How to Use Scrum for Your Team and for Print Projects

Working as an in-house designer puts you in the same place as your client, and most (if not all) of the content you need. But don’t let this closeness allow you to become complacent. One of the biggest mistakes an in-house designer can make is having a laissez-faire attitude: You allow things to run their own course without any management, scheduled communication or coordination.

Because you, as an in-house designer, are so close to your colleagues, client, and content, you should have a detailed plan and scheduled meetings. This is where Scrum comes in handy.

Scrum has been primarily used as an agile methodology for computer programmers, software developers, and web or app developers. Jeff Sutherland and Jeff McKenna, as well as Ken Schwaber, Mike Smith, and Chris Martin were all key players who developed and made Scrum what it is today.

Within the agile world of releasing early and often, getting feedback and revising and iterating, Scrum allows team members to identify what is needed, keep track of what they’re doing and what problems they may face, all while checking in with one another on a regular basis to move the work forward. What’s most important is to release early and often, meaning get the work out the door, and apply updates, feature additions, fixes, and improvements frequently.


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Many different “flavors” of Scrum, sometimes deemed modified Scrum, have been created and instituted to match the organization where the system is used.

But no matter how you Scrum, at it’s core, Scrum is an iterative and incremental approach to design: You take things step by step, and revise frequently to improve quality.

Philosophically speaking, Scrum requires:

  • Teamwork and open communication. The whole team shares and believes in the definition of what’s needed and what the goal is.
  • Assessment. Work is reviewed, critiqued, pulled apart, put back together, and completed on time and in order to get something out the door.
  • Change. The team becomes a system comprised of change agents who stay on task, adapt to challenges and difficulties, and “go with the flow.” You stay loyal to a minimum viable product.

If you’re doing in-house work on websites, web apps, and apps, you should use Scrum, to not only stay in touch with your colleagues, client, content, and users, but also so you can advance your digital projects further and further along. Stagnant digital design usually means “dead” digital design, and Scrum is tantamount to keeping things updated, living, breathing, lively, and functional.

But if your primary design tasks or your only design tasks require you to produce printed products, then you might benefit from a looser Scrum methodology, one that’s customized for your needs. But what does Scrum look like?

A Scrum Overview

    1. The Organization is the in-house company
    2. The Organization needs a Project/Product to ship in 30 days or less (2-4 weeks in a digital design/development cycle)
    3. The Project/Product Owner prioritizes the Product needs, in what’s called a Backlog
    4. The Team, comprised of subject matter experts, will get 30 days or less in order to release something
    5. The Scrum Master referees and coaches, and ensures that the Team follows the Scrum rules
    6. A Sprint requires the Team to complete one item from the Backlog, with a textbook Sprint being 30 days, however, some teams break up the Sprint into multiple cycles
    7. The Team meets every day to report on their progress, this is called a Daily Scrum
    8. A Sprint can last 2-4 weeks, but the Team still meets each day, holding the Daily Scrum
    9. Holding a Daily Scrum as a “stand-up meeting” requires the whole Team to meet standing up for the whole meeting; they share reports, tracks progress, and state the next component they need to work on
    10. At the end of the Sprint, a review happens, the work is released and the work completed is logged into a Retrospective, a journal that tracks everything about that one Sprint
    11. A new Sprint begins, and the Team takes on another task from the Scrum Backlog, to prepare for another release that will enhance, modify, and ideally improve the product

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That’s Scrum in a nutshell, and in a very basic nutshell at that. That framework could be adapted for building a print-based product, by positioning in-house staff members within that framework, and expanding or contracting duties and processes. But doing so would make it less like Scrum, and more like, well, something else, perhaps a cousin’s cousin’s cousin of Scrum. Nevertheless, here’s what it looks like.


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Modified Scrum for a Quarterly Print Product

        1. The Organization needs a direct mailer, catalog, brochure, or other printed product to ship once every 3 months of the year
        2. The Project/Product Owner prioritizes the product needs, for the 1st quarter, as well as the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters, building this into the Backlog
        3. The Team, comprised of a marketing manager, copy writer and designer will get 30 days or less to release something for the 1st quarter
        4. The Scrum Master, who in this case, would be somebody outside of the Team, such as an art director, creative director, or other senior level employee, acts as a referee to ensure that everyone involved in the Project is following the Scrum rules, and staying on task
        5. The Team meets every day to report on progress during their stand-up meetings, identifying what part of the printed design they are working on and what they will work on next, as well as any issues getting in the way of their work
        6. At the end of each Sprint, in this case each week, a review happens, the work is prepared for printing and the work completed is logged into a Retrospective
        7. A new Sprint begins, with a new component of the project, and the Team takes on another task, perhaps other pages within the printed product; all this time, they are still working on the print product for the 1st quarter
        8. At the end of the four weeks, the entire project is done, shipped to the printer, and out the door, in effect, the 1st quarter is closed out
        9. Once in the consumer’s hands, marketing uses one or more customer relationship management techniques to gain insight about the printed design’s reception, use, and usefulness; this can include social media, email, telemarketing, or even re-directing people from the printed product to a niche microsite, to capture their feedback, and poll the users
        10. Data collected from the users gets reviewed and vetted by the Project Owner to determine what advances, changes, or edits should be used for subsequent quarterly iterations of the publications
        11. A new set of Sprints begin for the subsequent quarterly publications

Using Scrum in this manner is best as a starting point, and the above process could be modified even further, such that a printer is involved throughout the process, so you can have them produce color proofs during each Sprint. This would give you proofs once per week for color matching, and you’d have quality assurance before sending everything to the printer.

While the above method forces team members to communicate more often, it may be too often for some in-house teams. If that’s the case, change the meeting frequency. Adaptation for the benefit of the team, as well as the organization’s and stakeholder’s audience and consumers is key. So make it work for you, not against you.

Modifying Scrum in this way may seem unorthodox to some purists, but by adapting Scrum for an in-house team’s design needs (whether for print or digital projects), staff members now have a system to get their work done. And even a unorthodox system is better than no system at all.

Learn even more about interactive design and how these theories and practices can make you and your team more organized, relevant and better. Don’t miss the San Francisco HOW Interactive Design Conference. Guided by working practitioners, you’ll explore new tools and strategies to take home to your design practice. Short on time? Check out the one-day pass option.