by Mike Casey, Director of Technical Operations, Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative, Indiana University
What do Rugby, software development, and media digitization have in common? The answer is scrum.
- in rugby, the act of restarting play after an infringement when the two opposing packs of forwards group together with heads down and arms interlocked and push to gain ground while the scrum half throws the ball in and the hookers attempt to scoop it out to their own team.
- a disorderly struggle, a place or situation of confusion and racket
- A management and control process as well as a simple framework for effective team collaboration on complex software projects
In hopes of minimizing “disorderly struggles,” IU Media Digitization Studios (the IU digitization facility known as IUMDS) adopted and adapted scrum principles and procedures to help manage its operation. In this case, scrum is a framework for tackling complex projects that was originally created for software development, particularly what is known as Agile development. IUMDS was looking for ways not only to track recordings to be digitized but to support choice, foster investment and engagement, encourage productivity, keep morale high, and nurture a culture of continual improvement and flexibility. We did not rigorously adopt everything from scrum as used for software development. Below is a discussion of some of the facets of scrum that helped us reach our objectives.
In scrum, time is divided into short work units known as sprints. IUMDS uses sprints that are two weeks in length. Every two weeks staff gather for a sprint meeting in which we evaluate the previous two weeks of digitization work and plan for the following two weeks. Our discussions focus on what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what’s holding us back or limiting our ability to work efficiently.
The backlog of recordings to be digitized is populated by the MDPI director of technical operations who, in consultation with the Libraries and the MDPI media preservation specialist, chooses the formats and/or collections that IUMDS is working on at any given time. However, audio and video engineers choose what they wish to commit to for the upcoming sprint from the existing backlog. For example, an audio engineer may be feeling particularly sanguine at a sprint meeting and wish to tackle Scotch 175 tapes that are squealing, in which case she assigns Scotch 175 batches to herself for the next two weeks.
Digitization work can be tedious. Think weeks and weeks of 90 minute audio cassettes in a language that you don’t understand. Or years of lacquer discs that must be preserved. Having the ability to choose the specific recordings that you work on provides some measure of control. You can then focus on your two-week commitment and not on an endless future of, say, lacquer discs. It is the satisfaction of small task completion–successfully meeting two-week targets is satisfying and feels like (and is) real progress. All of these have a positive impact on morale.
This post continues with part 2.
 Agile software development is an umbrella term for a set of methods and practices based on the values and principles from the Agile Manifesto created in 2001. See https://www.agilealliance.org/agile101/ Scrum is one of a number of Agile methodologies.