Last month, teams from 17 publishers gathered for the second session of the Local News Membership Accelerator in Austin, which is geared toward helping local news organizations improve their membership programs.
Building better membership requires working better and more swiftly as a team, said Tim Griggs, the Accelerator’s program director. “The Accelerator has emphasized the need to move fast, test and learn, and focus on unique audience needs. Agile methodologies, while often used in tech, are applicable in any team environment, but particularly for groups like this.”
Tom Bullock, Chief Storyteller at Scrum Inc., spent an hour-long session overviewing the Scrum framework and six steps toward implementing Scrum within your organization, from your team structure to your workload. Above all, Bullock said, working within the Scrum framework gives your team the ability to prioritize and effectively ship a working product. Read on for a recap of Bullock’s lesson.
Scrum at a Glance
Scrum is a simple, empirical framework for organizing highly effective teams. It is the most used agile methodology that has proven to be successful across industries. Best used to reveal problems, Scrum is designed to take a broken system and systematically fix it, one impediment at a time.
“Scrum always helps you to think about the big thing at the end and then make a process for it,” said Bullock. “The secret is that it helps to divide and conquer and creates small, empowered teams in which there is information saturation.”
Six Steps to Make Scrum Work Effectively for your Organization
- Define your team. The most effective Scrum teams have around 5 members and 9 at the most, Bullock said.
- Assign a Scrum Master (who is responsible for promoting and coaching the team on Scrum) and a Product Owner (who is responsible for maximizing the value of the product resulting from the work of the team).
- Create an ongoing backlog and a “Scrum Board” with Do, Doing and Done columns. Then draft your team’s objectives on sticky notes and move them from one column to the other as you accomplish them.
- Create sprints of set periods of time time for achieving your objectives. Keep sprints short (ideally, one to four weeks each).
- Take on only what you think you can finish within each sprint. Keep your list simple and focused, Bullock said, even if you think you can tackle a bigger workload. Teams that finish in full and early get excited, build momentum, and get faster over time.
“Why? Because you can get better at estimating what you can do in which time in small units of time, plus you can also fail faster and learn faster,” said Bullock.
- Hold a daily meeting which lasts 15 minutes or less. Each team member answers simple questions: “What did you do yesterday?,” “What are you going to do today?” and “What obstacles are in your path?”
A Methodology to Optimize Solutions
The Scrum framework helps teams overcome common challenges and work swiftly because of three foundational guidelines:
- Divide and conquer small pieces of work tackled by small, empowered teams, working within small periods of time or “timeboxes.”
- Inspect and adapt by responding to change and optimizing your value and process.
- Prioritize transparency and clarity by making all work visible and aligning teams across the project
These guidelines go a long way towards reducing two common challenges — or Megaissues — on teams: Aligning on the priority and deliver a working product on time. Teams often have to navigate these challenges “while avoiding long unproductive meetings and memos or waiting for a team member just so you can do your work,” according to Bullock.
The Scrum framework makes transparency a priority and continuously dividing, conquering, inspecting and adapting.
Prioritizing With Sprints
Issues of prioritization often arise due to multiple conflicting priorities and constant disruptions, changes, and distractions. As a result, teams can struggle to retain focus on their real top priority. Scrum prevents this issue by creating short sprints with manageable, bite-sized tasks. These sprints are fundamental for the productivity and agility of teams.
Delivering a Working Product With a Backlog
When it comes to delivering a working product, teams need to be aware of how to optimize their process as much as in the earlier stage of developing and defining priorities.
When developing a finished product via the Scrum framework, the Product Owner has to zealously work to make sure that the Product Backlog is visible, transparent, and clear to all. This backlog shows what the Scrum Team will work on next and ensures the team understands items in the Product Backlog to the level needed.
Making sure that impediments, if they happen, do not derail the overall performance of the team, is also quintessential.
Learning Through a Scrum Exercise
To better understand how to use the agile methodology, Bullock asked participants to group in small teams of 5. He subsequently gave them a challenge: To build and fly as many paper airplanes as possible in a set period of time.
The catch? One team member, one fold. Teams also had to assign a Scrum Master and a Product Owner. Scrum Masters gathered paper and held a retrospective at the end of the sprint, while product owners tested the planes and kept records of each sprint.
The overall trend after the first round of the exercise was that teams had no successful flights. Most of the work classified as ’work in progress’ or ’wasted effort’, and most didn’t manage to take the product to their finish line. After a second try-out, the number of finished products increased by roughly 25 percent.
“What you have seen is across the board successful improvement in output and a significant reduction of wasted effort. When it comes to the kind of journalism that people around this room do, resources are too precious to be wasted on bad process,” Bullock asserted.
Scrum Masters from each team mentioned what worked in their teams. Successful strategies mentioned included:
- Learning to prioritize
- Delegating tasks
- Developing a successful prototype
- Using the prototype as a sample for production
Lastly, one of the most shared success stories was the excitement that engaging in the teamwork and building something together produced. Rebekah Monson from Whereby.us said it best: “When we found something that worked we all got excited and continued to work on it. I feel that that is something that I need to encourage more back at work within my team. How can we get excited about what we are doing?”
The Accelerator Program
Head here for recaps of the lessons and learnings from the Membership Accelerator.
The Facebook Journalism Project: Local News Membership Accelerator is a program designed to help news publishers build their membership revenues. Funded and organized by The Facebook Journalism Project, the 3-month program includes hands-on workshops led by news industry veteran Tim Griggs, a grantmaking program organized by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, and regular reports on best practices authored by both The Lenfest Institute and the Facebook Journalism Project. The Membership Accelerator is part of the broader Facebook Journalism Project Accelerator Program. Previous iterations have focused on digital subscriptions and digital video.