Story Time Meetings

Keeping you backlog in order doesn’t tend to happen in isolation. My past experience is the backlog drifts because of a concentration on completing day to day Sprint tasks. You can tell when the backlog has drifted, the planning meeting goes long. Kane Mar suggests an approach of using a Story Time meeting.

A Story Time meeting should be held at the same time and location every single week and involve the entire team, including the Product Owner and ScrumMaster. The sole intention of these weekly meetings is to work through the backlog in preparation for future work. This may include adding new stories and epics, splitting up overly large stories, and sizing.

At my past company this often came up as an issue since backlog items wouldn’t get estimated or explored much until the Sprint planning meeting. The idea is to have the product owner keep up with these items and follow up with people to get estimates as new items show up. In practice that just didn’t happen.

I like the idea of blocking out time to make sure it gets done and it helps ensure the planning meeting is smoother and over sooner. You wouldn’t need to use it with every team since some teams are just naturally better at making the time to keep the backlog in good shape.

Checking Out Code on a Library Schedule

Your local public library lets you check out books for a few weeks at a time. Developers shouldn’t ever use this as a model, but it can happen. A developer new to a language or framework is afraid to check in. Instead they wait sometimes weeks before checking in their first code. My idea of an ideal checkout time is 15-30 minutes. A day is really an extreme edge case.

Of course the shocking issue is some developers still don’t even use source control at all.

Crisp Meetings

A good crisp meeting can be better than strolling through leaves on a fall day. By crisp I mean:

  • The meeting has an agenda.
  • The agenda went out far in advance.
  • The leading has a strong owner who facilitates or helps keep the meeting on track.
  • The meeting starts on time.
  • Late people are ignored and have to bring treats to the next meeting or donate some small amount to a charity.
  • Presenters are prepared.
  • When discussions go to long they are put in a parking lot.
  • The meeting ends 5 minutes early so you’re not late to your next meeting.

At a former company a new CIO showed up and started holding a weekly management leadership meeting. The first meeting people strolled in a little late. The CIO spelled out the ground rules. The last person in the room after the start time owed treats to the whole group the next time. I’m not sure how seriously they took it, but the next meeting several managers were late. In fact one manager came in more than 5 minutes late and tried to sit in the back. The CIO pulled out the chair beside him and beckoned the manager to sit beside him the whole meeting. And just in case the manager forgot he reminded him he should bring nice treats for the next meeting.

Unfortunately the company had an entrenched culture of lateness and bad meetings so most meetings someone still showed up late. I really thought having the CIO point out your tardiness was enough of an incentive to be early, but behavior can be hard to change.

If you’ve fallen into the a common poor meeting culture try running a crisp meeting even as an experiment. You’ll be surprised how different it feels to come out of a focused meeting.

Beach Email

Kids putting the final touches on a grand sandcastle while their dad hunches over a blackberry thumbs on the keys.

We take an annual family beach vacation every year. Two years ago my brother in law turned up with a Blackberry and was constantly checking email over the course of the week to the point of distraction. I’d seen a bit of this behavior in the workplace, but it was a bit disturbing to see a full fledged Crackberry addiction on a beach vacation.

The difference this year was my brother in law has actually kept his crackberry usage down a good bit, but I saw multiple people on the beach hunched over there phones pounding away. Their kids were boogey boarding, jumping in the surf, or building sand castles while they stared at a tiny screen. I’d never seen people on the beach pounding away on a Blackberry.

Personally I gave instructions to my tech lead who was covering while I was out to call me if any emergencies came up, but not to bother trying to get me via email because I wouldn’t be checking it. I didn’t get any calls. I follow the same policy when employees are out I’ll only contact for an actual emergency via a phone call.

I hope seeing the Crackberry’s at the beach will be the last time. Studies are starting to recognize the negative impacts on productivity around this kind of interruption driven existence.