M.I.N.M.: The Scrum
Who: Cristen Bolter, production coordinator, Zine Zone
Players: About 10 people
Frequency: 9:30 a.m., Monday-Friday
Purpose: "To take an inventory of open projects and to take note of impediments to meeting deadlines."
Why I never miss it: "The scrum is much more effective than sending out emails. Plus, it's gratifying to hear someone say that things are going great."
Employees at Zine Zone, a fast-growing Internet company based outside of Boston, work in an environment filled with pressures and deadlines — many of which are intrinsic to the world of the Web. Every day brings new chat sessions to run, new software features to test. Look beyond the specifics, though, and you see challenges that plague startups in every field. How do people focus on their work but still keep their colleagues informed about what they're doing? How do leaders enable crisp execution without imposing bureaucratic oversight?
Enter the Scrum. Zine Zone's core production team (along with a few people from other departments) gathers at 9:30 a.m. to scope out that day's work and to identify obstacles that may interfere with specific projects. The Scrum takes its name and its inspiration from a rugby formation in which players from opposing teams lock themselves in a circle and battle for the ball. In this case, though, everyone is trying to move the ball in the same direction. "This is not a coffee klatch," says Cristen Bolter, production coordinator at Zine Zone. "Gathering as a team every day reminds us that we're all in this together."
Radical minimalism. "Our aim is modest: to identify short-term obstacles. The agenda is minimalist: What does the day look like? Are your projects on track? We want to fix problems both quickly and informally: People volunteer to help out, or they suggest a solution on the spot. If the problem requires more attention, we take it offline."
Face-to-face. "We're open, democratic, and extremely dependent on our computers. Even though we all work in one big room, we're still as likely to email the people sitting next to us as we are to talk to them. But after a while, email becomes a blur. Building in a face-to-face meeting provides daily glue, which helps to hold the team together."
"The team stands in a circle. I go through a master list of projects, and each project owner gives an update and describes problems. People know they have to stick to the facts, or else we could end up standing around for hours."
"Standing is crucial. We sat down once, and 30 minutes sped by! The next day, several of our people boycotted the Scrum."
A version of this article appeared in the Feb/March 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine.