Scrum is a framework created to help teams of 3-9 people develop and sustain complex products. Can it be used by a ‘scrum’ of one? And if it can, what skills do you need to make it work?
A Fun Backlog
A few years ago, I was working as an agile coach on a large scrum implementation in London. I noticed that one of my fellow coaches had a list of activities posted on the wall next to her desk. It consisted of names of great restaurants, films and local events. Noticing my interest, she said “That’s my fun backlog”. I’d just been introduced to personal scrum.
What is Personal Scrum?
Personal scrum is not codified. It’s an organic thing based on the definitive scrum guide by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland. Currently, there are two common references to it which might be described as:
- Personal scrum – A variant of scrum used by an individual, on behalf of themselves
- Scrum of One – A variant of scrum used by an individual, on behalf of an organization
Why Personal Scrum?
Life is complicated. Life is busy. We all seek to de-clutter our lives, allowing us to focus on what’s important. As any good scrum practitioner will tell you, scrum is perfect for this.
Personal scrum has evolved from the need for focus. To focus on everything you need and strip away anything you don’t.
How Can Personal Scrum Work?
The scrum framework is designed for 3-9 developers. How can it work for just one person? It’s surprisingly simple, really.
Scrum is based on empiricism. Sounds fancy but, it’s really not. It means “Knowledge comes from experience and making decisions based on what is known.”
Let’s go in to this just a little bit more. Because if we understand empiricism, we understand how we can apply personal scrum.
Empiricism has three main elements:
- Transparency – Be honest and open
- Inspection – Check your progress regularly
- Adaptation – Emphasise the positive, eliminate the negative
That’s it. The great thing is, you can apply these elements to yourself, as well as apply them to a team. Hence, personal scrum is possible.
Comparing Personal Scrum and Scrum
Scrum consists of roles, events, artifacts and the rules that bind them together. Personal scrum can use most of these but does differ in a few areas:
Scrum has a product owner, scrum master and development team. Personal scrum has, well, you!
You’ll need to adopt all of the responsibilities for all of the roles. You’ll need to be especially good as a product owner, really good as a developer and understand the scrum guide well. Interestingly, you won’t need many of a scrum master’s skills.
The biggest change here is likely to be the time-boxes. Here’s what I recommend:
- Sprint duration – One week. Early feedback is important
- Sprint planning – Two hours. Keeping your product backlog in great shape is vital
- Daily scrum – Five minutes. Hardly a scrum, but do give yourself time to inspect and adapt your plan
- Sprint review – One hour. This is your only chance to get external affirmation that your work is on the right track. Vital.
- Sprint retrospective – One hour. Give yourself time to reflect on how you’re doing. Maybe meditate. Whatever helps.
The artifacts remain essentially the same. Maintaining a physical scrum board to measure progress is highly recommended:
- Product backlog – Get this right and the rest is much easier. Devote time to learning how to improve your skills in writing product backlog items
- Sprint backlog – Part of your weekly plan and important part of your ‘inspect and adapt’ cycle
- Product increment – Exactly the same as the scrum guide
Other Scrum Items
There are some other elements of scrum that are worthy of consideration:
- Definition of “Done” – Just as important as it is for full scrum
- Product backlog refinement – Again, just as important as full scrum. Keeping your product backlog in great shape is important
Skills Required for Personal Scrum
You need the skills of a product owner, developer and scrum master. But even more than that, you’ll need self-discipline.
Without a team to keep you honest, it’s easy to get distracted.
- ‘Just 10 more minutes on this code, then I’ll have my daily scrum’
- ‘I don’t need the retrospective this week, I know what I need to improve’
- ‘My stakeholders aren’t available this week. I’ll just carry on with what I’m doing’
- ‘I don’t need to write any more detail on these product backlog items, I know what I want’
In personal scrum, the only thing stopping you from the problems this can cause, is your self-discipline.
Can Personal Scrum Work?
Absolutely! I use it, and a lot of my colleagues do too.
I find it most useful in the running of my own small business. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with the myriad of things going on. So, I use personal scrum to de-clutter and keep me focused.
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