Are your team's work projects stuck in a too-much-to-do but can't-quite-finish-anything rut? Maybe you find yourself struggling to make meaningful progress on your tasks, or maybe you and your team don’t what to focus on and in what order.
You might find Scrum to be the answer to your problems. It can give your work more direction, make sure you’re only working on tasks that add value, and give you a clear way to show the higher ups measurable progress week over week.
What Is Scrum?
Scrum.org defines it as “a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value.” If you’re into project management theory, you could say, Scrum is a type of agile methodology that uses incremental, iterative work sequences.
If you want to sidestep all that terminology, Scrum is a process to help people solve problems and complete projects as productively as possible while ensuring the projects they work on are as valuable as possible.
At first, Scrum was a way for software teams to manage their new releases, but it’s quickly become a way of working that all kinds of teams are finding useful, from customer support, to marketing, to operations and more.
With Scrum, your team will always have real-time progress on your projects by categorizing them in “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done” stages. At a glance, you can see if that blog post or feature is currently being worked on, or if it hasn’t even been started yet. Your projects and tasks will also incorporate feedback along the way, meaning those moving to “Done” will be not only productive, but more successful.
Many teams are using Scrum to stay organized, and Trello is helping them do it. Here’s how to discern if Scrum is right for you, and how Trello can you help you get started:
How Do You Know If Scrum Is Right For Your Team?
Here are some criteria to help you decide if getting your team to try out the Scrum style feels right:
- You have well-defined projects. Scrum relies on the concept that there is a very specific end goal to which the whole team is aligned. From there, the individual pieces of the end goal are delegated to members of the team. If your team’s problems center around always having ambiguous goals, then you may not be ready to dive into Scrum yet.
- Your projects can be broken down into bite-size chunks. Sometimes a task you think is just one entity actually contains multiple smaller parts. For example, you might think “content strategy” is what you do, but really that’s a combination of several projects: Create an editorial calendar, define SEO keywords, write a blog post, and so on. The reason projects need to be broken down in Scrum is so you can accomplish components of the project consistently each week or two and build steadily towards the end goal.
- Impromptu work doesn’t define your week. Scrum really gets its power from being able to plan and make changes to that plan week-to-week, instead of day-by-day. In fact, Scrum was effectively designed as a way to avoid having a group of people working on ad-hoc, unrelated initiatives that are not aligned towards a common goal.
- You are focused on getting feedback and making improvements. Scrum is all about doing small things, soliciting feedback, and then incorporating it into the overall plan. If you aren’t synthesizing what your customers, co-workers, or leads think about your products or campaigns, then you won’t get the value from Scrum because your plan does not revolve around constant review and iteration.
Think your team’s a good fit? Here’s how to get started.
Start Small: Eat The Elephant One Bite At A Time
A key tenant of Scrum is to build something small, and then iterate. Implementing Scrum on your team is no exception.
Instead of reading everything you can about Scrum and agile and incorporating every aspect onto your team, just start small, and add things as you go. All you need to really get started is to:
- Align on one big project: Scrum is all about getting everyone on the team working on individual pieces of a larger pie. Once the team knows the bigger picture plan, it’s easy to divide smaller parts up into one or two week sprints.
- Define your sprint: Decide on the amount of time you will focus on each group of tasks. Sprints are typically one to two weeks long. You’ll then be able to count the number of sprints it will take to finish the entire project. (Yep, you’ll be able to see into the future and impress your boss at the same time!)
- Decide what your lists will be: It’s common to just start with “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” You might incorporate more later, like “In Review,” or “Up Next,” but don’t worry about that for now.
- Set up sprint planning and retrospectives: Make a calendar event every time your sprint ends—every week or two weeks—and review how things went in the sprint. Then plan for what you want to work on in the next one.
- Build a backlog: Your backlog is a list of all the tasks you could be working on. As you start, brainstorm all the things your team could be doing: Doing research, building new features, answering customer questions, etc.
- Pick a Product Owner and Scrum Master: Select one person on your team to be the Product Owner. They’ll be prioritizing your backlog of all possible tasks to determine which ones are the most important for your team’s focus. The Scrum Master is the person who makes sure everyone is following the Scrum protocol.
Set Up Your Lists In Trello
This is where Trello brings the magic to Scrum:
You’ve already defined what your bigger goal is, so now create a Trello board to add all the smaller, broken down tasks!
Create cards that are tasks you want to tackle. Keep in mind it should not take more than a week to complete the task, otherwise it probably needs to be broken down more.
Build your backlog first, then create a list each for “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” (You can call them anything you want. Notice I call my first list “On Deck” for “To Do.”)
