April 22, 2020

Scrum and Personal Effectiveness

Are scrum and personal effectiveness compatible? In recent weeks I have experienced using Scrum for my personal organization. If you have a lot of topics to deal with, you feel overwhelmed by events, then this article may be useful for you. I am in the seventh week of experimentation.

This article could also be useful for people who are new to Scrum. Indeed, the principles that I explain and that I applied to myself are nothing other than the principles of Scrum.

Remind that Scrum isn’t for a single person, this is a kind of hack of it. Nevertheless, if you understand and apply to yourself some of the principles, you may find it useful when using them in teams.

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One of the factors of anxiety and stress in me derives from the fact that I try to memorize everything. It is obvious that this becomes impossible at some point, I’m helped by the agenda, some notes and the reminders. I wanted to find a more efficient way to make the work visible, so I thought of Trello (there are other tools) and I started to transfer all my notes, reminders and ideas to explore on this tool.

I organized the space with the following columns:

  • Templates: to avoid retyping an entire Product Backlog item each time. It is useful, for example, when I have to create a recurring action, like trainings’ organization, because I have a checklist with 45 items.
  • Product Backlog: the list of all things to do
  • Sprint Backlog: the list of all the things to do in a Sprint (in my case a week), sometimes I add details in the comments of the element
  • On Going: the list of things in progress. I voluntarily limit this column to one element (I wonder if I will remove this column, because basically, the element at the top of the Sprint Backlog is the on-going element)
  • Done: all the things I finished. Done actually, for me, means that I have nothing to do after. What would be your Definition of Done?

I also added three other columns: "To read", "Currently reading", "Read" because I noticed that I was reading three books in parallel and I was having trouble finishing them.  I decided to make this information visible and set myself reading goals.

Trello picture

Color codes are useful for me to understand in which area I spend most of my time, or to balance a Sprint. For example, the red items correspond to administrative tasks: if I notice that half of a Sprint is made up of red, I understand that there is a problem, because it prevents me from creating value and doing what I like: Scrum (you guessed it?).


Initially you will have the Product Backlog column full of items, the other columns will be empty. Now is the time to order the work to be done. You will use the criteria that are most suited to your case, such as: urgency, importance, financial gains, etc. Personally, I have ordered with one objective in mind: every week to create valuable content (the smallest it is) plus other things (administrative tasks, etc.).


You probably guessed it, now it's time to set a Sprint Goal, but before you have to decide the duration of the Sprint (I chose a week), do not exceed four weeks!

Once the duration fixed, you will dig into your Product Backlog, imagining all the work that you will be able to do during the Sprint. Do not spend lot of time in this activity, anyway you will be wrong at the start 😉

I made myself an item template on Trello which will define a Sprint and in which I note my Sprint Goal, the goal for the week. This will allow me to embed in the Sprint Backlog for the most part the elements of the Product Backlog aligned with the Sprint Goal (and logically at the top of the Product Backlog).

Sprint Goal Template
The template I use to create a Sprint. I replace the X with the Sprint number and I add the Sprint Goal


Sprint Goal Example
An example of my first Sprint, with the Sprint Goal defined. In brackets there is the number of elements of the Product Backlog that where “done” at the end of the Sprint.


Now that the Sprint Goal is clear, I will choose in the Product Backlog the things to do (in general I do this on Friday evening, to start on Monday with a list already defined ... but that sometimes I modify).

You have to think carefully about your availability, also think about freeing up some time for your well-being. For example, I plan to add “Sport” elements in a Sprint. Often good ideas are generated when I’m doing some kind of sport, the brain uses this time to order and digest information.

You are ready for your first Sprint, get ready, it will be full of surprises 🙂


Start your working, taking care to respect the few rules that you have set yourself. Mine are no more than one item at a time, “done” means that I have nothing more to do on the element, no concessions on the quality of the result.

At the moment I am experimenting with the timeboxing of certain time-consuming activities, such as reading and replying to emails. When I start to look at my emails, I start a 30 minutes timer, when time’s up I stop taking care of emails and I consider the task as finished. I have three elements in the Sprint Backlog: morning email check, afternoon email check, evening email check. The timer is useful when you have a billion messages and you risk spending the morning there (which was my case).

Every morning, read your Sprint Goal ... are you still focused on that goal, had you forgotten it? Is it still relevant?

A word of advice: do not change your Sprint Goal once you have started sprinting. If something important falls out, write it down in the Product Backlog. If it is very important, put it at the top of the Product Backlog, you will process it the next Sprint. Don't get distracted by the news.


That's it, we are at the end of the Sprint (of the week for me). Now it is very important to take the time to analyze the work done, the work that remains in the "On Going" column and, especially if your Sprint Goal has been achieved or not! In the first case, it's a bottle of champagne, in the second a beer… and yes, you have to know how to reward yourself to match your results 🙂. I bet it will motivate you to reach your Sprint Goal… of course, if you don't like, or you can't drink alcohol, think about the reward you want to give yourself at the end of the Sprint.

It is not finished. Now you have to know how to do perform better at the next Sprint. Take an hour, at least, to think about all the things that went well and the improvements you want to put in place for the next Sprint.

Find an improvement action that you will implement concretely at the next Sprint. In the improvement action, define the results expected during the Sprint and check them at the end.

Now the elements that remained in the “On going” and “Sprint Backlog” column must be put back into the Product Backlog.

Summarize the elements found in the "Done" column for the Sprint you have just completed. This will be useful for later.

It's Friday evening, my Sprint has just ended, this was the last item to do. Once the article is published, I will put the corresponding item in "Done" and I will see if I can open or not a bottle of Champagne 😉

In two weeks, I am publishing a new article on this subject: how to improve personal predictability with a Burndown chart.

Have a nice weekend!