How to use Scrum to get your home projects DONE.

A guide to agile DIY

September 3, 2023
Two people in the middle of a home remodel project

What do you see when you walk through your home? 

For years, each time I walked into a room, I would see all the things that were on my home to-do list. Keeping up with home projects can be overwhelming.

How do we tame the craziness of home projects and see the list of things to do shrink rather than grow?

Maybe you’ve written weekend to-do lists, set new year’s resolutions, started half a dozen projects but haven’t been able to consistently bring them to completion. If that’s you, I think you’ll be excited to see how Scrum can help you stop starting and start finishing those projects.

Here’s what I’m going to cover in this article:

  • How Scrum helps you get things done.
  • How I use Scrum to manage my home projects.
  • Things to consider for your setup.
Does life ever feel like a hack rather than on purpose?

How Scrum helps you get things done.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in new ideas. There’s a flurry of excitement around what’s possible and how it could solve significant problems. 

The problem is when you move to something new, it’s at the expense of what you were focusing on, leaving a wake of started but unfinished projects. If we’re talking about home projects, then you live in that wake.

Scrum helps you to stop starting and start finishing, and it does this by providing just the right amount of structure to time and attention. 

Scrum provides a window of focus.

Scrum organizes time into sprints, which can be any length of time, often one or two weeks. You begin the sprint by selecting what work you will complete by the end of the sprint, and this will require you to break big projects down into smaller pieces. 

Scrum can help you stop starting and start finishing those projects.

The work you select goes into your sprint backlog, which is the list of tasks you will complete by the end of the sprint. No new work enters this list during the sprint, and the time is protected, allowing you to focus on finishing what has been selected.

Each day you will review progress using the questions:

  1. What did I complete yesterday?
  2. What will I complete today?
  3. Where am I stuck?

Usually, you’d ask these questions during the daily standup within the context of a team. For home projects, you might be a team of one, but you may also include anyone else who lives with you. They are definitely a stakeholder.’re not only finishing work, you're completing the work that matters most.

When you’ve decided to focus on a task from your sprint backlog, work it to completion. Don’t select another task until completed. Maybe you set a limit of two active tasks so you can go cut trim while the paint on the wall is drying. Keep your work-in-progress limits to a minimum.

Scrum provides clear prioritization.

On a typical Scrum team, one person plays the role of the product owner. They work with internal and external stakeholders and the production team to prioritize all the work to be done. 

The backlog contains a list of all the Product Backlog Items (PBIs) and is ordered by priority. What’s at the top is most important. There are no ties, just a cleanly ordered list. When you maintain the disciple of ordering your backlog, you’re not only finishing work, you're completing the work that matters most. 

How I use Scrum to manage my home projects.

I’ve done a lot of home projects over the years. Some are simpler, like replacing the fireplace mantel and others are more involved, like a bathroom remodel or building a shed office. 

Some are short and go from ideation to completion on a single Saturday. Other span months of planning and execution. I needed a straightforward way to organize both what I want to do someday and what I will do today

How I set up Scrum for my home projects.

I needed two ways to view my home projects; by project and by time. So each project had its own board where I could organize all the information I needed for that project. This would include inspiration, possible ideas, budget estimates etc. 

Giving a project its own board was especially helpful for projects we weren’t sure if or when we would do them. I could work through enough details to decide if it was something we wanted to embark on.

Now, as I walk through my house, instead of seeing to-dos, I see done.

Once a project got the green light, I would start building the backlog with work to be done. Your capacity and the size of the project will influence how you break down the job. You don’t want it too big like “build a shed” or too small like “cut the boards.” I still used the user story format for the backlog items. Here is an early user story for my shed office project:

  • As a person who works from home,
  • I want a solid easy to clean floor,
  • So that my workspace feels usable even though it’s a shed.

It doesn’t prescribe whether I pour a slab or frame a platform. The user story describes my goal and what motivates that goal. 

I sized my user stories by how many 2 hour blocks they would need. I tried other sizing options, but this one ended up feeling just right for me. On a given Saturday, I could work 8 hours. If I ended work on time, maybe I could get in a 4-hour block on a day I really wanted to go after it. Or maybe I have 2 hours on a given evening to get work done. If I thought something would only take an hour, I rounded up to two.

Depending on the size of the project, it might begin with user stories about getting quotes or gathering materials. Once I have the majority of work for a project outlined in user stories, it is ready to enter my ongoing workflow.

My Scrum home projects workflow.

I used two-week sprints because they were long enough to complete meaningful tasks but short enough to provide urgency and agility. 