Adding an “In Review” list is another helpful holding place if you have a lot of items that need review. Another list that you can include is “Carryover to Next Week” for anything that you aren’t able to complete within the sprint. This shouldn’t happen frequently, and if it does you should look for trends to understand why that’s happening.
Plan Your First Sprint
You’ve got your lists set up and several tasks in your backlog. Now it’s time to plan your first sprint!
Your Product Owner should do some of the planning before everyone meets. This person will go through the backlog and carefully examine each card to determine how much effort is involved, the possible value that could come from it, any deadlines associated with it, and general team priorities.
During the first sprint planning meeting, your Product Owner will decide which tasks are actually placed on the sprint. Of course, there should be some discussion with the team so that everyone is on board with these initiatives. Although the Product Owner makes the decision and has the final say, it’s not a dictatorship and everyone’s feedback should be incorporated.
Once you decide which pieces to add to the sprint, you need to add story points. Story points are a number associated with a task that gives you an indication of how much effort is involved. Some teams don’t use numbers, but instead they use a framework like “T-shirt sizes” (XS, S, M, L, XL). This isn’t meant to measure the exact number of hours of effort involved in a task; it’s just meant to help you understand the amount of effort relative to other tasks.
For example, you might have “Write blog post” as a 5, and “Post on Facebook” as a 1, because one requires far more work than the other (or think Large vs Extra Small in T-shirts).
To determine the story points or T-shirt size, ask your team. This is not something the Product Owner decides, but something the team works through together. Everyone can throw out a number and then discuss it until there’s an agreement about the amount of effort involved. You don’t want one person thinking it’s very little effort and another thinking it will take them the entire week! It’s very important that everyone is in unison here.
Once you’ve got your tasks broken down, you’re ready to start your sprint!
Make Your Sprint More Robust
When you’re just getting started, don’t try to incorporate too much at once. Rather, each week when you plan your sprint, discuss the previous sprint and what could be improved. Try to find one way to improve each week. Pro tip: Don’t incorporate these features just for the sake of trying new things. Look for a feature that will help solve a problem you’re experiencing.
You can use labels in a variety of ways. Use these anytime you want to give more clarity to projects. For example, you could use labels as project categories. If you’re in marketing, you might use “Content” or “Sales Materials.” If you’re in customer support, you might use “Case Study” or “Onboarding,” etc.
You can also use labels to identify more details about a task when it’s within a list. Before adding an “In Review” list to our Marketing Sprint board, we simply used a label of the same name. The label would flag things that were in “Doing” as requiring review before they can move to “Done.” This is helpful if there’s one person, like a manager, who always reviews intiatives.
Checklists are amazing for breaking down tasks even further. In situations where you have a task with several small pieces, a checklist is a great way to keep it organized and make sure none of those tasks fall through the cracks. It’s also really helpful for team members to see where exactly that specific task is and how much more is left on it.
Every team does this a little differently. On some teams, you might not start your sprint until every task has a clear owner. On other teams you might start with no owners, and individuals pick a task and become the owner when they start it. However you decide to go about this, Trello makes it easy. You can assign an owner or even multiple owners to each card, and you can change the owner when you move your card to another stage.
Ideally most of your tasks will need to be completed by the end of your sprint, but in some cases you might have specific deadlines on them before the sprint ends. If that’s the case, you can assign a due date on the Trello card to make it clear when there’s an upcoming deadline. This will also trigger reminders and notifications so you don’t overlook it. If you have several tasks like this, you can use the Calendar Power-Up to view everything in a Calendar view.
View your Trello board in Calendar view to see when each task in the sprint is due to be complete.
If you want to get even more advanced, there are several Power-Ups and Chrome Extensions that will help you get even more out of Scrum and Trello. My favorite Chrome Extension is Trello Card Counter, which counts up the number of cards in each list and the total number of cards on the board.
There are dozens of different Power-Ups in Trello’s directory. Here are a few more of my favorites and how I use them:
Google Drive: Attach files and even entire folders to each project. Attachment previews are embedded on the card, and also show when they were last edited and by whom.
Slack: Keep your team up-to-date when an initiative moves to another stage by piping Trello updates into relevant Slack channels. You can also comment on and move Trello cards right from Slack.
Custom Fields: If there’s something that you want to update for every task and labels don’t quite work, Custom Fields are amazing! They allow for additional card customization for scannable details.
Hello Epics: This lets you establish parent/child relationships with your cards. I find this helpful when I have a huge project that needs to be broken down into several large tasks.
Ready To Try Scrum And Trello?
What are you waiting for? Your team at work can start benefiting from Scrum right now! Copy this example “Marketing Sprint Board” and start discussing Scrum with your team.