How I re-evaluate my story plan with a Sprint Review

Letter tiles spelling “Writing Lab” on a wooden desktop
Letter tiles spelling “Writing Lab” on a wooden desktop
Original work by author

I adopted Scrum as a writing tool to manage the complexity of writing fiction. I needed a way to incorporate emergent ideas without wrecking my momentum. Using a product backlog and working in sprints helps me manage the flow of the work. At the end of a sprint, I use the sprint review to evaluate what I’ve discovered about my story and update my product backlog.

Timing

I use one-week sprints, so I set aside an hour for sprint review. Longer sprints call for more time. As with all Scrum events, limiting the amount of time helps you focus and drive to the desired outcome. In this case, that outcome is a revised product backlog that sets me up for success in the next Sprint.

What do I Review?

With that outcome in mind, I review what I’ve accomplished during the Sprint:

· Read new manuscript pages with my audience’s mindset.

· Review research.

· Read new background information I’ve developed, like character sketches.

· If I have critique group feedback, I look that over, too.

The objective in this activity is not to edit or revise, but to identify how what I wrote affects my plan for the rest of the story. I also want to consider if I need to make changes to earlier pages. For example, in my current novel, I discovered an unexpected conflict between my protagonist and her best friend. When I re-read it, I recognized an opportunity to foreshadow that conflict in an earlier chapter. I added that change to my product backlog for consideration in a future sprint.

Sometimes, an emergent idea is so strong that I want to adjust my product goal. When that happens, sprint review is a good time to look at how that adjustment will change my product backlog. I add, delete, and update product backlog items as needed to re-align with my vision.

Forecast

After adapting my product backlog, I like to look ahead. What might be valuable to do next? Sometimes, product backlog changes lead to new ideas about what I could do in my next sprint.

I like to look even farther out, too — especially as I get farther into a manuscript. While writing chapter one, it’s too early to think about how long the story will take to complete. But when I’m several chapters in, I like to get a sense of when I might finish. Given how much work remains in my product backlog and what I know about the pace of my work, I can forecast things like whether I’m likely to have a complete draft for an upcoming conference.

Outcome

Sprint review is an opportunity to pause, take a deep breath, and evaluate where to go next before putting my head back down to continue working. The outcome of sprint review is an updated product backlog.

Sprint review often generates observations about my writing process in addition to insights about my story. I save those observations. I use them in the very last event in the sprint cycle, called the retrospective. I’ll cover that event in a future post.

Professional Scrum Trainer and fiction writer. Connect with me on Twitter @stfalco or visit samfalco.com

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