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Review: Jeff Sutherland’s Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

scrumThis review first ran in the Oct. 27 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

By Jeff Sutherland

Crown Business


Put away the Gantt chart, put up a white board and pick up a pack of Post-it Notes for your next project.

Write do, doing and done on your white board. Transfer your project’s to-do list onto the Post-it Notes.

Recruit three to nine colleagues to serve on a team that’s self-directed and cross-functional.  Moving the Post-it Notes from do to done as fast as possible is your team’s goal.

Pick a product owner and Scrum master. The product owner has the vision for what your team’s going to accomplish while the Scrum master eliminates anything that bogs down your team.

Break your project into an equal series of sprints that last anywhere from a week to a month.

Review, demo and test what your team has accomplished at the end of each sprint.  Extend an open invitation for anyone in your organization to pay a visit and check out your work.

And kick off every day with a 15 minute stand-up meeting where your team looks at what they did yesterday, what you’re doing today and what obstacles are still in your way.

Author Jeff Sutherland calls this framework for team performance Scrum. “The term comes from the game of rugby and it refers to the way a team works together to move the ball down the field,” says Sutherland. “Careful alignment, unity of purpose and clarity of goal come together.”

Sutherland is a West Point-educated fighter pilot and biometrics expert who’s worked as a VP of engineering and chief technology officer at 11 technology companies.  He co-created Scrum to help companies get software out the door ahead of schedule and on budget.

While Scrum is making inroads beyond tech firms, many organizations still rely on Gantt charts.  Invented by Henry Gantt around 1910 and first used in World War I, these project management charts resemble cascading waterfalls and map out all the steps and hand-offs in a project from beginning to end.

Gantt charts warm the hearts of managers who want control and predictability with their projects.  But Sutherland’s not a fan.

“The problem is that the rosy scenario never actually unfolds. All that effort poured into planning, trying to restrict change, trying to know the unknowable is wasted. Every project involves discovery of problems and bursts of inspiration. Trying to restrict human endeavour of any scope to colour-coded charts and graphs is foolish and doomed to failure.”

Scrum is based on a simple idea, says Sutherland. “Whenever you start a project, why not regularly check in, see if what you’re doing is heading in the right direction and if it’s actually what people want? And question whether there are any ways to improve how you’re doing what you’re doing, any ways of doing it better and faster, and what might be keeping you from doing that.”

Real world examples from business, education and government show how Scrum helps teams get far more work done in much less time.  You’ll be inspired to scrap the Gantt chart and get a whiteboard.

Review: Spin: How politics has the power to turn marketing on its head by Clive Veroni

spinThis review first ran in the Oct. 14 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Spin: How Politics Has The Power To Turn Marketing On Its Head

By Clive Veroni

House of Anansi Press


General Mills airs a Cheerios commercial starring an interracial family. The ad is watched more than five million times on YouTube. While likes trump dislikes by a margin of more than 25 to one, online commenting is disabled because of racist rants.  General Mills doesn’t back down and put out another ad with the same modern family.

Honey Maid, maker of graham crackers, runs a commercial showing two dads raising a baby. The group One Million Moms threatens a boycott and accuses Honey Maid of normalizing sin.  Honey Maid commissions artists to turn the hate mail into an art installation that spells the word love.

Welcome to the new world of marketing, where companies court the passionate few like politicians aiming to win elections.

Companies realize there are loyal customers to be had by making some people mad.

“Smart marketers will understand that using the anger of some will allow them to win the support of others,” says Clive Veroni, a marketing strategist and author of Spin. “The angrier your opponents get, the more ginned up your supporters become.”

And your ginned up tribe of loyal followers can have an outsized influence on the undecided majority in the middle.

“Politicians have always understood that mass marketing and niche appeals do not constitute an either / or proposition. You need both to survive.” Veroni says the trick is to antagonize just enough people without having everyone turn on you with pitchforks and flaming torches.

Companies that play it safe, steer clear of hot button issues and stick to the middle of the road will eventually get run over, warns Veroni.

“Much as companies might want to avoid stepping into these debates, it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid them. For marketers, like politicians on the campaign trail, not taking a stand is taking a stand. And the relentless pressures of social media will force your hand one way or the other.

“Too often, marketers strive to please the broadest number of people possible. The result can be communications that no one hates – but that no one loves either.”

Like politicians and political parties, companies are mining big data and sorting through our digital breadcrumbs to turn information into actionable insights about why we buy. Target can now predict when you’re expecting a baby. The company used to mail special offers to moms-to-be until parents began asking why their teenage daughters were getting coupons for diapers and baby food.

Politics was once local. Today, it’s individualized and companies are moving fast in the same direction.

“In the post-mass marketing world, the emphasis will be less and less on reaching large numbers of people with the same message and more on reaching specific people with highly individualized messages,” says Veroni.

And as politicians and war room operatives well know, it’s not what you say but how you say it and how fast you get off the mark that counts. “Marketers are finding that the two levers they’ve traditionally had full control over – time and message content – are no longer theirs to manipulate as they wish. How well they respond to the need for speedier response times, and for more participatory message creation, will be critical to their future success.”

Whether you’re looking to win votes or customers in our digital age, Spin is well worth a read. And as consumers and citizens, it’s good to know how political strategists and marketers work their magic.