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Goings on at the Because We Cannery

Scrum for a design firm - a year later

So a little over a year ago, I posted about how we'd adopted Scrum-style practices in our business.

And, one year later, we're still at it, however we've really changed our interpretation and flavor of it.

So a little over a year ago, I posted about how we'd adopted Scrum-style practices in our business.

And, one year later, we're still at it, however we've really changed our interpretation and flavor of it.

We found that some of the principals of Scrum are great and well-suited to a design firm. But we also found that some of the organizational means to practicing traditional Scrum weren't so well suited.

First off, we really struggled with the fact that we typically have several complex projects all going on at the same time in parallel. Much of the Scrum method is really focused on large teams working on a small number, or just a single project. We're opposite, in that we're a small team that's working on a ton of different projects. Our Backlog and Sprint Lists were very overwhelming and a bit out of control.

That's one of the other things we found. By being small, we couldn't deal with the overhead of someone being a Scrum Master and playing all the other various roles one plays in Scrum. We were spending too much time on Scrum, and not enough just getting things done. Organizational overhead was impacting real work, when the whole point of something like Scrum is to let one do more and better real work.

We also came to the conclusion that a lot of Scrum is about communication, and our problem to solve was more one of organization.

So we re-vamped what we do. And it's documented in our business plan. It's also posted below here, in a summarized version. We still do the stand-ups, except that we're eating lunch with our team when we do (it's the best time to gather everyone, and the shop is quiet). We still do Sprints, except that now they are only a week long and organized differently. And we added some larger goal and vision things that we've found help us a great deal.

This how we do what we do now:

  • Anything that needs to get done is a Task. Tasks are usually single things that have to happen.
  • Projects are collections of Tasks, along with files and wiki pages for collecting information along the way.
  • Tasks can live on the shared iCal Calendars as To-Do's or Events, within an Omniplan Project, or as just a reminder for the future on the Wiki.
  • Task titles typically start with the name of the project or person they are applied to, and then the task itself after a dash. For example, "BigWig Client - Cut parts" or "Toast - Clean Shop".
  • At the start of each week, the Weekly Planning meeting happens, or as it's known "The Coffee Talk". Tasks in Omniplan, the Wiki, e-mail, and notes, are all reviewed in conjunction with the Calendar. All current and upcoming Projects are reviewed and discussed. Priority and scheduling for Tasks is discussed and decided, existing Tasks from last week are updated, and then the new Tasks for the week are added to the Calendar as To-Do's (for general tasks) and Events (for date-specific tasks). Staffing is also decided upon at this time, with Tasks being given to specific people as seen fit in the meeting. At the end of the meeting, Omniplans are updated with any Tasks or Projects that have been 'pushed' to a different date, any future Tasks or Projects are added to the Wiki or iCal, and then a word for the week is decided upon to set the theme and tone of that week (such as “Be Big” or “Only Do One Thing at a Time” or “Laugh when things go wrong”).
  • At the end of each week, the Weekly Review happens, or as it's known "The Wrap Party". Everyone discusses what Tasks they did that week, shows off anything cool or great that happened, and brings up anything that didn't work so well or could be better. Everyone talks about how well (or not) the theme for that week fit for them. Ideas for future Tasks, as well as more immediate optimization Tasks, are added to the Wiki or Calendar as seen fit, while everyone enjoys a cocktail.
  • At the start of each Quarter, the Quarterly Review meeting happens, or as it's known "The Dinner for the Season". First, we do some housekeeping on the Wiki, Calendar, and file cabinets. We file our quarterly taxes. Then we make a big fancy dinner. We review the last quarter, how we did, how things worked, and what could have been better. We look at the Yearly Goals, and talk about how we're doing. New Personal Goals are decided upon, put on the Wiki, and then toasted to the table.
  • At the start of the year and halfway though it, the Yearly Planning and Review meeting happens, or as it's known "The Splitter". We go out to dinner at our favorite Oakland pizza restaurant with the notes from last year's yearly planning meeting and the list of Yearly Goals that were set then. We check off any that were accomplished with a big red pen, talk about the ones we still want to do that didn't get done, and laugh at the ones that now seem very silly indeed. Then we make a new list of Yearly Goals for the new year: we come up with great things to try to make happen, and write then all down. Then we celebrate the start of another year working the best jobs we've ever had.
Jeffrey McGrew