Scrum. Kanban. Waterfall.

Agile project management: There’s no escaping agile project management in the workplace these days.

However, you know what I have discovered? Many companies are gung-ho about adopting agile project management methodologies but don’t implement or follow them correctly.

Managing Sprints: No Card Left Behind

Before I get into talking about how to add sprints to a visual workflow, let me share a story…

A new customer reached out to me recently for project management help and support. He owned a small software company and claimed that his team was struggling with keeping up with tasks. I explained that there could be many reasons for this, but I wanted to learn more about their process and what they used for tools to help them manage work.

The good news was that they used a visual workflow tool to help manage sprints. There was some organization to it, but it was clear that we had a mess on our hands.

Some team members used color coding; others were not.

Some team members were diligent about moving cards into their appropriate columns; others were left behind.

Some team members weren’t even using the tool!

All of this hurt my project manager heart.

Needless to say, we got right down to work to help them build an agile project management process that involved managing sprints in their visual workflow—the right way.

And I’m going to show you how to do the same.

The good news is you don’t have to be a certified “Scrum Master” to effectively manage sprints among your team.

In this guide, we’ll provide some tips on what sprints are, and how to add them to your visual workflow so that no cards get left behind.

What Are “Sprints”?

No, we aren’t talking about running sprints on the football field.

We are talking about agile project management. Agile project management involves working according to time and asking yourself and your team:

What can we realistically accomplish in 1 week/2 weeks/1 month/3 months?

“Sprints” are tasks or small projects that need to be completed in a short amount of time. Sprints can be smaller tasks that are a part of a larger technical development project, or individual client requests or bugs.

Many organizations implement a two-week sprint workflow, which allows teams to complete a number of assigned tasks within a two-week period. The goal behind sprints is to create a sense of urgency.

The Science Behind Sprints

However, there is a science behind managing sprints. Before assigning sprints to your team, it’s important to have a good understanding of what is involved with a particular task, if it is within the scope of a larger project, and how long it will take. Being realistic about what your team can achieve in a specified time frame will only ensure that sprints get completed on time.

Furthermore, sprints should be managed according to priority and time. For example, a good formula to follow is to spend 30 percent of the time fixing bugs or issues; 50 percent developing new features; and 20 percent on making improvements.

Steps to Adding Sprints to Your Visual WorkFlow

Now that you understand what sprints are, and that “scrum” isn’t something stuck to the walls of your bathtub, here are some steps on how to add sprints to your visual workflow.

1. Set Goals. Before adding sprints to your visual workflow, start with a little goal-setting. What needs to get accomplished? What are the priorities? How are those priorities aligned with your project or organizational goals? What tasks need to be completed in order to reach those goals?

If it helps, write down your project goals. You can also add a card to your visual workflow that summarizes the project and outlines project goals. Therefore, team members always have project goals in sight.

2. Build Columns. If you already use a visual workflow, then you probably already have columns set up in your system. These can include a range of titles from right to left, such as “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done”—or “On Hold”, “To Do”, “In Progress”, “In Review”, “Done”. The possibilities are endless…

Most “scrum masters” use columns titled “Backlog”, “In Progress”, “Ready for Review”, and “Done” and “Retrospective”. The “retrospective” board includes details and notes on what occurred during the sprint, what worked well, and maybe what didn’t. (More on this later…)

3. Start with a “Backlog”. The first step to building sprints into your visual workflow is to make a list of all the tasks, subtasks, requests bugs, features, developments, improvements and so on that are in the project pipeline. This could also be a mix of both internal and external projects and tasks.

Then, add these items to the “backlog” column in your visual workflow.

Check out the example shown here. As you can see, our backlog contains cards, or “tasks” for our marketing blog. We have organized them according to due date, assigned team members or SMEs, and use a color-coded label system to help us prioritize.

4. Break it Down. No, not Michael Jackson style… But getting “down and dirty”, and breaking down tasks as much as possible will allow you to…

A) see what is involved in each task;
B) allow you to calculate the estimated time to completion (ETC) more accurately;
C) help manage and assign the correct team members to the task; and, finally…
D) identify any task dependencies and determine priorities.

