In a smaller business there is always plenty to do and many demands on a managers most limited resource; time. Often the owners time is the major bottleneck on the growth of the business (see e.g. Theory of Constraints article). Plenty of other businesses have struggled with prioritising time before you and several techniques that are very similar have evolved. The three best known of these are named Agile, Scrum and the Japanese word Kanban. Various references cite improvements in team productivity ranging from 25% to 300% by using these methods. This article introduces these concepts and a way of using a free software app named Trello to manage the process. A mix of Yellow and Blue Belt introductory material.
While its not possible to know how much more productive you will be, there seems to be ample evidence that improvements can be considerable.
Given that time is in very short supply in a manager's world, this tool for increasing productivity is likely to be a real benefit.
Normally, it is designed for a team of 5-9 people. And there are 3-4 distinct roles normally filled by separate people. So when you are small and starting out, you might not be able to implement a 'pure' version of Agile. But, by wearing more than one hat, you will be able to take advantage of the concepts even if it is only you to start with. That also gives you time to get it very clear in your mind before you need to train others.
It would take a while to describe these techniques and we don't know how deeply you want to dive into them.
So, rather than reinvent the wheel, there are several very good introductory and in depth books that we will refer you to to get started. See below.
Very Basic Introduction
These three approaches are very similar.
Essentially, they all work by;
- listing out all the tasks that need to be done on a project, in a quarter or by a due date. These are added to a column of such tasks head "Backlog"
- Items in Backlog can have e.g. notes, time estimates, goals, purpose and preceding and following tasks added to build up a "Story" about the task. Anybody can add to this information repository. Such items are stockpiled here pending a decision to work on them.
- At a regular interval chosen by the team, the next highest priority items in Backlog are moved into another column to the left of Backlog which is entitled "To Do" or similar. It is recommended the intervals are kept fairly short and 2 weeks is a common setting. The idea is not to have more than (e.g.) 2 weeks of work in the To Do column. This makes the team focus on what is important and keeps the tasks to do fairly simple. If a task will take more than 2 weeks, it needs to be further subdivided until some 2 week sub tasks fall out and get added to To Do. This chosen period is usually called a "Sprint" because if the intense, short time span, focus on the chosen tasks.
- as the work team finish tasks they are working on, they drag ToDo task into the "Doing" column to the right of the To Do column. This column only contains things they are actually working on at the time so it keeps them focused on the comparatively few tasks considered to be most important at the time and thereby reduces the evils of multitasking (see Multitasking article). All these are meant to be completed in the allocated Sprint time period - say 2 weeks
- as tasks are finished, and there is consensus that they are finished, they get dragged into another column to the right of Doing headed 'Done". This contains everything completed on the exercise to date. One can dive in here to back check if necessary.
- generally there are team discussions at the end of each Sprint to see what can be learnt from the recent work experience. The team then goes back to the start and chooses the next round of To Do tasks from the Backlog.
- this continues until the overall exercise in 1. above is completed.
The columns can be done on a white board and the tasks on sticky notes. Or you can use software like Trello (see below) which is very simple.
An excellent introduction is "Scrum: a Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction", Chris Simms and Hillary Louise Johnson. It is short and to the point.
A resource we have not yet read but which are generally good Yellow Belt introductions might be "Scrum for Dummies", Mark Layton and David Morrow 2018
The following book is quick to read and talks about Scum for Marketing whereas most references talk about is use in It where it first got started.
"Scrum Marketing: Applying Agile Methodologies to Marketing", James Wright 2014
The following book was written by one of the early developers of Scrum. It is seen as one of the definitive books on how to do Scum well. As well as the main part of the book, there is a summary of just 5 pages about how to get started at the end.
"Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time", Jeff Sutherland 2014
Wikipedia: (these are fairly dry, Blue Belt introductions)
Trello Software is free tool for managing Agile / Scrum / Kanban tasks.
It should be Yellow Belt for most people.
It is available on desktop and mobile devices.
It is very popular and we recommend it as a starter app.
- a Yellow Belt article on using Trello for project management
- 3 minute Youtube Video
- 7 minute Youtube video
- a public Trello Kanban where you can drive the software yourself (no explanation with it, leave until you understand a little)