Daniel Alves / Technology / August 11th, 2014

Guerilla Scrum and Getting Sh*t Done

Here at 352, we are sticklers when it comes to Scrum – the iterative, team-based approach we take to development. It’s how we get things done, but more importantly, it’s what organizes us as a team.

Now, when I say “sticklers,” I mean it – we’re not afraid to tweak certain things to account for team dynamics, but we never cut corners. For many projects, we’ll spend a whole week or more in Sprint 0, where we plan future work, making sure every user story is written precisely and accurately. Under normal circumstances, sticking tightly to Scrum allows us to operate efficiently, keep a laser-focus on value and ship finished products.

One lesson we learned quickly during our Race to 3:52 hackathon was that it was anything but a normal week. Generally speaking, stopping client work for three days to deliver a full-form, marketable product would be considered nuts. We did it for fun.

Fun or not, we consciously made the effort to stick to our tried-and-true process, but naturally as the chaotic hacking ensued our Scrum belt loosened up a bit. To get our shit done in 3 days, we had to let go of many of the details of our process in order to make way for grinding work out. Despite this reality, I noticed that we instinctively kept the spirit of our process essentially intact.

Keeping to the spirit, rather than the letter, of the process is something called Guerilla Scrum – the Minimal Viable Process necessary to knocking things out and to keep team members together without overburdening the team with process. It’s lightweight, effective and naturally suited to a fast-paced development project.

Here’s what we did:

Focus on Value

A short timeline necessitated tough decisions, but value was always foremost in our minds. We didn’t have the luxury to build everything we wanted, so we constantly held each other accountable by reminding ourselves if what we were talking about held enough value to occupy our time. Often, that wasn’t the case and a simple interruption by one of the team members to remind us of this principle would end the conversation immediately and allow us to move on.

focus on value

All Hands on Deck

We always work in cross-functional teams, but during the Race to 3:52 hackathon we had tightly integrated marketing and strategy support on every piece of the project, in addition to design and development resources. It’s important as a team that everybody is working toward the goal, but there’s always the inevitable times where you’ve finished your current task, and the only to-dos belong to another team member. This can often derail teams, but it offers a perfect opportunity to help the team be as efficient as possible. Even beyond my own team, I saw tons of co-workers getting lunch for their teams, or simply checking in to see how they could best assist the team.

Gorilla Scrum

For our project, I wanted to display a looped background video on our website. I originally intended to shoot the video, but my teammate stepped up and volunteered. He shot, processed and uploaded the video to the 352 YouTube account, and communicated the entire way to make sure I got exactly what I wanted. It was beautiful, and the video came out better than I imagined. This took an incredible load off of me and allowed me to focus on things I absolutely had to do myself.

Put It on the Board

Ideas come and go, and without documenting them, they might be gone forever. Throughout the project new tasks (and the occasional bug) were constantly being discovered, and we religiously put them on our Scrum board using post-it notes. It allowed us to determine task priorities, track our tasks, and make sure things got done. While a Scrum board is what we use, a to-do list is just as good. As long as you are capturing ideas and have an idiot-proof way of following through with them, your productivity will explode.

As long as you are capturing ideas and have an idiot-proof way of following through with them, your productivity will explode.

Scrum Board

Pick Your Battles

I have been charitably called a “control enthusiast,” and my team usually puts up with me to hear me out. I tend to get caught up in details and sometimes that makes me a stick in the mud. In the compressed time-frame of the hackathon, it quickly became apparent that I had to let things go. There was no time for me to obsess over the user experience and make sure everything was perfect. I had to focus on value and stand up for the pieces that truly would make a significant difference to the user.

No Distractions

Not having distractions is a beautiful thing. It’s something you can’t fully appreciate until you actually have it. This week, my wonderful wife gave me a gift that really allowed me to focus on my work. She took the kids to visit the grandparents out-of-state. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have been able to pull the late-night design and coding sessions with my fellow teammates. While this was a major help, there were also little things like teammates running to get lunch so we could stay working. All of a sudden, eating a meal went from an hour-long endeavor to a mere 15 minutes.

Touch Base Frequently

Communication is critical in any Scrum format, but more so in Guerilla Scrum. Normally, we have formal standups every day, where we update everyone on the progress made since the previous day and discuss roadblocks. During the race, I found us making these types of meetings more frequent and less formal – just enough to keep us moving forward without stepping on each other’s toes. The transparency in our communication was just as important as the amount of communication. It’s important for everybody to be honest in how they feel about progress and problems.

It’s important for everybody to be honest in how they feel about progress and problems.

Have Fun

Being a team, we have inside jokes and we celebrate wins. Celebrating wins doesn’t always mean going out for a drink after a grueling day. Sometimes it means, giving your teammate a high five or doing a silly dance when a task gets completed. Opening up and being more human with each other allows us to get to know each other more and build stronger relationships. When having fun, we establish a culture that fuels and balances the challenge of our work.

When having fun, we establish a culture that fuels and balances the challenge of our work.


Experiencing these principles outside of our normal client-facing work routine was a big revelation. It made me realize that the value of our process is not limited to delivering awesome digital experiences. I’m starting to view our process in a broader sense and how it can be relevant to any team trying to get anything done. This is an incredibly exciting idea, one which I will be exploring in the future. Until then, I can confidently say that these 3 days have been a triumphant success. Our team is closer than ever and we got a ton of shit done.

Huddle photo by Miquel C under CC

  • Peter Brownstein

    Great post on Guerilla Scrum. You gave some great advice on some practices to keep in mind while we are all in the moment of getting everything done.

  • http://nicrosental.tumblr.com/ Nic Rosental

    Great post! So many similarities with our own team’s experience during the hackathon, and some lessons that we can definitely apply next time around (i.e. we didn’t have a board!)

    PS: I see what you did with the Barça pic 😉

    • Daniel Alves

      Thanks Nic! That’s great to hear about our team’s similar experiences. Regarding the photo, vicarious living 🙂

  • Kate Griggs

    I love the point you make about No Distractions. They’re killer!

  • Robert C Hanley

    It’s cool to see what kinds of “multiple discovery” similarities are surfacing as everyone reflects on the week. Definitely a fan of the having a physical board idea for projects this short lived.

    • Daniel Alves

      yeah, the board really helped mid-way to the end when new ideas and tasks were surfacing. They were popping up so fast that we had to get them down. Then the product owner could easily prioritize things.

  • Jodi Higbee

    The reality of this business is that things are constantly changing, and I think the Race was a perfect example of us adjusting how we do things to fit a slightly different need, while still maintaining the basic principles. This will only make us a better company and better for our clients!

  • Chris Manning

    Great post man! I agree that honesty is the best policy even if it has to do with problems. That is the only way to truly grow as a team.

  • Jennifer Fix

    Such a great post, Daniel, and I couldn’t agree more with your points. We modified our approach, but kept the essence of scrum and agile in tact. I left those three days feeling so incredibly proud of our team and feeling that it was a triumphant success.

  • mikewcohn

    Nice post. I like you describe sticking to the process even when things got hectic. To me, that’s a sign that the process has really become part of how you work and not just some motions you go through because someone tells you to. Great job.

    • Daniel Alves

      Thank you Mike.