Poor Man’s Agile: Scrum in 5 Simple Steps

with 40 comments

Egads! I was recently given a 478 page hard-cover textbook by a major educational publisher on Scrum. You gotta be kidding me. There is so much talk and writing about Agile and Scrum and, frankly, in my opinion, 99% of it is confusing and makes things worse for the people who read it.

Don’t read that stuff. Read this. Keep it simple. Here’s how Scrum works:

Step 1
Decide on amount of time that you’re going to work. This is your work cycle, and at the end of this amount of time you’re going to start a new work cycle.

It does not matter how long this amount of time is, though people with experience will tell you either one or two weeks is the amount of time that seems to be the most effective.

Step 2
On the first day of the period of time, have a meeting where you decide on the work that you’re going to try to get done in that amount of time. Write down a list of the work things that you decided in that meeting on trying to get done.

Essentially, making the list of things to get done involves understanding three things: a) how much stuff the team thinks it can get done, b) which things provide the most business value, and therefore need to be done first, and c) how much each of those business value things will take to get done.

People use many techniques for figuring these things out and deciding what they’re going to try to get gone. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. Whatever method you feel like using to arrive at a list of stuff you’re going to try to get done is fine.

Using a technique called called “points” is very popular. I use points with my team. If you know how to use points, then they work very well. If you don’t know how to use points, just use your gut or smoke signals or whatever works for you.

Lots of people get hung up on points. Scrum is not points. Points is not scrum. Points are just a popular technique for making the list of stuff that you’re gonna try to get done in the amount of time.

Step 3
Start working on the stuff on the list. Have fun!

Step 4
Meet every day with your team to see how things are going. Cross things off the list when they are done.

Talk about if you think you’re gonna be able to get all the stuff done or not. Talk about if there are things slowing you down or preventing you from getting stuff done.

A lot of people think they have to get together every day and answer three questions: what got done yesterday, what’s gonna get done today, and any blocking issues? That’s a nice technique for facilitating a conversation about how work is progressing on the list of stuff to get done.

But, if it’s not facilitating that conversation…if the team is just going around the circle answering those questions, and not having a conversation about how things are going, then you’re doing it wrong.

Scrum is not three questions. Three questions is not Scrum.

If you don’t think you’re gonna be able to get everything done, then talk about which stuff is more important. Try to get that stuff done, and leave the less important stuff undone.

Sometimes, to get the more important stuff done first, that means a person who is working on a less important thing has to stop what they are doing, and go help a person who is working on a more important thing. When this happens it is AGoodThing™ because it means that the team is FocusedOnPriorities™.

Step 5
At the end of the amount of time, get the team back together and look at the list of things. Did you get them all done? If so, good job!

If not, then talk about why. Did you take on too many tasks? Did something block you? Was someone sick? Did a dog eat your homework? Did something new or more important come along? Was it something else?

Now, go back to Step 2 and start the next work cycle. When you get back to Step 2, consider the things you discussed in Step 5 and learn from them, so that in the next period of time your team will complete all the work it set out to do.

See, Scrum really isn’t that hard. Choose an amount of time, make a plan, check on progress daily, and see how you did on your plan at the end of the time. Rinse, lather, repeat. It’s just that simple.

Don’t get all mixed up with the lingo. I guarantee you that after four periods of time that your team will be doing really great work.

P.S. Do you want Rich Man’s Scrum? Here’s how it goes:

  • Step 1: The period of time is called a “sprint”.
  • Step 2: The meeting is called “sprint planning” and the list is called the “backlog”.
  • Step 3: That’s just doing your work.
  • Step 4: Meeting everyday to evaluate progress is called the “daily standup”.
  • Step 5: Looking at your end progress and applying those lessons for the next time around is called the “retrospective”.



Written by scottporad

March 19th, 2013 at 9:27 am

Posted in Miscellaneous

Tagged with ,

40 Responses to 'Poor Man’s Agile: Scrum in 5 Simple Steps'

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  1. This is nice summary of Scrum, and I really enjoyed it! Arguably, Scrum can be shortened down into four steps Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PDCA).

    I agree that keeping is simple is really the key to doing Scrum well. Much of the fancy stuff (user stories, points, grooming meeting etc) is there to support an incumbent culture that insists upon estimating and budgets rather than focusing on delivering value. It takes time to change.

    Last year, to help teams that need to figure out the “mixed up lingo”, I slapped together Scrum101.com.

