Sprint 5: Deprioritizing and Scope Creep
May 9, 2015 by David T. Allen
I’m a little late with writing this sprint article because Leslie and I have been tied up with promoting Dream Eater’s Carnival using our KDP free days. But, it’s time to talk about how we did in April and what we will strive for in May. This article is focused on deprioritizing tasks and dealing with “scope creep.”
Sprint 4 Retrospective
We accomplished nearly all of our goals in week 1.
Week 2 started with someone in our reading community power reading the first nineteen chapters of Echo Chamber Heist in two days. They treated it as a beta read and outlined any overall complaints. This was a great feeling, especially with later chapters that haven’t had as much feedback.
I focused on developing a new home page and the newsletter, since we had a free promotion for Dream Eater’s Carnival coming up. We also went to our first convention.
I also started working on a print edition cover for Dream Eater’s Carnival. It’s not done yet, but here’s my progress:
A few tasks slid into week 3. The newsletter advertisements took more time than I thought—10+ hours in research and design. Work also picked up; around this time I was working 70+ hours.
I asked Leslie to pivot into editing the first two chapters of Echo Chamber Heist so I could include them in Dream Eater’s Carnival before our promotion. I also finally got to read Leslie’s first draft for Torgos and the Familiar. I loved it. I asked her to also finish this so we could offer it with our newsletter.
I also hurt my ankle while running, so I got a copy of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. I haven’t played video games in a long time, even though I’ve wanted to. This game was the perfect blend of new and nostalgia. Since I couldn’t exercise and was exhausted from work, I played Zelda on the porch and enjoyed the weather.
Week 4 continued to be a busy work week. Leslie also had some gnarly headaches. We really needed time to relax. My birthday was coming up, so we bought Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver. We asked our writing community to critique Torgos and the Familiar, which originally wasn’t going to be a strong focus in April.
We went to see Leslie’s favorite band, the Mountain Goats, at Mr. Smalls.
For my birthday, Leslie’s brother and his fiancé took us to Independent Brewing in Squirrel Hill. I got a Game Of Thrones style drink.
I realized it had been five years since I lived in Japan. We’ve wanted a long vacation for a while, and the airfare was great, so I booked flights to Osaka.
We want some Japanese influence for writing the next book (after Echo Chamber Heist). I first started outlining Bitlather Chronicles in Japan, so I hope inspiration will hit us again.
Week 5 was devoted to finishing everything we needed for our first KDP free days promotion.
Last time, I said:
I predict we’ll come up short, but still accomplish a lot. It’s good to be ambitious.
I think we came up even shorter than I anticipated, but the results were better than I imagined. I am proud of what we accomplished:
The board looks great, in terms of unfinished tasks, but it’s a bit of a lie. Previously, we left unfinished tasks on the board even if we had no intention of finishing them. But I think that’s a demotivator, and the purpose of the board is to motivate. So, if we were running low on time and saw a task that we didn’t think could be done, we removed it from the board.
What We Lost
These were the general trends for tickets that were either left as unfinished on the sprint board or were deprioritized:
- Edit Echo Chamber Heist chapters.
- Write new chapters and submit them to our writing community.
- Outline future chapters.
- Publish print edition of Dream Eater’s Carnival.
- Send Echo Chamber Heist cover art ideas to an artist.
- Get blog reviews for Dream Eater’s Carnival.
- Purchase everything we need to make costumes for conventions.
- Update our “encyclopedia” with all the content published in Dream Eater’s Carnival.
- Create Pinterest account.
- Publish our press kit.
- Post Dave’s short stories for critique.
- Learn more about Google Analytics.
Wow... that’s a lot! It might look like we failed, but...
What We Gained
We realized early that focusing on KDP free days was the most important thing, since it was our first promotion. The general advice I’ve heard is it’s not worth marketing until you have a few published books. However, Amazon gives our book five free days every quarter. If we don’t use them, we won’t learn from them. We get a chance to use free VS paid marketing to see how they compare. If we’re lucky, we’ll get some honest reviews and people subscribing to our newsletter.
Setting up the promotion took longer than anticipated. I spent a few days on research, which really opened my eyes. It was early in the month when I told Leslie we had to change priorities.
I spent days on writing promotional text, researching Amazon keywords, setting up a better newsletter subscribe page, and building images.
Leslie finished Torgos and the Familiar and editing the first two chapters of Echo Chamber Heist using the latest feedback, which we used for the promotion.
Additionally, I spent time building a presence on Twitter.
New Terminology: Scope Creep
Notice What We Lost focused on deprioritizing issues, while What We Gained focused on things we didn’t know on sprint planning day. We removed and added tasks. The latter is an example of scope creep—tasks that you didn’t originally plan for.
In software, scope creep is often treated as a bad thing. Usually it means someone else has changed the spec for a project. This creates hard feelings.
But, we’re authors! We make the decisions and we run the show. Leslie and I only have to convince each other that the new tasks are important enough to change our original plan.
If you’re doing sprints for your own writing project, you may want to look at two-week sprints instead, since they are easier to plan. I’m going to continue with month long sprints since Leslie and I have no problems meeting the important deadlines.
In April, we targeted finishing three year-long milestones:
- Attend a convention
- Finish print edition of Dream Eater’s Carnival
- Post up to the last chapter we had drafted years ago
We only finished two milestones, and one of them was not an original target:
- Attend a convention
- Finish Torgos and the Familiar
We’ve completed three milestones, and have seven to go.
Aim high, and don’t punish yourself for missing your goals. The purpose of the board is to offer direction and motivation. Punishing yourself will lead to you hating the project or being less ambitious.
Deprioritize and remove tasks from the board. Keep an eye on scope creep, but let it happen when necessary. Set removed and unfinished tasks aside and review them at the end of your sprint. Did you make the right decision?
Focus on completing a few tasks, not starting a bunch of tasks. Before we had the board, I would jump between projects so frequently that it felt like nothing was getting done.
- Know when to strive for perfection and when good is good enough. I wasted a few hours on images for our KDP promotion because I wanted to make something outside of my abilities. I had set an unrealistic goal for myself. When I noticed how little time I had and how relatively unimportant it was to make the perfect promotional images, I finished the job and moved on.
Leslie’s themes are writing/editing one chapter a week and working on costumes for conventions. She did not add No Book tasks because this month’s goals are relatively light. Sewing isn’t the same as writing, so this month should be the break she’s needed.
My major themes:
- Use remaining KDP free promotion days
- Plan trip to Japan
- Edit Echo Chamber Heist chapters
- Give two critiques per week
- Clean and organize ideas
- One blog article a week
- Get bloggers to review Dream Eater’s Carnival
New Feature: Scope Creep
We will continue to deprioritize and remove tasks from the board. Notice in this sprint, all tasks are on white strips of paper.
Any tasks added throughout May will be written on pink construction paper. This will help us determine how good we were at planning.
Q: What’s Tubular?
A: This paper towel dispenser!