At the beginning of a sprint, I selected how much work I could commit to completing based on my available time over the next two weeks. Again I used 2-hour blocks of work as my reference point.

Because I already sorted the backlog by priority, I’m moving the most important tasks over to focus on for the sprint. These tasks might all be for the same project or span multiple projects. 

Once I had selected all the work for the sprint, I would re-order it based on how I thought I would complete it over the next two weeks. If it’s going to rain the next three days, outdoor work might move down the list a little. 

Then I would select one or maybe two tasks and move them from the “to-do” column to the “doing” column. I tried not to have more than two tasks in “doing” at the same time. This is a challenging but critical disciple if you want to bring work to completion. 

Once a task was completed, I could move it to done and go back to “to-do” to select another task to move over. This process would repeat throughout the sprint. 

Each day I would review by answering the questions:

  1. What did I complete yesterday?
  2. What will I complete today?
  3. Where am I stuck?

This daily rhythm keeps me clear on what I should focus on.

Sometimes something doesn’t get completed because I overestimated my available time or ran into unexpected complications. If that happened, I just moved the partially completed task back into the main backlog and ordered it relative to the other tasks. If it was still a top priority, it would get selected for the next sprint. 

What apps have I used?

I’ve used Trello, Monday and Asana. But I recently discover ClickUp and I'm really digging it. It probably has the most powerful free version available and the next upgrade is only $5/month.

I find the list view in these apps helpful for adding all the tasks of a single project. And I like the board view the best when managing the work in a given sprint. Here's what the list and board views looks like in ClickUp.

Home projects list view
List View
Home projects board view
Board View

Things to consider for your setup

I hope you’re now itching to start setting up Scrum so you can get those home projects DONE. Here are some considerations to make as you get started.

You Rhythm

How much time you have and the type of projects you want to tackle impact your ideal cadence. If you have a decent amount of available time and smaller-sized projects, then a week might be a good size for your sprints.

If your projects are more complex or you’re in a season with less available time, I’d recommend longer sprints. Three weeks is really the max though. Beyond that, you’re losing the benefit of focus. 

Your Team

Who else is on your team? Who is your product owner or stakeholder? In other words, who do you share the house with? They probably want to have a voice in the project. 

A realtor would be a subject matter expert on how projects impact home value. If you have a friend who’s already done a project similar to yours, you’ll likely want to get their insight before you start. And maybe you want to invite them over on a Saturday ;)

Sizing Work

Accurately sizing work is essential for you to know how much work you can select for a given sprint and to forecast how long a project will take.

Relative sizing is best for a team, but because you’re managing work just for yourself, you can relate it more directly to time. Do you use a half-day or an hour as your unit of measurement? It depends on your capacity and the type of projects you want to do. I’ve found 2 hours to be the ideal unit of time to use when estimating how big a home project user story is. 

Leaning Scrum for the first time can be a bit overwhelming. There are many new terms and concepts in Scrum.

Well we’re here to help.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful and that you feel prepared to go and finish some of those home projects. Now, as I walk through my house, instead of seeing to-dos, I see dones. You can too! 

If you use Scrum to help you finish a home project, I’d love to hear about it. Either mention it in the comment or send me a message.

Action Plan

There are a lot of new terms when learning the Scrum essentials, and this post probably introduced you to some of the vocabulary. If you want to learn more about Scrum as a whole, check out my What is Scrum? A Guide for Everyday People to Learn Scrum to get a fuller overview.

If you want to learn more about specific Scrum topics, below are a few to choose from or check out the scrum FAQs.

If you have more questions, please feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.

Still not sure about your next step with Scrum? I offer a couple of free coaching sessions each month. You can signup for a free 30-minute coaching session, and we can work together to identify a good next step for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Scrum?

What is the definition of scrum?

Scrum is founded on three essential pillars leading teams to ask the following questions:

  1. How does this make things more visible? (Transparency)
  2. Where does this create space to evaluate? (Inspection)
  3. When does this encourage growth? (Adaptation)

Further explore the definition of scrum. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Is Scrum hard to learn?

This is because Scrum’s simplicity makes learning easy, but Scrum truly changes how you work, and that adjustment can be difficult. It changes power dynamics and expectations within the team and between the team and the rest of the organization.

You can explore further is Scrum hard to learn, along with the pros and cons of Scrum. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

When did Scrum start?

Scrum was initially used as a term related to project management in 1986 by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka in their paper “New New Product Development Game” In the Harvard Business Review. The first recorded Scrum project came a little later in 1993 from Jeff Sutherland.

You can learn more about Scrum’s backstory. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

What do all the scrum words mean?

