Project Management 101
Created by Ian Wells and Mark Parsons in the summer of 2020.
Introduction to Project Management
Your eyes droop and the speaker’s voice becomes distant as you retreat into your inner sanctuary. Completely oblivious to the information being presented, you think to yourself, “Another useless meeting. Great. This could’ve been an email.” A part of you dies inside. You are the project lead and are in so many meetings that effective leadership, much less contribution from you or your colleagues, becomes nearly impossible. You check your phone and respond to your messages as the meeting conversation further derails. Again.
Has this ever happened to you? Do you want to stop it from ever happening again?
Look no further! Simply by reading this page, you will gain the ability to transcend the drudgery of the useless meeting, improve the efficiency of your team, and ascend to legendary management status.
Here at the HYPER Lab, we deal with a diverse range of projects that each demand unique team sizes and capabilities. As of writing this, there are 7 teams in the lab and over 40 people working on those teams, including consultants. The team sizes range from the Core Team (as of writing, it has 4 members) to H2-Flo (as of writing, it has over 15 members).
Scrum is a way to standardize lab meeting structure to ensure only essential meetings are occurring, these meetings are efficient and purposeful, and there are fewer miscommunications. The format is designed to be flexible enough to accommodate most team sizes and provide enough customization to work for all of our projects.
What Are You Looking For?
If you’re like me, when you hear the word scrum, you think of Rugby. In rugby, a scrum is a way to restart play with the players packed together, fighting each other for possession of the ball. It is often violent and physically taxing. In contrast, the Scrum Framework is a management and meeting system that aims to eliminate the frantic fighting for productivity and recognition (no Kyle, you can’t have a promotion) by improving team project tracking, efficiency, and management. “What is this fantastical and elusive management strategy?” I’m glad you asked. Here’s the basic outline, applied to HYPER:
“Okay cool! Pretty infographic! But how does the system actually work? What are the roles and what are their responsibilities? Does the term “sprint” refer to anaerobic exercise and, if so, how do you expect me to sprint for up to a month?” More great questions. Luckily for you, we’ve got the information you’re looking for. Before diving further into this system, it may be helpful to consult the Scrum Glossary for HYPER. If you’re already well versed in the way we define scrum/agile terms, feel free to skip to the actionable part.
The Backlog is a key part of Lean and Agile Manufacturing. It is a document that contains all of the tasks to be completed by a team. There’s a variety of ways to set up a backlog, and it’s important to use a format that makes sense and will be used by everyone on the team.
At its core, a backlog MUST:
- Contain enough information to track an item from inception to completion.
A backlog SHOULD:
- Use the Story Point system
- Be accessible and easy to navigate (spreadsheets work well and online whiteboards like Miro work even better)
If you want more information, we have provided additional reading materials below.
A Section of the Core Team Backlog from the Summer of 2020. Click the image to enlarge it.
As described in the Scrum Guide, a Sprint is, “a time-box of one month or less during which a “Done”, useable, and potentially releasable product Increment is created. Sprints have consistent durations throughout a development effort. A new Sprint starts immediately after the conclusion of the previous Sprint.” Only have 1 Team per sprint. If a task is larger/longer than one sprint, break it into subtasks.
A Sprint MUST:
- Establish the scope of work to be done in a given amount of time
- Be for one team ONLY
- Be the same length each time
A Sprint SHOULD:
- Allow some flexibility
- Use the Story Point system
The line between task and subtask can often blur, so using a story point system within your backlog can help distinguish the two. The story point system assigns each task and subtask a number of points. The story point system uses the following values, based on the Fibonacci Sequence: 0,1,2,3,5,8,13.
There’s a number of ways to evaluate story points. A combination of two factors works best. Consider:
- The amount of work to do
- The complexity of the work
- Risk or uncertainty in doing the work
- Time / Duration of work
After establishing your backlog, consider how much time it would take to complete a task. This should be based on the story points! Then, for each sprint, decide how many story points worth of tasks you can complete (ex. We will complete 12 story points of content this week). Allow a little extra time in case things go wrong! After a few sprints, look at the minimum output, improve output estimate, and add new items.
Getting started with Scrum is simple.
- The project lead should create a rough outline for the project timeline including end date, dates for key milestones, and any other info deemed useful. This can be done simply with a Gantt Chart.
- Establish sprint team(s). For larger teams, it can help to divide up and do unique sprints for each sub-team. If this option is used, the project lead becomes the Scrum Master for all sub-teams and works with all of them to ensure the project remains cohesive and on schedule (this may require an extra full project meeting, or using the sprint review in this way).
- Within each team, establish you sprint length. This should remain constant for the project duration. The Scrum Master can establish this if present.
- Decide on tools to use in tracking progress with Scrum. Some examples have been provided below.
- Assign times for Scrum meetings. Some of these meetings can be merged, time allowing, and renamed to include more topics. Do what works best for your team while preserving this general structure.
- Sprint Kickoff: a meeting at the beginning of each sprint to establish the scope of the sprint and assign backlog items to team members.
- Daily Standup: daily (uninterrupted) updates from each team member on progress made, progress to be made, and help requested.
- Sprint Review: a meeting at the end of each sprint to evaluate progress made during the sprint, focusing on deliverables. This should also be time to develop the product backlog.
- Sprint Retrospective: a meeting to kaizen (continuously improve) the Scrum process by identifying and planning to implement improvements.
Within the Scrum framework there are a number of tools available. There is a whole field dedicated to this topic, so we have provided some links below if you want to look more into project management.
Before deciding what method(s) to use for tracking and managing your project, it can be helpful to establish what you want out of the tools. What MUST the PM system do to keep the project on track? What SHOULD it do? Once you have this list, you can choose from the abbreviated list below or use this project management guide to choose your own method.
- This should be used no matter the project
- Full plan of tasks and timeline (best to know Sprint Output to establish timeline)
- Less specific, but shows big picture of project, so should be used with a backlog
- Should list all parts and their status (ordered, made, etc.) which can help keep things organized at a granular level
- This will likely be used to supplement another method of project tracking
Kanban Board (similar to Kaizen Board)
- Typically used within the Kanban framework of Agile, but can be adapted and used with Scrum
- Should list backlog items (typically for a sprint)
- Has three sections: To Do, Doing, and Done (although these names can vary)
- If using the Miro Kanban Board, feel free to draw arrows for item dependencies
Scrum Tool Platforms
- Most people are familiar with Excel. It is a spreadsheet based platform that has the ability to process data, but can also be used to organize it.
- Built into MS Teams
- An online whiteboard tool (similar to MS OneNote) that is built around PM systems.
With any luck, we’ve provided you enough information before now in a succinct enough way that you’re well on your way to using Scrum. However, if you want more information, we’ve provided links below to further reading. Be aware: many of the following links reference terms used in the Scrum/Agile frameworks. If you don’t understand a term, consider looking in the glossaries for Scrum and Agile first.
- Backlog Management Techniques: 6 Tips For a Lean Backlog
- 10 Tips for Product Owners on Product Backlog Management
- 7 Ways to Effectively Manage a Product Owner Backlog
- What Are Story Points?
- Why do we use Story Points for Estimating?
- How to Estimate Story Points in Agile?
- Project management tools and techniques the contingency use and their impacts on project success
- The changing paradigms of project management
- 7 Popular Project Management Methodologies And What They’re Best Suited For
- Example: Bill of Materials