not employed or under contract, then you are an independent, thinking agent. You are responsible for your own life. You get to set your own priorities and do your own work. In Scrum terms, you are both the Product Owner and Development Team.
If you are employed or under contract, then you are still an independent, thinking agent, and you are still responsible for your own life! You still do your own work, but your might not get to set your own priorities. In Scrum terms, you are the Development Team and Scrum Master, but your manager or other stakeholder takes on the role of Product Owner.
None of this prevents you from asking others for help, working with others, or even working in a Scrum team in a larger context. It just says, “it’s your life, you are responsible for it, and you get to decide.”
Your Personal Scrum Coach
What does a personal coach do? A personal coach helps you unlock the potential in you. The assumption is that you know or can figure out how to solve your problems, but may need help identifying the problem, so a good coach asks you the right questions.The main duty of Your Personal Scrum Coach is to ask the key, “powerful” questions at the weekly review and planning meeting: What have you accomplished? What is important? What is urgent?
My Personal Scrum is not about figuring out who you are or who you want to be. My Personal Scrum is about helping you get there once you’ve decided. So Your Personal Scrum Coach will meet with you once per week to review what you have accomplished, discuss what is important, what is urgent and what you want to accomplish next.
Your Personal Product Owner
What if you do not have control over your priorities? For instance, if you are working in a company and you have a manager, this person may have control over your priorities and your time. The activities are the same, except that you take on the role of Your Personal Scrum Coach and meet with your manager (“Your Personal Product Owner”) to review what you have accomplished, discuss what is important, what is urgent and what you need to accomplish this week.
My Personal Scrum helps you answer three essential questions:
- What is important?
- What am I going to work on?
- How do I know it is really done?
Your Priorities Map
You manage priorities as a kind of a story map. The columns correspond to the different kinds of importance, and the cards in the columns to individual goals or tasks. Your Priorities Map includes at least these 5 columns:
- What is important?
- What is urgent?
- What do you want to do this week?
- What did get done this week?
- What have I gotten done in previous weeks?
Sort the first three columns by priority. At the weekly planning move cards from important or urgent into do this week. As they goals are accomplished, move them into done this week. This makes it easier to review them at the end of the week. After the review, move them to done in previous weeks, so that they are out of the way.
What if a goal can’t be accomplished in a week?
There are two possible approaches: One is to make cards for smaller goals that can be accomplished in a week. The other is to create a checklist for the steps along the way, checking them off as you go along. Both approaches have their merits and disadvantages. It’s your Personal Scrum! Pick the approach that works best for you in your situation.
Your time is limited, so how much you can do is limited as well. Time-critical, “urgent” things tend to push out other important things, so schedule important goals to ensure that you get to work on them.
You are the master of your calendar, not the other way around. You put things in your calendar to help you do the right thing. But if your needs change, that’s OK, change your calendar!
In general, you will schedule important items in the current week and urgent items for today or tomorrow. Obviously something really urgent can pop up, and you have to deal with that. If something comes up, use your calendar to revaluate what do to when.
If your schedule is too full, especially with immovable appointments, you become inflexible and have no time to do actual work. So in general, important tasks should only be scheduled during the current week, and known, urgent tasks should be scheduled only a day or two in advance. Obviously if you are scheduling time with someone, you may need to schedule it further in advance, but be aware of the dangers of an overfull calendar!
How do you know something is really done? In Scrum, you have a Definition of Done, which is an agreement between the various roles so that everyone means the same thing when they say it is done.
In My Personal Scrum, you usually only have to answer to yourself or your Personal Product Owner, so a check list is probably sufficient.
I use Trello to manage my tasks. My Priorities Map includes two additional columns: “True North” which gives me a long term perspective on what I want to accomplish, and Templates, for things that I do over and over and for which I want to reuse the Checklists.
Personal Scrum does not define a “Product Increment,” though if the metaphor is useful to you, you can of course use it. For example, a startup CEO might say “We want to become a viable business. At the end of each iteration, our company should be closer to being a viable business.” Or you can define this as part of True North.
