Focusing on the Few Things that Matter

I’ve been practicing scrum for several months now but recently had the good fortune of learning from Jeff Sutherland over a two-day Scrum course. In short, Scrum is an agile framework originally created with software developers in mind that organizes projects in small, iterative cycles and allows teams to measure their performance. If you’re interested in learning more, we’ve got some in-depth Scrum coverage on the OpenView Labs site.

It didn’t take Jeff’s course to sell me on the the Scrum ideology — I’ve been a believer since day one. What this course did do was help articulate the history and benefits of the agile framework I’ve been practicing. As I mentioned, Scrum has been covered heavily on our sites, but since Jeff’s class, I’ve been thinking of a few of my favorite underlying benefits of Scrum that haven’t been touched on as much. These are aspects that aren’t always stressed but have really proven to improve the way I work.

Two Things I Love About Scrum

1) It’s not only for developers

Although its roots are based in software development, Scrum can be used for any project-based team. Construction teams and investment bankers alike can increase productivity through implementation of Scrum. Even though Jeff and his team have underscored this point for years, there is a sheer absence of Scrum in some of the industries that could use it the most. Just think, it could maybe even prevent junior bankers from working 100+ hour weeks. Learn more about the business case for Scrum for non-technical teams in our guide Scrum One, Scrum All: Why Agile Isn’t Just for Technical Teams.

2) Scrum promotes healthy competition — both within yourself and between team members

To really capture this you have to complement your online agile management tool with color-coded sticky notes. After you plan your sprint and allocate stories to individual team members, write down each story on sticky notes color-coded by team member and place them all in a “To-Do” column.

Throughout the sprint, team members will move their respective sticky notes through to the “Doing” then “Done” columns. The goal here is to motivate each team member to have the largest visual presence of sticky notes in the “Done” column, which can only be achieved by completing project tasks! Make the colors vibrant so the most productive team member really stands out.

The essence of planning a sprint and setting priorities during Scrum reminds me of the four-quadrant matrix of importance and urgency laid out in First Things First.


I’ve tried to keep this framework top of mind even outside of work. It’s best to prioritize, in this order, quadrants 1, 2, then 3, and try to avoid spending any time in quadrant 4. I can’t personally say that it always works out like that, but Scrum has helped reinforce this prioritization of focusing on the few things that matter.

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