Our weekly rhythm (iterations)

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(Clock image by simpologist on Flickr)

Establishing a rhythm to our weeks and days has provided our team a sustainable pattern for predictably delivering work with quality. Our performance is an outcome of executing within this pattern repeatedly over time.

I learned the concept of a team rhythm from Jeff Sutherland and ours is a scrum and has the shape of a game: a short time frame (one week), an achievable goal that constitutes “winning”, alternating periods of focused team work with opportunities to regroup, strategize and rest.

Rolling Planning

Each day after stand up, as needed, the developers and product people have a 30-45 min. conversation to co-author, clarify, scope and estimate stories for next week. The narrative of the story is not as important as that we have discussed it as a group and that it has mutually understood acceptance criteria.

By Thursday, the product people have force ranked next week’s work reviewed the work and ranking with our sponsor, the Chief Digital Officer.

Do we need to estimate stories? That depends on whether the conversation over the estimate adds focus to the conversation over the scope and acceptance criteria of the story, surfaces risks, raises alternatives. It also depends on whether estimates affect when or whether a story is played or how it gets prioritized. It also depends on whether your team makes an iteration commitment.

We estimate.

Commitment

On Monday morning, the team is ready to decide how far down that list of work we are confident we will complete this week. We usually start and complete additional work during the week but this is the floor.

Is the commitment necessary? It is a definitional practice in Scrum but the answer depends on whether anyone considers achieving the commitment a meaningful measure of success. It also depends on whether the conversation over what is or is not in that commitment will affect what the team is asked to work on and what gets delivered at the end of the week.

For us, the fact of a commitment helps maintain trust with our sponsor, the product people like the ability to make commitments to others with assurance we have their back, it helps the team work opportunistically on the backlog — to self-organize around the work and pull stories in a way they believe will lead to the best outcome that week while still having a reminder of which stories need to get done. So, we have a commitment.

Showcase

As a department, we hold a a 30 min. showcase where the product team and two developers present the work we delivered the prior week. That bleeds into another 60 minutes of roadmap conversations which the developers are free to duck out of at their discretion depending on the relevance.

This showcase cycles in and out of being a meaningful exercise for the developers themselves but it continues to be a useful touchpoint with the rest of our department. Whether the developers find the following roadmap discussion useful is the degree to which they feel a need to get in sync with our department goals and how our work feeds into those goals. It also depends on how well that meeting addresses that need — which varies.

Retrospect

Having made our commitment for this week, we hold a 30 minute retrospective with the product people and developers. A developer usually facilitates.

This is one of the most important tasks in our week and yet it is also the one practice we control that needs most improvement. We need to do a better job and focusing in on root causes of both what is going well and what is not. We need to do a better job of identifying concrete things we should do in response. We need to do a better job of holding ourselves accountable for doing things and observing whether they actually help.

Deploy

We deploy on Mondays. We do more as needed. We have a theoretical one touch deploy but the reality of our environment is Zombie Unicorns that sometimes wont die and so we are not yet at a point where we deploy without hesitation. We are working on our environment with our hosting provider to get past this.

Though the reality is, we find a balance point between frequency of deploys and branch management. A single weekly deployment has the advantage of allowing us a 1-2 day lag between QA’d and signed off without requiring us to maintain a rolling production deploy branch. We usually can simply deploy master. More frequent deploys would require either a more just in time sign off or a disciplined practice that connects sign off to which features are merged into/turned on in the deploy branch.

Pairing

After Monday, each day follows a rhythm: morning standup with product (15 min.), the product planning time (30-45min.), morning pair session (2.5 hours), lunch and personal work time (1.5 hours), dev team check in (15min.), afternoon pair session (3.5 hours)

The afternoon check in is something the developers themselves started that functions as part standup, part opportunity to share something they learned that morning or a problem they ran into. It also is a second opportunity in the day to rotate pairs if it makes sense.

Kaizen

One of the downsides of a joint product/dev retro is that many of the issues the developers want to discuss aren’t relevant to the product team. So, the developers themselves started holding a Kaizen at the end of the week, while things are still fresh, to share and improve our development practices and code quality.

Because the Kaizen arose from the team itself and is more focused in scope, it tends to work better than our retros.

Conclusion

So, this is how our week falls out. It is what we as a group have arrived at over time and it is continually evolving. New obstacles or constraints may drive new practices. Practices that were a solution to a specific problem can remain like vestigial limbs long after the problem has ceased to exist and need to be discontinued.

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Our weekly rhythm (iterations)
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Establishing a rhythm to our weeks and days has provided our team a sustainable pattern for predictably delivering work with quality. Our performance is an outcome of executing within this pattern repeatedly over time.
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