The basic rhythm in Personal Scrum is a calendar week. Once per week you get together with Your Personal Scrum Coach or Your Personal Product Owner to review your priorities, what you have accomplished, what is important, and what you want to accomplish in the upcoming week.
Review and Planning
Each week starts with a review and planning meeting in front of your Priorities Map. You can hold this meeting on any day of the week, though earlier in the week often feels more natural. The agenda always addresses the following questions:
- What have I accomplished since the last review?
- What goals are important?
- What goals are urgent?
- What would I like to accomplish this week?
Important means, if you don’t do them, something undesirable will happen, but there is no immediate deadline or consequence if they are not done. Urgent means the same, except an immediate deadline means that if something is not done quickly, something undesirable will happen.
A common problem is having so much urgent work to do that there is no time to do important work. Recognizing this, blocking time for important work, and reducing urgent work are key to achieving long term objectives.After reviewing what is urgent and what is important, select tasks and goals that you think you can accomplish in the course of the week. Reserve time during the week in your calendar for important and/or time consuming that are not urgent.
At the beginning of each day, you figure out what you are going to do. Scrum calls this the Daily Scrum. In Personal Scrum, you look at your priorities map and your calendar. What are you going to do when? Schedule everything, and try to schedule important things first and urgent things later in the day.
When I started doing this, I quickly discovered three things:
- Nothing worth writing down takes less than 25 minutes. If it really is trivial, I should do it right away. Otherwise, the minimum time to handle an issue is a “pomodoro.”
- I am a hopeless optimist. Things always take longer than I thought. I learned to budget more time than I thought it would take, because it will take more time than I think.
- I am still a hopeless optimist. Even after adjusting my estimates to be more realistic, I discovered that after a couple a days of working at full speed, I need a rest. A sustainable paces is less than 100% utilization. So take time for breaks.
Some things cannot be moved. If you have an appointment with someone, you have to be there, on time. This is one reason why it is helpful to have a Personal Scrum Coach or Product Owner, because the weekly meeting becomes an event you can’t unilaterally reschedule. Other things, like writing a blog entry, can be rescheduled, even on short notice, to accommodate urgent issues.
Saying Yes, Saying No
Sooner or later, you run out of time. Sooner or later, you will have to say no. The question is not will you say no, but when will you say no, to what will you say no, and how will you say no. Some goals will never get any work done. You might as well take them off your radar screen.
The decision not to do some something should be an active decision. You should say no to things that do not bring you value. This frees time for things that do bring your value.
I found it useful to define “True North.” This is the star I navigate by. What is really important? True North is the first column on my Priorities Map. The top item in that column is “do something for my family at least once per week.” By having my priorities in front of me, I am reminded of what I need to say yes to.
How to Start
Getting started is easy:
- Agree with yourself to try My Personal Scrum for a month.
- If possible, agree with your Personal Scrum Master or Personal Product Owner to try it for a month. (If you can’t find someone, you could do it yourself, but having a second person involved makes it easier!)
- Pick a time for your Weekly Review and Planning. You’ll need an hour (maybe 2 hours for the first one). It should be the same day and same time every week, preferably at the beginning of the day.
- Create your Priority Map with the 5 columns and share it with your Personal Scrum Master or Product Owner. (I use Trello for this). Start entering Goals and Tasks
- Meet up with your Coach to review what is important for the week.
- Review and update the board every day. Use you calendar for detailed planning.
Call for Participation!
As I write this, I have been exploring personal self-organization for four months and doing My Personal Scrum in its current form for 2 months. I know it helps me in my context, but I how do I know if it will help other people, especially if their context is significantly different from mine? In particular, the alternative of working with your manager as your Personal Product Owner needs validation.
I have started asking people to help me validate the concept for a month. Learning continues!
If you think this is cool, feel free to try it out! i posted the short version of this explanation on my blog, I would love to discuss with you what works, what doesn’t, what can be left out or what is still needed! Comments, Please!