On March 12nd I held an introduction course on agile project management principles, tools and technques at the Order of the Engineer in Bergamo. Here is the supporting deck I used during the seminar (slides in Italian only).
Maybe you heard something about a time management system called the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a very simple but effective way to organize your daily to-do lists splitting each task into fixed time units. Each of those units is a “pomodoro” and lasts a total of 30 minutes (25 minutes of work with a 5 minutes break).
The Pomodoro Techique was originally thought for personal time management, but can be applied to team and organizations, too. In fact, we can consider it like an evolution of Timeboxing, one of the core methodologies of Agile Project Management.
The following video offers a quick walk-through on how the Pomodoro Technique works:
I can see 3 main advantages of appliying the Pomodoro Technique:
A different way of seeing time: the Pomodoro Technique works with time, instead of struggling against it. This alleviates anxiety and leads to enhanced personal effectiveness.
Avoid distractions: one of the main rules of the Pomodoro Technique is that a “pomodoro” can’t be interrupted. Reading and writing emails, taking phone calls, social networking: distractions are constantly bombarding us, but most of them can wait a little.
A better use of the mind: forcing us to take short, scheduled breaks allows greater clarity of thought, higher consciousness, and sharper focus. This is impossible when you push yourself too hard.
How To Start Using The Pomodoro Technique
Getting started with the Pomodoro Technique is super simple.
STEP #1: Write down your to-do lists for today, with a set of defined tasks ordered by priority.
STEP #2: Get a countdown timer. You can use the one in your smartphone, but the best option to stay in the “Pomodoro mood” is getting a tomato-shaped kitchen timer (here’s a perfect one from Amazon). Set it to 25 minutes and start the clock.
STEP #3: Work on the first task until the timer rings, then take a short break. At the end of each cycle, add an “X” next to the current task.
STEP #4: After 4 “pomodori”, take a longer break of 30 minutes.
Mastering the Pomodoro Technique
To become a “Pomodoro Master”, you should complete a series of increasingly difficult objectives. Note that you should never skip to the next level if you have not completed the current one.
OBJECTIVE #1: this is the entry level and to pass it you only have to (successfully) use the Pomodoro Technique for you daily tasks, following the 4 steps listed before.
OBJECTIVE #2: to reach this level you must be able to focus on your tasks without any interruption while the Pomodoro timer is going. No phone calls, no Facebook, no emails.
People who start applying the Pomodoro Technique are always amazed when they measure the Pomodoros spent on work and study (without unhandled interruptions) and those used for organizational activities (which in part come from dealing with interruptions). In some teams, members start off with no more than 2-3 Pomodoros actually dedicated to work per day per person; the remaining Pomodoros are spent on meetings, phone calls, and emails.
OBJECTIVE #3: now you should be able to make accurate extimations on how many “pomodoros” a task will require.
OBJECTIVE #4: at the beginning of each “pomodoro”, add a small recap of what you have done so far (3-5 minutes); at the end, add a review of the work you’ve done in the current “pomodoro”. Note that its total duration should not change.
OBJECTIVE #5: set up your personal timetable. It will set your limits, motivating you to do your best to complete the tasks without exceeding the available time. And, more importantly, it will separate clearly your work time from your free time.
A timetable measures the results of the day. Once we’ve written up the To Do Today Sheet, our goal is to carry out the activities listed on it with the highest possible quality within the set timeframe. If time runs out and these activities aren’t done, we try to understand what went wrong. In the meantime, we already have an invaluable piece of information: how many Pomodoros we managed to work that day
OBJECTIVE #6: now that you mastered all the fundamentals of the Pomodoro Technicque, it’s time to define your own personal objective, like being more productive and efficient, producing higher quality deliverables or maybe applying the technique to your team!
In this post I’m going to share 4 of my favorite online tools for agile project management and smart collaboration. I’ve had the chance to try all of them at work or for personal side projects and I appreciated the specific features they offer in order to meet my needs in different situations and with different people.
In fact (very important note) the tools in this list are not designed to do the same job. For this reason, I can’t say which is the best: you should choose the one that better fits your requirements and can adapt more easily to your organization and project.
WHAT’S FOR: Basecamp is a comprehensive agile project management tool, ideal for tracking project’s checklists, tasks, owners and deadlines within an intuitive UI, quite different from traditional GANTT-based tools.
PRICE: Basecamp starts at $20/month up to $150/month, depending on how many projects and how much cloud storage you need. A free 30-day trial is available.
WHAT’S FOR: Trello uses the kanban methodology for super-agile project management and smart collaboration. I use it extensively at work, not only for project and task management, but also as an editorial/marketing shared calendar within a 50+ people organization. Anyway, Trello is perfect for managing visually a typical project roadmap (ideas and requests, what’s in development, bugs, etc.): for example, I’m using it very proficiently with my friends at Minisimpli as a project management tool for Bike Showcase Mobile App. I wrote a post on how I use Trello at work for managing the technical roadmap in a mixed organization involving both IT and Marketing stakeholders.
PRICE: Trello has a great free version. For 5$/month you can add some cool features and support the project. An enterprise version called “Business Class” is available at 45$/year per user, giving access to advanced user roles.
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