After putting together of list of things that need to get done, review each task, and estimate how much time each task will require. Be sure to also keep the complexity of each task and any associated risks in mind while estimating.

5. Organize and Prioritize. After you review all the tasks and to-dos in your “Backlog” column, and you have broken down each task into smaller subtasks, now it’s time to organize them into two-week sprints. This will require a little prioritization.

For example, maybe one client request is more critical or timely than another. All in all, this requires looking at all the tasks and then organizing each sprint according to priority.

We recommend using a traditional color-coded label system, which is super easy for team members to understand and follow.

Yellow = Low priority
Orange = Medium Priority
Red = High Priority, or Critical

All in all, find the best priority system that works for you and your team and run with it.

6. Assign Tasks to Team Members. Now that you have organized and prioritized all your tasks and sprints, it’s time to assign them to the appropriate team members. In a perfect world, you should make sure that the tasks on the board are assigned to and aligned with specific team members’ skill sets.

For example, if you receive technical support requests, then those should be assigned to a developer. If you receive a design request, then that should be assigned to a designer.

However, we both know that this isn’t always possible. For small or startup companies, many team members wear multiple “hats”, meaning that they might serve as both the developer and designer. While this method might get you by now, proper resource planning and allocation will be in your future as you grow.

The good news is that by using a visual workflow, you can easily see which team members are assigned to which tasks, giving you a quick view of what is on each team member’s plate. This saves time from asking each team member individually, “What are you working on?”

In addition to the project manager or “scrum master”, individual team members can also see what others are working on, which increases transparency.

7. Move Tasks and Begin Your Sprint. Once you are ready to begin your sprint, move each task from the “Backlog” column to the “To Do” or “In Progress” column.

Even though team members have access to everything they need to work on their tasks right in your visual workflow tool, communication is still important. Be sure to communicate with your team, reminding them of priorities clearly, and updating them on what’s going on and when.

8. Stand-Ups. One way to help streamline and maintain open communication is to hold short daily, weekly or biweekly “stand-up” calls that involve your entire team.

We get it… Is there anything worse than sitting on a call or in a meeting, and all you can do is think about all the things on your to-do list that you have to get done?

Stand-ups should be short 10 to 15-minute meetings to quickly review open tasks. It is also an excellent opportunity for team members to talk about what they are working on, their goals for the day or week, and also to discuss issues, find solutions, make decisions, and keep sprints moving.

Stand-ups help keep everyone focused, motivated, and on the same page. They also help managers to recognize when one team member has too much on his or her plate, or when another team member has a lighter workload.

9. Complete Your Sprint. Phew! Your team has completed the sprint. Now you get to move it into the “Done” column and call it a day, right? Not quite…

Each sprint should follow a closeout process. This closeout process should involve reviewing and analyzing what worked and what didn’t. As mentioned briefly above, scrum masters call this “retrospection”. In the world of traditional project management, we call this “post-mortem”. An important part of agile project management is the ability to learn and make improvements before beginning a new sprint.

Do not delete sprint cards after they are finished. It’s important to keep a running record of what was worked on and when, and the outcome. You never know what new sprints might come your way in the future. If you receive a new request or project in the future, and the specs are similar to a sprint you have completed in the past, then you can easily search and find the old sprint, review what worked and what didn’t, and apply that learning to the new sprint.

Using Rindle for Managing Sprints in Your Visual Workflow

All in all, using cards, columns, and boards in a visual workflow is the easiest and most straightforward method of managing sprints. A visual workflow creates a level of transparency among team members, ensuring everyone has a big-picture view of the projects and tasks in the pipeline and is working toward the same goal.

The best part about using a visual workflow is that it can easily evolve, adapt, and improve according to business’ needs.

Rindle is a visual workflow tool that can be implemented and adapted to support the “scrum” project management methodology. So, if your team badly needs a process, then give Rindle a try today.