My 7-year-old son and I stumbled upon a National Geographic documentary called Counting Tigers. It’s about Project Tiger, a tiger conservation program by the Indian government. Early in the film, they posed the question to Lead Scientist, Dr. Yadvendradev Jhala, why do we need to count tigers? Dr. Jhala replied, “You need to have an assessment of what you have and where you have it. You can only judge that if you know if the tigers are increasing, decreasing, or remaining stable. And with all the investment which goes into conservation, do we actually make a difference?”
Much to the annoyance of my son, I kept hitting the 10 second replay button to hear the answer repeated. It struck me, not only could Dr. Jhala’s answer be applied to any project, but he captured the essence of project management in just a few concise sentences.
First, you need to have a goal. In the case of Project Tiger, the goal is clear, increase the population of tigers in India. Second, you need to have a plan, much of the movie is dedicated to their efforts. And thirdly, you need to check your progress to see if the plan is working. Then, of course, make the appropriate adjustments. Whatever the project, the work needs to be broken down into small enough tasks that work completed can be tracked and as they are doing in Project Tiger, progress needs to be linked to the ultimate project objectives.
We might not be counting tigers at SVPM, but we do honor Dr. Jhala’s sentiments. Guided by our overarching goals of allowing our volunteers to gain experience in Scrum and Agile, and to promote and expand the program through the SVPM Website, we segment the work into two-week Sprints. Within each Sprint, the tasks are divvied up amongst the Developers. Not only is each individual Developer responsible for their respective tasks, but as a team, we agree upon a Sprint goal.
By setting up the work in this way, there are multiple ways to track progress. First of all, we can look at a series of Sprints to see how we’re progressing overall and take an average of our speed (or velocity) to help with forecasting. Secondly, we can also track progress of each individual Sprint. The team meets regularly throughout the Sprint to share our advancement toward the Sprint goal and discuss any obstacles we might be encountering. The Scrum Master and other team members help get rid of those obstacles. Lastly, the Assistant Scrum Master constantly updates the Sprint progress on a Burndown Chart that compares actual work completed against what was planned during that Sprint.
Like any project work, we’re not immune to setbacks, but obstacles and issues are dealt with quickly, increasing our chances of success. On the occasion that we don’t completely fulfill our Sprint goal, we can evaluate the reasons during the Sprint Retrospective and apply what we’ve learned to the next Sprint. We are continually learning, improving, and working towards project goals.
Whatever project you may find yourself working on, know your objectives, count your tigers, and keep on learning.