Spotlight on Pacesetters: The New York Metro Chapter

by Kevin Cuddihy on 5 February 2014

The deadline for communities to apply for the Pacesetter Award is Tuesday, 25 March. The Pacesetter Award recognizes the successful implementation of a single beneficial innovation that may be implemented by other STC communities, as opposed to the overall evaluation that takes place for the Community Achievement Award. In the next few weeks we’ll be highlighting a few of the communities that received the Pacesetter Award last year with a Q&A with community leaders.

The New York Metro Chapter received their Pacesetter Award “For adapting Agile methodology to community management by allowing volunteers to accept manageable tasks, leaders to track progress regularly, and the STC New York Metro community to achieve more in an organized and constantly improving way.” Nitza Hauser talked with us about the chapter earned the award and what it meant to the community. See the STC website for more information about the Pacesetter Award, and then apply for your community today!

Can you expand a bit more on what your Pacesetter Award for?

NY Metro chapter received the Pacesetter award “for adapting Agile methodology to community management.”  We applied the principles of Agile to our on-going work, and run our on-going task forces much like scrums: we list our goals for each project in a Backlog and run bi-weekly Sprints where we create and update tasks, size them, assign owners, and follow-up on execution. This means more frequent, but shorter meetings. Progress is achieved in small bites, but is much more noticeable and the volunteers appreciate the short, quick meetings.

What gave you the idea?

When my company (Medidata Solutions) moved to the Agile development methodology a few years back, I was part of the team involved in the transition. We were trained and certified as Scrum Masters and I was greatly intrigued and excited about the potential of Agile.

As first VP of the NY Metro chapter, I ran the committee tasked with revamping our website. Naturally, I looked for a way to get the benefits of Agile in our volunteer work as well. We brainstormed and discussed the steps involved, came up with a backlog of goals and tasks, and met weekly to report on progress. Using Agile methodology, we were able to put together the new web platform in as little as 8 Sprints (16 weeks)!

When I took over as president of the NY Metro chapter in 2012, I expanded the practice to our other activities. I currently run two task forces, each meeting in an alternate week, where we cover most chapter activities. Note, by the way, the change of title from Committee to Task Force or Team. These, I believe, reflect more closely the action-oriented aspect of the teams.

What kind of work and/or planning was involved?

It does not take much to set up Agile teams.To start all you need is a spreadsheet to use as a backlog, where you list your agile stories (read “goals”) and break them down into tasks; this is done by the team as part of the meetings. What is more difficult is to get everyone in the right mindset of taking ownership of small tasks and gathering regularly every two weeks to discuss them and pick up the next set of tasks.

How can other STC communities apply this idea to their community?

I would recommend the following steps:

  1. Decide and prioritize your goals. They should be clear and achievable.
  2. Find volunteers who are willing to help you make those goals a reality. Let them know they will not be expected to attend long meetings, just do a few hours’ worth of help between sprints (read “meetings”).
  3. Set up regular meetings where you split goals into smaller tasks which can be accomplished in 1-2 weeks. Assign each task an owner.
  4. Hold regular scrum meetings (weekly or bi-weekly, for example), where the team breaks down the goals into achievable tasks, and each person takes on a task to do before the next meeting. (Do not assign too much, and take into considerations people’s availability.) Split the meeting time between reporting on progress on assigned tasks, and deciding on the next set of tasks. KEEP THE MEETINGS SHORT AND TO THE POINT.
  5. Watch your chapter achieve more goals than ever before in an organized and constantly improving way.

Why do you think a community should apply for a Pacesetter Award?

Applying for a Pacesetter award (and winning) provides confirmation to the chapter—and most of all to the hard working volunteers—that what they are doing is innovative, is unique, and is worthy of praise. It is also satisfying to be able to possibly help other chapters down the line.

Anything else you’d like to add?

We’d be happy to share our backlog (read “Agile tracking spreadsheet”) template with anyone who’s interested. For those with Google Docs accounts, here’s a Google Spreadsheet template for a project backlog.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

Previous post:

Next post: