Using Work Techniques to Help Cope

Scrum WallRecently I wrote an article on Non-Traditional Sources of Help, this article talks about a specific example of using a non-traditional source for help.

At the office we use a software development framework called “Scrum”.

I am not going to go into the full definition or explanation of scrum, but will talk a little about what it is and how it is used at a very high level. Part of the scrum framework involves a “scrum wall” which lists the items we are going to develop for a specific project. You track the items as they move through the various stages of development.

Typically you track the items as ‘user stories’ which are brief statements of what needs to be done on note cards. Each item is scored and you ‘burn down’ the score on a daily basis based on what you have learned from the previous day’s work. Each day, during the daily scrum meeting with your team, you discuss what you did the day before, what you plan to do that day and what impediments you have encountered that need to be resolved. As you begin tasks you move the cards through the various stages, we use the following terms at work:

  • Product Backlog – items we need to complete during the release
  • Sprint Backlog – items from the product backlog that we will work on during the sprint. A sprint is a pre-defined time frame in which work will be completed.
  • In Process – items we have begun to work on but have not finished
  • Ready for FQT – items that we have finished our development and testing on and are ready to move to the next stage of the lifecycle.

So, how does this help at home?

This is a technique you can adapt in your home life; especially, if you have a very busy life or feel like you do not accomplish anything. It is also something you can do inexpensively and at multiple levels, making it as detailed or basic as you want. All you need to create a scrum wall is some wall space, note card/sticky pad/paper ripped to smaller pieces, tape and something to write with.

The way I plan to use it, is a very simple version, I am creating two ‘statuses’ for myself, “Backlog/Not Started” and “Started/In Progress”, once I am done, and I will simply throw the card away. I am going to use it for my blog. At times, I stress over what to blog about because I cannot think of anything, at other times I have a ‘great idea’ of what I want to write about but do not have the time to write about it. So what I am going to do is when I have an idea, but no time to write about it, I will complete a card with the topic and put it under “Backlog”, when I run into a case where I cannot figure out what to write about, I will take a card from the backlog and move it to the In Progress area.

In my case, I will not write it as a ‘user story’, rather I will use it more as a way to track my ideas and jog my memory. It will also help me keep track of where I am in the process since sometimes I start something and get side tracked and forget about the topic for months.

You do not need a blog to use this idea; you can use it for anything in your life. For example, use it to plan out your day or your week, or whatever time period you want. At the beginning of the time period, write down all the things you want/need to accomplish and put them in the “Period Backlog”.

Score them with the amount of time you think it will take, if you want. The important thing to remember, the time is just your best guess of how long it will take to complete and that estimate can go up or down based on what you did with it previously. Maybe you think that it will take you two hours to clean your home, but as you get started you realize it will only take an hour or maybe you go into the den and realize that it will take two hours just to find the den, let alone clean it. That is OK, you can revise the estimate.

If you score things, it can help plan your time period. It can help you set realistic goals on what you want to accomplish. Let’s say you have a weekly backlog and you score all the things you want/need to finish that week and you realize that the scores add up to 165 hours and you didn’t put anything up there for sleeping. That would indicate that you are trying to do too much since there are only 168 hours a week, (24 hrs. /day x 7 days/wk. = 168 hrs. /wk.), and you didn’t make time to sleep. What you would do then is go through and prioritize what are the most important things and remove some of less important things to make time for sleep.

If you use scores, burn them down on a regular basis (e.g. daily, hourly, etc.). When you burn a score down what you do is you look back at what you worked on in the previous time period and re-estimate how much time is left on the task. It can go up; it can go down or stay the same.

As you work on the tasks move them from backlog to in progress then to complete when you are done.  This will let you see all the things you have finished and all the things you are working on at any time.

Here are a few important tips if you decide to score things:

  1. Set realistic goals, pick an amount of ‘points’ you can realistically accomplish in the time period.
  2. Do not forget to leave time to sleep, eat, etc.
  3. Do not be afraid to change the estimate up or down. Remember, you are estimating things and your estimates can be wrong. They are just estimates, your best guess.
  4. Do not be afraid to leave the estimate where it is. Just because you worked on it, doesn’t mean it is closer to being done. You may have spent an hour cleaning your home, but you still believe it will take two hours to finish. That is OK!
  5. Do not be afraid to take things off the board as you are going through the time period if you do not think you will be able to finish everything. Sometimes, we think we can accomplish a lot of things at the start of a week, but as the week goes on, something comes up or takes longer than expected. If something new comes up, either put it on the backlog for the future or if it needs to be done during your time period, take an equal number of things off your current plan. You cannot do everything.

Make sure you move your cards through the various stages. It will provide a visual reminder of exactly what you are accomplishing and have accomplished during the time period as well as help you remember what you need to finish. You can also use to see if you are trying to do too much at any time and adjust how you approach things.

Posted: April 2nd, 2013 under Uncategorized.

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