Recently, a friend of mine tried to convince me to have a look at this Japanese, animated series (please do not ask me about its title…) in the same breath he told me about annoying sequences in these animes, where suddenly the main story line is interrupted by some nonsense episodes called fillers, in which usually a weird Japanese humor plays a big role (apologies to my Japanese readers, if there are any – I am just repeating what I was told!). Anyway, why am I telling you this? Don’t be afraid, I don’t want to bother you with Japanese comics but I like the idea of these fillers, at least if they serve a purpose. As a result, please see this article as a filler in my Scrum tool series – I want to zoom in onto a variant to tools like JIRA.
So far, we know that we can do Scrum with paper and we can do Scrum with software – where software means dedicated software, that is written for Scrum. Often overseen, most of the companies have already a tool that is usable to support Scrum: Microsoft Excel (or OpenOffice Calc if you prefer OpenSource or Apple’s Numbers, if you work on a Mac). When using such a spreadsheet tool to create a Scrum tool in a spreadsheet, you should be aware of some aspects, which I will discuss one by one in the following sections.
When facing the introduction of Scrum, everything can be done by using paper, but especially the Product Owner needs a tool to create, update and prioritize his user stories electronically, otherwise he will find his desk covered in piles of sheets that were updated at different areas – in short, it will result in chaos. Therefore, the product owner needs a Scrum tool. Excel & Co is perfect for entering our Scrum world, as it is mostly already installed on every company’s computer – thus extra costs can be avoided. Therefore, it perfectly fits for exploring the idea of the product backlog (eventually, a dedicated Scrum tool might be favored, see the last section).
Another strong point of using Excel & Co next to a dedicated Scrum tool is that it is 100% customizable – in fact, every Product Owner will start from scratch by looking on a plain spreadsheet, that literally cries for data. Step by step, the Product Owner is able to create the rows and columns he needs for his very own Product Backlog. However, some functionality within Excel is quite tricky, especially when it comes to creating the Burn Down Chart. Excel offers lots and lots of different types of diagrams, but the one that matches to a Burn Down Chart is not available (a line diagram comes quite close, but the lines that visualize the burned story points are not completely vertical). To support Product Owners, I have created a very simple Product Backlog template, which helps to calculate the amount of story points per sprint and which offers a suitable Burn Down Chart:
This template should not be treated as full-featured Scrum tool, it serves merely the purpose of a framework, that can be used by Product Owners to create their very own adaption of a Product Backlog.
Not everything is perfect in Excel. For starters it might be a good tool, but most Product Owners will likely stumble across the limited flexibility of Excel-based Product Backlogs. Take the very common example of shifting more important stories – in Excel one has to cut the row with the corresponding story and copy it to a unused row, only to cut the other row and copy it on the spot of the first row. After that, the backup row can be copied to the spot of the second row. You get the point, that’s not very flexible, in fact JIRA & Co do a much better job. And there are countless examples like the one above.
Spreadsheet programs like Excel are good to start messing around with Scrum: most of the company’s computers come with Excel installed per default, and it’s grade of customization is amazing – still, the flexibility is rather low. But that’s how it works: every tool has its advantages and disadvantages.