Learning Scrum for the first time can be overwhelming. There are a lot of new terms and concepts in Scrum. I’ve listed the most common terms in a Scrum glossary.

How to use Scrum

Why use Scrum?

It forces clarity and prioritization, which provides the focus necessary for teams to be effective. Scrum embraces complexity and change by keeping many things simple and iteratively evaluating and adapting. 

You can learn more about why to use Scrum and three challenges Scrum solves. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

When does Scrum not work well?

Scrum isn’t always the best option for teams. Scrum can fail when there is a substantial mismatch between organizational culture and the Scrum values. It also depends on the nature of the work you do. If you work if very linear, predictable and tightly defined, you may not experience many benefits Scrum provides.

Find out more about aligning your organizational values with Scrum or how Scrum might fit in your context. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

How do I know when to use Scrum?

Scrum functions at its best when you have a dedicated team focused on developing a singular product. Its agility shines when there are time constraints combined with uncertainty. 

Explore the pros and cons of Scrum along with expectations vs. realities with Scrum. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Learning to apply Scrum

How to choose between Scrum and Kanban?

Important factors include your team size and the type of work you do. Kanban is very process-oriented, so you should consider how defined, static, or long your process is? 

You can explore Scrum and other agile approaches. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

How does scrum help an organization?

Scrum forces clarity and prioritization, which are critical to organizational effectiveness. It provides a competitive edge by allowing teams to adapt as the market or priorities change. Teams operate more effectively because Scrum combines empowerment of the team members with alignment to top priorities.

Learn more about scrum’s impact on organizational culture. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Is scrum a methodology or a framework?

Scrum is more of a framework than a methodology, and it helps teams adhere to Agile principles and get stuff done. Scrum provides basic rules but doesn’t prescribe how to do the work. It provides principles, values, rules, and some core structure but still leaves a lot undefined.

Learn more about scrum as a framework. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

What’s the difference between scrum and agile?

When people say “agile,” they usually refer to it as a mindset. Scrum is a framework for how to organize people and work in an agile way. If you’re practicing Scrum, you’re working in an Agile way.

Learn more about the relationship between scrum and agile. Then browse the most common terms in a Scrum glossary and learn what is Scrum.

Scrum backlog

What is the backlog in Scrum?

There are actually two backlogs, the product backlog and the sprint backlog. They each contain the definitive list of work to be done. The product owner keeps the backlog ordered by priority. 

Learn to use the backlog in Scrum and check out the sprint backlog vs product backlog in Scrum.

How are the product backlog and sprint backlog different?

The product backlog prioritizes the features needed in the product. It is a singular visible source of requirements for the product.

The sprint backlog represents the work to do in a given sprint. It is a definitive list of all the scrum team is being asked to produce for the sprint. 

Learn more about the sprint backlog vs product backlog in Scrum.

What is a PBI (product backlog item)?

Each item in the backlog represents precise work and value to deliver. Often these PBIs are written using both user stories and acceptance criteria. The PBIs are what gets refined during the backlog refinement session, and if one is too large, it may be broken down into smaller PBIs.

Learn more about how backlogs are used in scrum, the sprint backlog vs product backlog in Scrum and explore the essential Scrum glossary.

What is the Scrum sprint backlog?

The Scrum sprint backlog is a prioritized list of items from the product backlog that the development team plans to complete during the upcoming sprint.

It is a plan for the Sprint and is created during the Sprint Planning meeting where the Development Team decides on how to build the functionality that meets the Sprint Goal. The Sprint Backlog typically includes user stories, bugs, technical work, and other items that the development team needs to work on during the sprint. Each item in the Sprint Backlog has a clear definition of done, so the team knows when the item is considered complete.

The Development Team is responsible for creating and updating their Sprint Backlog throughout the Sprint, making sure they are on track to meet the Sprint Goal. The Sprint Backlog is a working document that helps the Development Team visualize their progress and make any necessary adjustments to their plan as they go along. The Sprint Backlog is also transparent, allowing stakeholders to see what work is being done during the Sprint.

Learn more about the backlogs of Scrum.

What is the Scrum product backlog?

In Scrum, the product backlog is a prioritized list of features, bugs, technical work, and other product-related items that need to be addressed by the development team.

It serves as a single source of truth for what needs to be done on the product.

The items in the product backlog are ordered based on their importance to the product owner and the value they bring to the end-user. As the project progresses, the product backlog is constantly updated to reflect new priorities, changes in requirements, and feedback from stakeholders.

The product backlog is a living document that evolves throughout the project's lifecycle. It provides transparency and enables collaboration among all members of the Scrum team.

Learn more about the backlogs in Scrum.

Ready to level up your company? Get in touch today!