Lessons learned after being an NPR intern

Our Chica Poderosa Jessenia Araya, from Costa Rica, was part of the team at National Public Radio (NPR) newsroom, in Washington. Over 4 weeks, Jessenia has learned at the NPR team how to improve her digital skills, as part of the latest Dow Jones – Chicas Poderosas Fellowship 2017.

Thanks to the support of the Dow Jones Foundation and in association with the ICFJ, this program has give two women journalists from Latin America the opportunity to work in the most innovative newsrooms in digital media, in the United States.

Today, we share with you what Jessenia learned from this experience:

There are many things you can learn in the adventure of being part of a team for a month. Witnessing, being and reacting to the daily work of a newsroom always has its challenges. A “normal” day may change into a flood, a hurricane or simply because someone is requesting information and needs it immediately.

I have lived the adrenaline for many years in an newspaper in Costa Rica but I think, definitely, that the way of working daily is established largely by the culture, by the education of the people who carry it out. Or just, because between countries we solve things in a different way.

For this reason, after going through the NPR team, one of the experiences that I take with me is the Scrum methodology.

On my first day, I asked my mentor what time he would arrive the next day, if I was supposed to go looking for him or how should we work. He answered me: you can be here before the Scrum (which is our daily team meeting and it is at 10 a.m).

According to Google, Scrum is “a process in which a set of good practices are applied on a regular basis to work collaboratively, as a team, and obtain the best possible result from a project.” That was the only thing I knew. I arrived that morning and saw the team gathered in a corner of the building, waiting for 10 o’clock, like someone who is expecting something to happen. This ritual is repeated daily. Religiously.

In this process all the parties in an horizontal manner answer two questions:

  1. What did I do yesterday?
  2. What will I do today?

The details are told from an annotation on your cell phone or in a post-it. They don’t sit down to talk about their tasks, expressing satisfaction or dissatisfaction. No matter which part of the team is in the other side of the country, these designers tell each other daily what challenges them and make agreements informally. This is how some conversations where:

– Today I’m going to work on the eclipse topic, if Katie already has the data.

– Katie: Yes, I’ll pass it on!

– Ohhh great!

If you could not get to 10 o’clock, there was always the option to do “teleworking” and send the data your train or subway.

I think this methodology is an example to learn, especially because, in my experience, we lose a lot of time in meetings where sometimes many people do not say a word. At NPR, everyone knows what they have to do. There is not much supervision. They have a structure of work focused on the results. (Something very American, in my opinion.)

These meetings every morning, are key because it evidences the work of colleagues, in a relaxed atmosphere. We all know where we are at. And somehow, it challenges us daily – as competitive beings that we are, – if we feel that our day yesterday was not very productive compared to the others, without needing a boss to call your attention. It is a personal and intimate reaction.

Many times a person can feel that she/he have been working a lot, while others do nothing. The Scrum allows for collaboration between the team, knowing the work of others. Therefore, we avoid those parts of the teamwork that could be discouraging.

In this sense, it is a good practice of a collaborative work to obtain the best result possible, especially when the project is not clear, it is not a single assignment and it can change along the way. So this methodology allows an organic and versatile growth so that the process is highly productive.

As part of this methodology, partial and regular deliveries of the final product are made, prioritized by the benefit they bring to the recipient of the project. Therefore, Scrum is especially suitable for projects in complex environments, where you need to get results soon, where requirements are changing or poorly defined, where innovation, competitiveness, flexibility and productivity are fundamental.

Scrum is also used to solve situations in which we are not delivering what the client needs. For example, when deliveries get too long, prices increase or quality is not acceptable; when it is necessary to react to the competition; when the morale of the teams is low and the rotation high; when it is necessary to identify and solve inefficiencies systematically or when you want to work using a process specialized in product development.

Which profiles intervene in the Scrum methodology?

As we said, this method would not be possible without the concept of “team-work “.

On one hand, we have the Product Owner who represents the voice of the client and the rest of the stakeholders who are not directly involved in the project. This profile is responsible for defining the goals of the project and ensuring that the team works in the appropriate way to achieve these objectives.

But the Product Owner is not alone. The Scrum Master is in charge of ensuring that the rest of the team has no problems in addressing their functions and tasks. Guide and help the Scrum Team to guarantee the fulfillment of objectives. In other words, this profile helps the team stay active and productive.

The Scrum Team is the team in charge of developing and delivering the product. His work is essential: we are talking about a self-organized horizontal structure capable of self-managing.

And, finally, we have to talk about the Stakeholders. This group includes those profiles interested in the product: directors, owners, commercials. These are profiles that, while not part of the Scrum Team, should be taken into account.

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