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Power of the Post-it

01/25/2010 by Aaron Conoly

When it comes to Scrum, I'm a newb. I got my CSM certification last year and have been slowly learning how best to introduce Scrum to my organization. Recently, I started using Post-its to enhance how we use Scrum.

Just to be clear, I am not the official spokesperson for 3M products (although that doesn't sound like a bad gig; in fact, 3M, if you're reading this, call me!), and I haven't received any kickbacks for endorsing the Post-it (again, 3M, call me!).

Anyway, I'm something of a hero around the office, because I solved two problems with a simple, yet extraordinary item, the Post-it. A year ago, we were up to our necks in missed deadlines, broken promises (and, at times, dreams), and shoddy workmanship. So, we decided to seek out a new way of getting things done. It so happens that we came across Scrum, which, incidentally, focuses heavily on getting things DONE. And, even though we aren't a software company, we were drawn to Scrum because it provided a fresh, effective way of producing acceptable product. After doing more research, we decided to send one of us to a CSM course. The next month, I spent two days learning about Scrum, and at times, nodding my head and pretending to understand conversations about "Java software architecture," and "version control systems." Later, I took the exam and got certified. I returned to the office triumphant, a veritable Jedi Master of all things Scrum.

Then my boss asked me a terrifying question. "Well," she said, "what now?" After stumbling and bumbling over how exactly to say let me get back to you on that one, I retreated to my desk, defeated. Suddenly I wasn't a Jedi Master, heck, I could barely pass as a Scrum Ewok. I had to find a way to confidently describe Scrum and how our company could use it to get better results.

I stressed until I remembered a great part of my CSM class. The instructor asked us to write down any questions, preconceived notions, or concerns on a Post-it and attach them to the wall. Later, if any of the questions or concerns hadn't been addressed, the instructor would read the Post-it and provide clarity. So I decided to use this approach. I called a meeting with my boss, the VP of my department and my colleagues to discuss Scrum.

"Ok," I said, "before we start, write down any questions or concerns you have about Scrum on a Post-it and stick them on this whiteboard." The room grew eerily quiet. After what seemed like an eternity, my boss finally stood up and put a single Post-it on the whiteboard. It said, "What is Scrum?"

This was my first experience with Post-its, and I was already willing to scrap them and Scrum all together. But, I don't give up easily, and I realized that they couldn't have had any concerns or questions, because none of them knew anything about Scrum. It was my job to lead them.

After explaining Scrum, and answering a few questions, the meeting ended. My boss approached me and said, "This sounds great. How do we make sure everyone's following the process?" We determined that I would be my department's ScrumMaster, and that part of my job would involve providing a visual that would help keep everyone on track.

So, I decided to give the Post-it another try. I wanted to provide a compelling, easy way for our team to keep up with our product backlog and track progress. So, after researching various approaches, I decided to get a large dry erase board. I listed all of our projects on the board, and created two columns, Current Sprint and Backlog. That way, every Sprint, our Team could add Post-its for things they were working on, and the PO could add Post-its to the backlog as new items were added.

The Post-it board immediately became a hit. You could say it was our second water cooler. I always find team members discussing new backlog items, or proudly announcing they've completed an item. Better yet, the team has a greater sense of accomplishment, as completed items get sent to a special place, the Wall of Fame, where a mountain of Post-its are proudly displayed (this was initially a molehill).

The Post-it has expanded its influence. Soon after starting our Daily Scrum, we decided to clearly identify the chickens and pigs, by providing "Cluck, I'm a Chicken," and "Oink, I'm a Pig" name tags. All visitors are required to wear a chicken name tag, which usually leads to a discussion about Scrum. Thanks to the name tags, more departments are learning about Scrum and asking more questions about the process.

We also use Post-its to encourage proper lines of communication. Unfortunately, and don't think I haven't tried at least twice, I don't have my own clone to run around and ensure our team is focused like a guided missile on their Sprints. So, everyone's cubes/office door has the "Have a request? Go talk to our ScrumMaster!" Post-it. This again has led to further discussions about Scrum, and we've ensured that all requests are getting properly funneled to the product owner.

So you could say that Scrum has changed the way we do business for the better, but it couldn't have happened without the Post-it (3M, I just sent an e-mail to your PR department. Call me!). These days, the Post-it continues to not only facilitate current processes; it is helping build a foundation for future projects. We just created a Strategy Board, a whiteboard that is separated into two sections, "Where We Want to Be," and "How Do We Get There?" Post-its already cover it.

For those of you thinking If you love Post-its so much, why don't you..., well, I just might do that.

And for those of you who have used the power of the Post-it in your Scrum processes, tell me about it. We're always looking for fun, new ways to better use Scrum.