Monthly Archives: February 2015

Scrum for Science

I’ve started reading the Scrum: the Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time. It has inspired me to attempt to use some agile development/Scrum principles in working on my lab’s current manuscript. I think it is working pretty well. We have the first figure and many of the first set of experiments. It’s a little bit tough to think about unpredictable changes in experiments designed to cope with the reality of experimental failure. Probably the most important aspects of the scrum cycle are its ability to cut down on procrastination and the flexibility it offers to a team of busy people with other obligations. My students are all involved in classes and have plenty of work without having to know lab. If they’re working together on a shared goals, they can make progress even though none of them have an extended chunk of time to spend dedicated to a particular experiment.

Let’s get down to brass tacks: how do we measure productivity and how good can we expect it to get?

In my experience, an ambitious but realistic goal in an analytical lab is to produce one paper per graduate student per year. If this method is as good as it claims, then we can produce four papers per graduate student per year. That would suggest that my lab should produce four papers this year and as many as eight papers next year (assuming that the Allen lab can get another grad student). Suddenly that seems wildly unrealistic. Is it? Certainly it would require some more editorial effort on the part of students.

I don’t know if it will ever get that good but I can already see that what would have been three very slow projects has become one very fast project using the approaches that this book has suggested.