Written by Sarah Kellison on May 18th, 2011

Agility: Agile Project Management at Laserfiche

A Q&A with Melissa Henley, Manager of Marketing Communications at Laserfiche

For day three of our week of agility, I wanted to give you a behind-the-scenes look at one ways Laserfiche uses agile project management internally.  So, I interviewed Melissa Henley, Manager of Marketing Communications, to explain more about Scrum, one of the many agile methodologies that are out there.

Q: When did Marketing start using Scrum and why does it continue to use it?
A: It was in May 2006, not too long before I arrived in the Laserfiche Marketing Department.  We’ve continued to use agile project management over the last five years because it works!  It’s adaptable, and flexible, so even through personnel changes and projects that have come and gone, the approach still works for us.  It allows me the control to make sure things are getting done, but it allows the flexibility for the department (largely made up of creative types) to manage their own workload and build their own days.

Q: Can you briefly explain how Scrum works in the Marketing department? What does it consist of?
A: We use a specific methodology called Scrum.  Wikipedia does a good job of explaining the vocabulary but basically, every two weeks, we sit down and look at the project backlog to decide which projects need to be done in the upcoming two week sprint, and how long they will take. It’s important to note that not every project is completed in two weeks; for instance, a brochure may take three months, six months or even a year or more, depending on design, writing and brainstorming. But with Scrum, we break it up into “bite size” chunks that can be accomplished in two weeks.

In the day-to-day, each member of the team is able to arrange their own schedule based on the items listed in the sprint.   In the daily scrum meeting, the team comes together for a quick status update and shares what he or she worked on yesterday, what s/he plans to accomplish today and if they have hit any roadblocks along the way.  As the “Scrum Master,” I am responsible for removing those roadblocks. I have found that since I control what projects get approved, that leverage works quite well! Or, in any case, it’s a lot more effective than yelling. (Sometimes.)

At the end of the sprint, we then meet to talk about what’s been accomplished and what still needs to be accomplished and plan the next two-week sprint. We also do an incremental review of larger projects so we don’t get too off track. It’s a little different than how agile is used on the software development side of things, but it works for us.

Q: What challenges does agile project management help you overcome in the Marketing Department?
A: Agile project management allows the department to handle many, many projects that are all in different stages at one time.  It’s especially helpful for projects that require multiple kinds of resources, like a writer, a designer, and a Web designer.  It also helps me ensure that no one person is overloaded with projects, and that the team is steadily making progress on longer-term projects.

Q: What’s your least favorite thing about Scrum?
A: The addition….no seriously.  You’ve got to be good at arithmetic.  And most people can handle that, as can I, but I went into writing for a reason.  Sprint planning involves assigning hours to each aspect of the larger project and subtracting them each day (or adding them back in as things change). I’m serious. Sometimes I think I need a developer – or at least someone who can do basic arithmetic – to help me run scrum meetings. There’s nothing worse than having a room of ten people staring at you when you can’t remember what 16 minus 9 is.

Q: What tips would you give somebody who’s just starting?

  1. Don’t forget to list projects that come up between sprints on the backlog as you go along; this will help you prioritize projects before each new sprint.
  2. Be sure to include carried-over projects on your sprints so that nothing falls through the cracks as time goes on.
  3. Each day you will have notes from the scrum meeting, and these notes should be made available to the team.  I find that our internal Wiki works well for the project backlog, the sprint notes and the scrum notes, but you can use whatever works best for you (Word Doc, etc).
  4. Become a Certified ScrumMaster through the ScrumAlliance. You can learn more here: http://www.scrumalliance.org/courses/20111051-certified-scrummaster. (I’m working toward becoming a Certified Scrum Professional; you can learn more here: http://www.scrumalliance.org/pages/certified_scrum_professional.)

Here are some resources I’ve found helpful:

About the author: Sarah Kellison

Sarah is a Communications Specialist at Laserfiche.

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