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2008-03-17 12:36:00

Battling Rugby Players, Canadian Computer Programmers & Your Business

In rugby, the “scrum” is the formation in which all of the players lock shoulders as a team and fight their hearts out against the other team for possession of the ball.

The rugby scrum can result in a lot of pain.  Sixteen athletes forcibly battling one another in a pile cannot but have some injurious side effects – in fact, some prominent doctors and surgeons have called for a ban on the scrum.  The software development process that gets its name from rugby, though, not only presents little potential for injury, it can actually eliminate a lot of pain from your day-to-day business.

What in the world could a rugby scrum possibly have to do with software development, a realm in which the most typical injuries are Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Vitamin D deficiency?  And more importantly, what in the world does either one have to do with the business of a real estate professional?

At Point2 Technologies, the development work we do on the Point2 National Listing Service, in fact, all of our development, is accomplished via a development method referred to as Scrum Development.  I’ll spare you the granular details of software development processes (you’re welcome), but the very-broad-stroke overview is this: at the beginning of a development cycle (called a “sprint”), project managers get together and do "battle" to determine which projects should be worked on immediately, based on the business and financial priorities established by management.

This seems obvious.  Short-term planning is very important to any business.  But all-too-often this is a step that gets cast aside in the wake of the seemingly endless tasks that pile up on our physical and virtual desktops. 

We return phone calls because they need to be returned.  We mail postcards because that’s what we always do on Tuesday.  We put the same old pre-sale ad in the paper because that’s what we have time for.  What’s missing, however, is a frequent and careful consideration of tasks, which allows you to determine how best to use your time, how to be most effective, and how to stave off No End In Sight Syndrome.

No End In Sight Syndrome (I believe it’s referred to as NEISS in the medical journals) is not a function of having too much to do – everybody is busy – rather, it is a function of continuously putting nuts on bolts without ever taking a step back to look at which bolts are the most important – and what you’re actually trying to build.  This is one of the most important shortcomings that is addressed by Scrum.
Once the software development scrum has taken place, each project or task is assessed and given a size estimate.  The group of projects that can likely be completed in one Sprint (approximately four weeks) is bundled, and completing all of these projects becomes the goal of the entire development team.  The team is involved in this planning process, after which they dash off and start working to complete the goals of the Sprint.  Once the Sprint has been completed, the entire team gets together once again to assess successes and failures of the whole cycle, to suggest improvements, and then begins to plan the next Sprint.

There are two useful concepts at work here.

The first has to do with realistic expectations.  Burnout, disorganization, chaos – these are not a result of having too much work to do; rather, they are a result of not having managed, reasonable goals in place.  “I’m going to increase revenue this month” is not a managed goal.  “I’m going to sell ten properties by Friday” is not a reasonable goal. 

Note: if selling ten properties by Friday is in fact a reasonable goal for you, please stop taking my advice and start sending me lavish gifts.

Managed, reasonable expectations are the mantra of household organization specialists and business organization specialists alike, because many of the same principles apply.  For example, “I’m going to make the whole house spotless” is not a managed goal (and in my case, not even remotely a reasonable one).  The task of cleaning the entire house is likely so large that when faced with it, you wind up accomplishing nothing at all, whereas if you are able to break up that large task and prioritize, staying reasonable in your expectations, you dramatically increase your chances of success, rather than setting yourself up for failure.

Scenario One: Your goal is to clean the entire house.  It is an overwhelming task, and as such you make little progress, only managing to clean a couple of rooms. Thus, you fail. 

Scenario Two: Your goal is to clean only the front entry of your house.  It is a simple task, so you are able to accomplish it quickly and effectively, and are spurred by that small success to clean the living room and kitchen as well.  Thus, you succeed.

Each scenario presupposes the identical long-term goal: to have a clean and tidy home.  The difference is that in the second scenario, short-term goals are defined and outlined in a managed, reasonable fashion.  It’s a simple concept, and while few among us would disagree that it has great merit, I have a hunch that fewer of us still actually incorporate solid short-term planning into the operations of our businesses.

The second important takeaway from Scrum is its flexibility, something that’s been particularly important at Point2, where new development tends to move quickly (to say the least).  In programming, this is typically referred to as Agile Development.  The constant re-assessment, both of goals and of the process itself, ensures that the process remains effective, and its participants remain productive and successful.  It also means that nothing is set in stone – there is agility built into the process so that changes in focus, in market conditions, or in current realities of any sort can very quickly and effectively be adjusted to.

Scrum is about agility, it’s about effectiveness, and it’s about organization, but the essence of the Scrum development process and of this sort of procedure in general is the principle of setting oneself up for success. 

Take the time at the start of each week to have your own little “scrum” and work on short-term goals.  I think that you’ll find the rest of your week – and year – flowing more smoothly, and becoming more successful  . . .  broken bones notwithstanding.

(Carey Tufts is Director of Marketing at Point2 Technologies, Inc.  Based out of Canada,  Point2 develops marketing software for the heavy equipment and real estate industries, including the Point2 National Listing Service, the standard in web marketing for real estate.)

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