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What Does Your Project or Program Play Card Look Like?

06/14/2013 by Eric King

On just about any given Saturday or Sunday in the United States, you'll find friends and families enjoying time watching football (or American football, as my European friends call it). Regardless of whether it's the college or pro game, the television camera always zeroes in on the head coach, who is constantly pacing the sidelines. But wait . . . half of the time we don't ever see the coach's face, because he's usually holding something in front of it. What is that laminated and color-coded thing that he's holding? Simple: It's the team's play card for the game. This play card has everything that the coach will need in order to execute plays for the team during the course of the game. What's more, other coaches and players all either have the exact same play card, or it's within easy reach during the game. Without a doubt, creating a play card for your team, department, and even organization can help move your Scrum framework to an entirely new level.

Twelve years ago I participated in a consulting class that used this phrase: "Nothing ever happened at homeostasis." The term resonated with me then as a way of learning how to consult with clients and help them determine what changes were needed. The same phrase means even more to me today as I practice the Scrum framework and embrace the mind-set that continual evolution will lead to positive results.

Not more than a year ago, I stood in front of a group of people who were working on a relatively large program, and I asked them for their collective guidance. Being the individuals that they are, they readily said, "Yes." My guidance request came in the form of three questions, which were the following:

  1. How much revenue has this program generated?
  2. Are there any "net new" customers?
  3. Why did the "net new customers" purchase our product/application?

The reason that I asked these questions was not to prove or highlight how much the audience knew or didn't know. I didn't know all of the answers myself. The reason that I asked them was to determine how willing they might be to continually evolve within our Scrum framework. In essence, I had a desire to break the "homeostasis" mind-set that I had fallen into and that I suspected others had fallen into as well. I wanted to evolve and, quite frankly, I wanted to see who might be interested in evolving with me.

The fascinating aspect of this guidance request was the visual expressions on the faces of the team members themselves. I was fortunate enough to be in front of everyone and could easily tell who expressed interest and who did not. For those who did express interest, I could tell that this could lead our team somewhere better. I was also willing to accept those who did not express interest, as I remembered the "if you build it they will come" phrase from a great movie of not that many years ago. I must thank the team that I'm a part of, because the idea of a play card was a direct result of their collective and individual input.

Like the football example above, the primary intent of the play card is to provide meaningful information to the entire team during the course of your project and/or program. I would go so far as to say that this should be your "walking-around sheet" that gets carried everywhere that you go during the course of your normal business day. You'll see a sample play card as part of this article, but in no way should it be considered the best play card or even the ideal play card for your team. With good fortune, it will give you some ideas and may lead you to create your own.

Below are some of the guidelines that I'd suggest for your own play card:

  • It should be printed on one piece of paper. You determine the paper size, but don't go crazy here. It can even be printed on both sides, but I'd recommend starting with one side first.
  • Laminate it. I know this is an expense, but I truly believe that it's worth it.
  • Make it colorful and allow both immediate and ancillary team members to determine its content.
  • Make it available to everyone who wants to win the game.
  • Be willing to update and/or change it as needed.
  • Do not standardize this for all programs and projects. Your executive and/or leadership teams may try to push this thought, but I'd recommend that you scrap the play card idea entirely before you do this.

Throughout the years I've found that many people are starving for more information in terms of the projects and/or programs that they work on. Regardless of their title or tenure within the organization, people want to feel a sense of purpose as well as an understanding of how their work affects the greater good. The play card is designed to help provide key pieces of information that can help minimize the information gap that exists on many teams today.

So what should be on your play card? The team members that I worked with had these suggestions for key pieces of information that were meaningful to them:

  1. Customer base: What does the current base look like? How many total customers have purchased and/or used our product line? How many are still active? If some have left, where did they go and why did they leave? What, if anything, could have been done differently to prevent them from leaving the company?
  2. Financials: Is your product line a revenue generator for the company? If yes, what is the current revenue associated with the product line? This could be either booked revenue, recognized revenue, or both. What are the expenses associated with the product line, and are you profitable? This information is basic and should be easy to obtain for anyone interested in the play card. You may be surprised at the number of people who care about this and how the information may be the difference between their staying with the project or program, or even with the company for that matter.
  3. Sales information: What are the top sales prospects and how much are they worth? Almost everyone that I've ever worked with wants to be part of a winning team. Winning deals and getting new customers goes a long way toward helping people feel that what they do each and every day makes a true difference in the overall outcome.
  4. Top features and value-based features: What are the top features or pieces of functionality that our customers value? If known, what percentage of your current development cycle(s) are you spending on these pieces of functionality? If your group tracks and/or categorizes values-based features, this information will constantly be in everyone's mind. Don't be surprised if providing this information doesn't stimulate some rather insightful and meaningful dialogue up and down your chain of command.
  5. Who's who: A very nice section at both the project or program level. New people join teams and current team members will move around from time to time. This is a great way to make a few highlights on an ongoing basis that will be seen as a positive change to keep everyone informed.
  6. The competition: One team member told me, "If you don't know who our competition is, then you don't have a pulse." That's pretty direct and to the point. After all, who doesn't like to know what the competition is doing better, worse, or differently than what you're doing? Nobody will ever convince me that sharing competitive landscape information isn't a good thing. Are you winning or losing deals based on what you have to offer versus what your competitors have? You'll never know if this isn't a big part of your play card.
  7. Velocity: Given that your team(s) are not constantly changing resources, this may be the number-one figure that everyone should know. All immediate team members should know this value, and many ancillary team members should know this information as well.

The Scrum framework is all about taking your organization to new heights and new levels. Creating something as simple as a play card is a great way of providing meaningful information throughout your organization. There is nothing about the play card that is difficult to obtain. So go ahead and make your own — break out of any homeostasis ruts that you've found yourself, your team, your department, or your company in. Like the coach on the football game, give yourself every conceivable chance to win the game.

Sample Play Card