Scrum board

The scrum board is a tool to help a team go through a project efficiently and effectively, with flexibility and while having fun.   Often, in projects, people make a huge project spreadsheet with rows of tasks, organized in order, and time, in weeks or days, going across the top. They fill in the week or days for each task, one following the other, so you get this nice cascade of going down your task list over time.  This is called a Gantt chart.  The problem is it never works out as planned.

I learned about the scrum board from my very own in-house project coach, Mark.   There are many ways to use Scrum, but I am going to tell you about our very own awesome approach.

First, you make the Story Board.  This is a list of all the tasks that will need to get done in your project.  Rather than by time, tasks are organized in chunks – the top level has very big themes called “epics”, within epics you have “stories”, and within stories you have the detailed tasks, “sub-stories”.  So I have an epic called “Get site prepared” and within that there are stories like “Be able to amend the soil”, and “Be able to plant trees, shrubs, herbs”. The epic and stories are about things you are going to be able to do, about achievements.   Finally, within the stories are the tasks (sub-stories) like “Dig samples of the soil”, “Send samples to UMass for soil testing”, and “Get the amendments recommended by UMass” all of which end up with me being “able to amend the soil”.   I worked out three epics, which will take me from February through May, one for each month.  Here they are:

  • February epic: Get site prepared
  • March epic: Make the groves
  • April epic: Build stuff
  • May epic: Catch up, build stuff, water

Now, to organize how you will finish those epics you put a scrum board on the wall.  Yes, right on the kitchen wall, or wherever, in a high-traffic area where you will be reminded of it!   Put your Story Board right up on the scrum board.   Make colored stickies for a bunch of the upcoming sub-stories (tasks, remember?) – I made yellow stickies for February and blue ones for March.   Those stickies are going to be moved around so that you always know what you’re working on and what is done.   I made three columns on the wall and on one of the kitchen doors where the broom hangs (which is a handy divider between two columns), and made headings with pieces of cardboard.   Looks pretty good, don’t you think?

Big Foot Scrum Board – beginning of first week.

At the start of each week, you sit down with your team and select a bunch of stickies which are going to go into Column 1: “Active this week” (this week the “team” was just me). The act of physically taking the little pieces of paper and moving them weirdly makes you feel like you have already gotten something done.  The tactile effect of the slight release when you pull the stickie off and then a second tactile effect as you smooth it onto the wall or door in a new spot sends a little release to the brain: you did something, yeah!    When you start to work on a task, you take that sticky note (you did something, yeah!) and put into Column 2: “Ongoing” and go do your task.  Finally, when it is done, you take that sticky note again and paste it into Column 3: “DONE” (now you really did something).   Ideally, on Monday, you start with a bunch of stickies in “Active” and at the end of the week, they are all in “DONE”.   The whole process is so transparent and fun.  And guess what: it worked!  Look at the board below — at the end of the week!

You can also use Story Board to keep track of how much time you thought each task would take and how much time it actually took, and have some space to jot down notes.  At the end of the week, the team sits down, and looks over what got done, and the time, and the notes, and reflect on how it went and if you can do anything better.   As I’m by myself this week my reflection is in the next blog post.

Scrum board end of the week: look at all that DONE stuff!

Project Synthesis Document


After we had agreed that we would work together, Mark said the first thing we should do would be create a Synthesis Document with all the jobs and functions that this project will need to fulfill.   This document will help guide the design – because we will be able to look at the design and check off how all the jobs and functions are going to be met.

You can be flexible about your process and what you put into this document.  We decided that we would give each function or job an importance rating: 1 is “nice to have” to 5 is “can’t to the project without this”.  We would rate each function according to how well we are doing it already: 0 is “not doing this at all” to 5 “wow, we are doing a bang-up job, don’t mess it up!”  We would add little notes to ourselves with details or relations to other stuff, and our meetings would be in ad hoc locations.

We quickly made Big List of Functions with some cool, exciting stuff like: Grow Food; Enjoy the garden; Demonstrate the site to others; Increase biodiversity; Capture carbon; Build a hugelkultur; Sleep outside; Handy garden tool storage.  But because we were trying to capture all the functions of the food forest/ our back yard we also included mundane functions like: Storage for wood, bikes, the emergency generator; Drying laundry.  Mark wanted to be very sure we dedicated Room for Shoveled Snow, having bad memories of the 2015 Snowmageddon with four consecutive blizzards and piles as high as a grown person next to our driveway.

Next, we went through each item on the list and talked about them all over the course of a few walks in the woods and car rides.   We went back and forth between the cool, exciting functions and the more humdrum stuff in order to keep the conversation going.  Notes from the walks were quickly scribbled down at home, and in the end, Babette made up a synthesis document with the most important functions at the top.  It is very useful to have and it was pretty fun to do!

Here is the Synthesis Document: Click here to see it!