    All the best,


    19 Mar 13 at 11:16 pm

  2. Great Article.

    Instead of hours you can also use story points per user story or task. Usually a sprint is good for one week. Sprint Review is also needed almost the same with your step 5. Usually Sprint Planning is done after Sprint Review.

    The advantage of using points instead of hours is that progress is more measurable (if it is not measured it’s not manage). Using hours as measurement is tricky because the developer can spend a lot of time in a feature but that feature is not that important. Points focus on the weight or importance of a task, usually ranges from 2, 4, 8, 16, 32.

    John Supsupin

    19 Mar 13 at 11:59 pm

  3. This is the most simplest explanation of Scrum I’ve ever read, finally I understand it. Thanks for such a nice writeup, I’m sure it will help lot other people like me.

    @Kane scrum101 looks brilliant, just signed up & looking forward for the first email 🙂


    19 Mar 13 at 11:59 pm

  4. Lately I’ve been trying to revise my personal habits and schedule to be more effective at achieving some of my personal goals. Amazingly, when I read your blog,I realized that this systematic introspection is what I’ve been missing. Because I’m not a “team” I hadn’t thought to implement such a system, but now I clearly see that this is applicable for one person! Woot.



    20 Mar 13 at 12:12 am

  5. […] is what this article should have been titled, as it completely and dangerously misses the key insight of Scrum. Scrum is […]

  6. I agree with the simplification of Scrum (vs. the text book!). But at the end of the day, the true measure of agility is whether we can ship software fast, get feedback and ship again.

    If you have the ability to do this, the manner in which work is organized is less important.


    Jay Nathan

    20 Mar 13 at 8:20 am

  7. Hey Tom,

    good tool for organizing for individual is Getting Things Done method (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_Things_Done). Practical application for this is ActiveInbox add-on for Gmail. Really helped me to organize me all of my stuff.

    Paul Vahur

    20 Mar 13 at 1:46 pm

  8. […] post about Scrum in 5 Simple Steps sparked a raging debate on Hacker News yesterday.  One commenter, Tom Elders, […]

  9. Great and simple explanation!

  10. Nice work 🙂


    20 Mar 13 at 11:41 pm

  11. Nice and understandable summary how scrums works inside the team. For me scrum is also about how the team fits in the organisation it is working for. Which responsibility is inside the team and which one isn’t. I think it is important for the success of scrum.

    Otto Boer

    21 Mar 13 at 12:04 am

  12. Great explanation! I am working this way without having the fancy words for it. In many cases bosses try to use posh words for things, just for them selves to feel needed. It all comes down to do the job in the best possible way, and since nobody knows in the beginning where the pitfalls are, you have to make checkups frequently, and sometimes change priorities.


    21 Mar 13 at 2:49 am

  13. Excellent explanation. So easy to work.

    Ryan Berrio

    21 Mar 13 at 4:28 am

  14. Very valuable summary of the key scrum concepts. Thanks! Wish you hadn’t included the “Did something new or more important come along?” option as if it were a valid reason for breaking a sprint. IMHO, the highest value of Scrum is its ability to protect the programming team’s productivity from intrusive assignments from upper management. “Sorry, we are in the middle of a sprint.”


    21 Mar 13 at 4:39 am

  15. Excellent and clear explanation.
    If a method can be easily and quickly described/applied that is the proof that it is feasible and effective. Just like the PomodoroTechnique.


    21 Mar 13 at 5:02 am

  16. Ok – nice. This means we have been using scrum for a very long time without knowing it! As they say there is very little new, just new marketing speak!

    Brian M

    21 Mar 13 at 6:13 am

  17. While I agree that scrum doesn’t need to be nearly as complex as some people/books make it, and this article definitely gets the basics down, I think there may be a few things missing that really make scrum more than just a process for allocating work.

    First, in Step 4, the daily standup, everyone really should stand up, and it should be time boxed to 15 minutes or less. Generally sticking to what you’ve done, what you’re doing, and any roadblocks keeps things on course. This is one area I’ve seen so many teams get bogged down in endless discussions.

    Second, the importance of the scrum master (runs the meetings, helps eliminate roadblocks) should not be underrated. A scrum master can change the dynamic of the daily standups for better or worse, can help eliminate roadblocks from outside sources, and can keep things on track in the meetings.

    Finally, the most important element is missing, which is a user demo of the finished stories at the end of the sprint. This is where you get valuable feedback that you can work on in the next sprint.

