SCRUMBOOK – bringing an idea to life – part 1
The origin story
If you read books focusing on business and self-improvement you are probably aware of “must read / modern classics” like “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel, “Lean Startup” by Eric Ries, “E-Myth” by Michael E. Gerber, or “Essentialism” by Greg MeKeown.
Those books hold a lot of wisdom inside, and I wanted to see how much of that wisdom I could apply to my next venture.
As Project Manager it is my responsibility to manage the project well to ensure its success, but as a Leader at an organization it is my duty to support my team and create an environment in which people can thrive. The question is how can I do that?
The last few projects I was working on were delivered using Agile Framework, specifically SCRUM. In Agile Framework there is no specific role of a Project Manager, the closest thing to it is a Scrummaster. Assuming that role meant I was facilitating Sprint Planning sessions, Daily SCRUM meetings, Sprint Review and Retrospectives. As I am an avid Toastmaster, facilitating productive meetings is rather easy for me, plus I am always well prepared for them. However, that is not always the case with my team members. Sometimes they are so focused on work that they come to the meetings late and unprepared. I wanted to find an easy way to address that.
Over the years, I’ve also noticed that people who take notes in their notepads are often far more prepared for meetings and they are much more diligent. I typically took notes on my laptop, but I find that this often leads to other people doing the same, which drives disengagement at the meeting as people check their email or do other things “while” participating in the meeting.
During any given sprint there are quite a lot of meetings, starting with Daily SCRUM, at which you are supposed to give the rest of the team a quick rundown of what you were working on yesterday, what are you planning to work on today and if you have any blockers or urgent requests. Seems easy, however, it only works when people come prepared.
Nowadays most people rely on tools like JIRA to help them with that. JIRA is my favorite tool of all time. It is amazing and helps organizations capture project scope and manage its delivery. But only if it is implemented properly, which is not easy as the set up is rather complicated. As Project or Product Manager you need to be very well acquainted with JIRA Administration panel or you will simply struggle with making JIRA work well for you.
During daily SCRUM meeting we would stand next to a TV with the JIRA dashboard presenting current state of the sprint. This would only work when people are updating JIRA issues diligently and if the board itself represents the delivery process well. Otherwise it simply does not work at all. What ends up happening is that the team will try to update issues on the fly, which will then lead to a more detailed discussion on specific topics and then the meeting takes 35 min. instead of the intended 15. The essence of a quick update is lost, sometimes relying too much on technology here can be counter-productive.
The solution in my opinion is rather simple. It is back to basics. A paper notebook that will ask three daily Scrum questions, before the meeting starts. You would use this notebook to prepare for the daily standup. While preparing, you would review your JIRA (or other tools) and update them as needed, you would take note of things that need attention and should be brought to the team’s attention. The simple act of taking a quick note on paper of the current state of things drives better collaboration and knowledge sharing. You can use any notebook you like to do that. However an idea came to my mind to make a specific notebook for the purpose of helping people be prepared and stay organized during a sprint.
And this is where the knowledge from the business development books comes into play. I decided to productize this notebook and see if I can bring this idea to the market.
Formulating a business idea
I’ve discussed this idea with a few of my team members and the first question I am asked is “Why don’t you build an app?”. First of all, there are many apps for that purpose already. I don’t think they work all that well for two non-technical reasons:
People fiddle with apps too much during Daily Scrum / stand up meeting. The screen goes off, the app closes, then you need to open it again and log in, and in the meantime notifications are pouring in, which all leads to a disengaged crowd not really collaborating and exchanging updates,
People try to “automate” or re-use updates from the past, which leads to less details, less important things brought to the team attention and again less collaboration. Those standups feel like it is a bunch of bots talking to each other using some form of a push notification service
Maybe I am exaggerating a bit, but this is how I feel about using apps during the stand up. In my experience I was successful with digital standup only twice. First because one of my team members had hearing impairment and there was no other way. Second, the team consisted of very diligent developer who cared a lot about team updates. I think some fully remote teams might make it work, but it will require a lot of discipline to make it happen.
A paper notebook is still a super fast and easy way of staying organized, so no apps for me.
Researching the market
The next thing to do wasn’t that obvious to me. Should I start with market research, should I create a business plan, should I just start working on the product? I didn’t know but at the same time I didn’t want to overthink this. I went to work.
First, I did a very brief market research. I wanted to know how big the market is for potential users of a notebook like this, and with my preliminary review using LinkedIn, I think there is a couple of million people in North America alone who could benefit from it. I quickly found out that it is hard to narrow down a target customer as SCRUM became very popular and there are so many people using it. Luckily, most of them are in one sector – software. Next, I went to local Chapters store to see if there are any notebooks like mine on the market already. To my surprise there are many productivity notebooks, some of which look really interesting, but none of them are directed towards SCRUM. I befriended a store associate to find out how well they were selling. The numbers were encouraging, plus I got to know the price point that customers are willing to pay for a specialized notebook. I could go further in my market research, but I don’t believe that at this stage it would bring me much more value. A simple validation that there is still a market for a paper notebook that helps people stay organized is enough for me. Plus, after finding out about Bullet Journal story I didn’t need any more convincing.
One thing I’ve learned from books about SCRUM is that you need to deliver some value in the first sprint to set the stage for future sprints. I didn’t know how to print a professional notebook so I did the next best thing, which is a “rapid” prototype printed on my own laser printer. I created a MS Word document with the outline I wanted to test and I just printed it. To start I printed one sprint worth of pages, I wrapped it in a colorful thick paper and I gave out a few copies to my team members and to my Mastermind Group. (Learn about it here).
The feedback I got was mixed. Some people liked it, specifically pre-printed sections as that helped them stay focused on the intended process for the Sprint and helped them remember to prepare for daily SCRUM, Sprint Review meeting and Sprint Retrospective. Some people told me that is would be very useful for people who want to learn about SCRUM as essentially a pre-printed format can be used almost like a workbook when someone is learning how to apply SCRUM in their team. That was interesting as I originally didn’t consider a learning angle at all.
Some other people were not used to taking notes for daily Scrum so they were not convinced. Others didn’t like the limit of space for notes as each page was dedicated to a single day in sprint.
A few more pointed out that this notebook can be used for self improvement as well. Even if you are not part of any team, you can use it to stay organized and almost force yourself to do a self evaluation at the end of every two weeks to see what can you do better.
With rather encouraging results I decided to take this to the next level which was printing an actual notebook for people to use for more than one sprint. In the next part, I will describe how I brought this notebook to life.