scrum for non-engineers

Agile Development Practices: How Anyone Can Boost Productivity With Scrum

Ever heard of Scrum…or even agile development practices for that matter? If you’re a content marketing professional like me, a doctor or a firefighter, a teacher or an accountant, the answer is probably no.

That’s because scrum isn’t a word you’re going to hear at cocktail parties (not fun ones anyway) unless you’re a software engineer or a rugby player. And, while I wouldn’t suggest dropping the scrum-bomb in casual conversation, this is one five-letter word you should not only add to your vocabulary, but also incorporate into your work.

Very simply put, scrum is a series of agile development practices that software engineers use to help them work more efficiently. It’s an approach that allows development teams to become hyperproductive so that they can deliver better software, faster. Last week I had the opportunity to attend a two-day ScrumMaster training course with its creator Jeff Sutherland. While at first I felt like a fish out of water in a classroom full of software engineers (confession: I can barely program my DVR), I quickly realized that you don’t have to count binary code among your turn ons to appreciate the benefits of scrum.

That’s why this week I’m interrupting my kick-ass content series (see my how-to posts on writing case studies, reports, business blogs, and press releases) to share some of the key take-aways that I gleaned from that training. While not scrum per se, these tips borrow heavily from it and can help you and your team work smarter, no matter what line of work you’re in.

If you want to become more productive at work, you need adopt agile development practices and:

Plan and Prioritize

Scrum is all about organization. In addition to creating and prioritizing a list (or backlog) of all of the projects you’re working on (be it this month, this quarter, or even this year), scrum practitioners always invest considerable time into planning for their upcoming week (or sprint). Doing so creates a roadmap for completing work in a given time period, basically greasing the skids to help ensure a productive week.

Divide Projects into Manageable Tasks

It is so easy to get overwhelmed by large, seemingly daunting projects. Scrum’s solution to this problem is to divide those big projects up into a series of more manageable tasks that you deal with one at a time. Taking the time to break down an assignment into its component parts helps you get better organized and gives you a more systematic approach for tackling even the most challenging projects.

Multi-tasking Isn’t Always a Good Thing

Yeah, that’s right. Although we live in a society where being able to do sixty-seven things at once is valued, multitasking can in fact be detrimental to your productivity. The reason? Trying to do too many things at once divides your focus, slowing you down and preventing from doing your best work. Admittedly, you’ve got to multitask at least some of the time to be successful at most jobs, but you’ll find you’re much more efficient if you’re also able to block off part of your day to focus on accomplishing just one thing at a time.

Focus on Getting Things Done

Scrum is all about committing to certain tasks and getting them done. Not half done, not 90 percent done, but what ScrumMasters call done-done. Setting and fully completing a finite set of tasks each week will help you move significantly faster toward successfully executing long-term projects.

Hold Yourself Accountable

Anyone familiar with scrum knows that it involves a lot of talk about the impediments preventing people from getting their work done. While there are often process issues that impede your work, in my experience, the biggest impediment is often the people themselves. Who among us doesn’t procrastinate, suffer from the occasional case of workplace ADD, or otherwise just fail to get things done? Help yourself avoid this pitfall by committing to the tips outlined above and holding yourself accountable to them.

Jeff Sutherland would probably cringe at my very loose interpretation of scrum and agile development processes, but I think I’ve cast them in a way that transcends software engineering so that they’re useful for everyone. You may read this post and think that all of these tips are so common sense that they’re no-brainers. Maybe, but how many of them do you routinely follow? For most of us, the answer is probably not too many. Try using them and see how much more productive you can be.

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