Using a Scrum Board for Writing

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

A reader of my Sprint Planning post wanted more details about how all the Scrum pieces fit together, so I thought I’d oblige with more details.

For this example, I’ll use as an example Goldilocks and the Three Cons, a caper novel set in a fairy tale universe. I am not going to write it, but I would love to read if someone wants to run with it!

Layout

First, let’s look at the layout in general:

A Scrum board laid out with three rows and several columns for Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and tasks
A Scrum board laid out with three rows and several columns for Product Backlog, Sprint Backlog, and tasks

I have space for all three levels of planning: the product backlog, the sprint backlog, and the nitty-gritty details of tasks I need to work on to achieve the Sprint Goal.

By the way, I’m using the app Cardflow+ on my iPad for this activity. Trello is another good choice if you want an online Scrum Board. There are many others. If you don’t need something portable, you might like using physical index cards, painter’s tape, and a blank wall in your writing space.

Product and Sprint Goals

Here’s a closeup of the Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog sections:

A closeup of the Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog areas. The Product Goal reads “Write the first draft of GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE CONS. A 70,000–80,000 word caper novel in a fairytale setting.”
A closeup of the Product Backlog and Sprint Backlog areas. The Product Goal reads “Write the first draft of GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE CONS. A 70,000–80,000 word caper novel in a fairytale setting.”

I keep the goals right at the top of each backlog for ease of reference. There’s no text for the Sprint Goal yet because I haven’t started Sprint Planning. In fact, I don’t even have a Product Backlog yet. Let’s see what that will look like.

The Product Backlog

For the purposes of building out the Product Backlog, I’m imagining that the writer is using the Save the Cat! method of plotting.

The Product Backlog gets laid out in order below the Product Goal. The items near the top are small enough to be selected in Sprint Planning:

A close up of the first three items in the product backlog
A close up of the first three items in the product backlog

Items in the middle tend to be bigger or vaguer:

A closeup of the middle cards in the product backlog
A closeup of the middle cards in the product backlog

Items at the bottom can be enormous:

A closeup of the bottom three cards in the product backlog
A closeup of the bottom three cards in the product backlog

Look at how ginormous that last item is. Who knows what the story will look like by the time I get to Act three? I don’t want to waste time planning that out until I’ve written more of the story.

Sprint planning

After I’ve set a Sprint Goal, I select the product backlog items that I think will get me to that goal. As shown below, I move them into the Sprint Goal column. Later, I’ll update the Product Backlog but for now, I don’t care about the remaining items.

A closeup of the Sprint Goal with three items moved from Product Backlog to Sprint Backlog
A closeup of the Sprint Goal with three items moved from Product Backlog to Sprint Backlog

Tasks

Finally, I look at what tasks I need to do to complete each product backlog. I like to color-code each product backlog item and their associated tasks to make it easy to see what the status of a particular item is at a glance.

A closeup of the first item selected in Sprint Planning with four tasks identified
A closeup of the first item selected in Sprint Planning with four tasks identified

If a backlog item is too small to need multiple tasks, I usually duplicate it as a task and move the task card through the process.

I hope that helps make many moving pieces easier to grasp. Next up, I’ll discuss the penultimate event of the Sprint cycle: Sprint Review.

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

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