    Chris Demiris

    21 Mar 13 at 6:50 am

  18. Brilliant. It’s true that the jargon can be an unnecessary hurdle to understanding the core concepts. Also, you can copyright and trademark jargon, but not common sense.

    Yvan Rodrigues

    21 Mar 13 at 6:51 am

  19. […] Poor Man’s Agile: Scrum in 5 Simple Steps […]

  20. This is pretty cool, but now please try and explain the main problem all scrum teams face: theres no leader and so no one person gets to make any decisions that need to be made, so the team is mainly driven by who has the strongest personality and can argue the loudest. Discuss (10 marks)


    21 Mar 13 at 1:39 pm

  21. Great stuff. It is important to avoid “Cargo Cult” management by focusing on the intent of the procedures rather than the procedures themselves.

    Felix Collins

    21 Mar 13 at 2:09 pm

  22. Great article! Keeping it simple gets back to the root of the success of the system.

    One suggestion on a lighter note. Perhaps one should lather before rinsing. Rinsing first, then lathering, leaves one with a soapy head, and who wants that? Lather, rinse, repeat. 🙂


    22 Mar 13 at 6:33 am

  23. Good Summary.

    This is exactly how things ought to be done. All it needs is common sense. Points in other terms in my opinion is nothing but ROI as it is a go no go, high risk low risk etc matrix factored in.

    Project managers and System managers that lack common sense, lack experience or are micro managers will choke the life off the projects and that is essentially where most of the projects fail. In the end this term is called “My way or high way” aka Bloomberg anti cola policy


    24 Mar 13 at 10:45 am

  24. […] Poor Man’s Agile: Scrum in 5 Simple Steps at Scott Porad. […]

  25. […] de ce billet en a eu l’idée en recevant un livre sur Scrum de 478 pages. Adepte du KISS ("Keep It […]

  26. Really great article. This can really be done on any team who is just looking to focus on the task at hand and GET THINGS DONE!

    Dawn Barry

    28 Mar 13 at 7:16 am

  27. […] to spend a year researching Scrum before putting it into practice? Scott Porad thinks you should get started with a minimum of knowledge, and adjust your approach along the […]

  28. […] response to my recent posts on Agile and Scrum (here and here) I received this e-mail […]

  29. […] Scrum in 5 simple steps […]

  30. Thanks for any other magnificent post. Where else may anybody get that kind of info in such a perfect manner of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I’m at the look for such information.

  31. Thanks Scott. As someone relatively new to the job market after spending 10 years in a program management position, I’ve been curious about the references to Scrum in job descriptions. Frankly, I’m a bit unclear as to where it came from as it sounds very similar to what I would have done as a Program Manager when pulling together a team on a specific project. Is it a specific certification or just a general style of managing a project?


    10 Apr 13 at 10:02 am

  32. @Candace…

    >> Is it a specific certification or just a general style of managing a project?

    Yes. 😀

    It’s a general style and a certification.

    Scrum Alliance offers a certification. I got mine via Soltuions IQ. James Shore also offers a course.


    10 Apr 13 at 10:22 am

  33. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m
    not writing all that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to
    say fantastic blog!

  34. Thank you! I appreciate the summary. Great job!


    11 May 13 at 7:41 am

  35. I’ve been surfing online more than 2 hours today, yet
    I never found any interesting article like yours.
    It is pretty worth enough for me. In my view,
    if all site owners and bloggers made good content as you
    did, the internet will be a lot more useful than ever before.

    Swiss Rose

    9 Oct 13 at 8:13 pm

  36. Great post but I was wondering if you could write a litte
    more on this topic? I’d be very thankful if you could
    elaborate a little bit more. Appreciate it!

  37. […] Everything you ever need to know about scrum in one very short blog post […]

  38. […] 团队与单打独斗不同,一个人做和十个人做不同,项目监督很重要。这次的项目主要使用了SCRUM的思路(Poor Man’s Agile: Scrum in 5 Simple Steps),比较简单轻便,不过实施颇为走样,也是项目环境所限。每天早上的Stand-up,大家都还没有完全按照3个问题走,成员之间还不是足够坦诚。团队并没有黑板,也没有人查看Burndown Chart,使得大家对项目进度缺乏一个紧迫性的认识。同时,由于分工的问题,可重复利用的的代码被多次编写,一致性上也出了问题。(当然也得怪甲方,唯一的PM忙于后台开发,无暇与我们这边保持交流,PRD也做得很挫,很多细节都得靠我们自己去改版前网站找……) […]

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