Clients and training attendees always ask me, “Can you use Scrum for something else than software?” What they're usually referring to is building some other products or organizing team’s work. Let’s explore a more exotic idea. It’s beginning of a new year, the time when people make and try to achieve new year’s resolutions. 92% of them will fail. About half will drop the goals within the first month of the year. People buying three-month gym subscriptions will go there less than 10 times.
How about using Scrum for your life? Scrum is about delivering value and reaching goals. Don’t you want to get more value and reach your goals in your life?
1. Manage the Product Backlog
Working on everything at the same time will lead you to fields of business and deserts of productivity. You need to stay focused to achieve goals and manage things to do, so there can be only one list of things to do. Build your Product Backlog. What are your big goals for this year? They are your epics. Big chunks of work or big goals are demotivating and difficult to finish in a Sprint. You need to split them into smaller items. Keep the epics SMART and smaller items INVEST.
The Product Backlog will grow and change over time. Therefore, you need to review it constantly — I would say at least once a week. Stakeholders will come to you with ideas and wishes that are important to them. There will be always new ideas and things to do, but time is a limited resource. Be careful not to spend your resources on low-value items. Sometimes saying no and facing the consequences is the best thing you can do. What is the worst thing that can happen if you don’t do that item? Not much? Then say no.
2. Plan Sprints
A year to plan ahead is a too-big period of time. Plan smaller periods of time. What should be your goal for the next release? What do you need to do in the Sprints for that release? The length of Sprint and length of working day are fixed; they are time-boxes. Effectively, you can manage only how much work you can take into a time-box. Plan your Sprints wisely. Don’t take too much. Don’t overcommit. Usually, stretch goals are also a bad idea, but check how it’s working for you. You can always take more if you are done earlier. Keep some slack time for fun activities and hobbies. Are you working only in the Sprint or there is some maintenance going? What is your ideal day?
3. Keep It Visual and Transparent
Visualize your backlogs and keep them up-to-date. It doesn’t matter if you want to use paper for a to-do list or a fancy electronic tool. Have the backlogs handy to look at them and updating them at will. Update your Sprint backlog daily, and every day, create a new plan for the next 24 hours. Some people like to do their daily Scrum first thing in the morning; some prefer to do it before going to bed. It’s up to you to decide when it the best time. Create a habit by doing daily Scrum at the same time and place. Sometimes, it feels like you have done no progress at all, but when you look at your list, there is quite a lot done.
4. Time-Box Work and Monitor Progress
Is something taking too long? Is there an important task that you keep postponing? Slice it into smaller chunks, delegate it, or decide not to do it. Make a decision and keep moving. Wear a watch and look at it often. You will see the time passing and progress done in that time. A clock on your mobile phone is not enough because you don’t see it all the time. Use time-boxes for doing tasks. Estimate them using the Pomodoro technique or something else to create a habit of focused work. Take a break, then take another task. Do not strive for perfection. Done is better than perfect. Create list of criteria for items to know when you have done what you aimed for. If not all the items in your Sprint backlog are done at the end of Sprint, review why and decide what to do with them. Does the outcome of the Sprint affect others? Run a Sprint review with stakeholders. Don’t mindlessly carry over to the next Sprints. Create blank Sprint backlog and decide what to put there.
5. Get a Coach
Being the Product Owner, the developer, and the Scrum Master doesn’t work well. You cannot be in the process and see the process outside at the same time. You also won’t feel much of external pressure. Get a life coach to run good Scrum retrospectives and talk about the whole process. Look at the goals from a different perspective. Discuss the consequences of your decisions. Get motivation and inspiration for going forward. From time to time, you need to sharpen the saw to cut trees well.
As you can see, there Scrum framework is quite universal. That’s the reason why the Scrum guide cannot be very detailed. You can use Scrum for many things, even for your life. The rules in Scrum are based on common sense and time management. Whether it is building software products or another goal-driven creative endeavor, Scrum can be a game changer. It takes only five steps to implement Scrum in your life: manage the Product Backlog, plan Sprints, keep it visual and transparent, time-box work and monitor progress, and get a coach. Don’t take my word for it. Try it and see if it works for you.