15 Jan 2018

Digital Experience Center Ceremonies

or, “I thought you said you don’t have meetings?”

When we’re discussing what we do in the Digital Experience Center, we often mention our daily and weekly ceremonies (read: meetings. They’re meetings. They’re particularly effective meetings, but they’re still meetings.). Describing the structure of our days and weeks is an effective way to communicate what it’s like to actually work here. We adopted most of these ceremonies in 2014 when our team first formed, and we continue to find value in them now, several years after their introduction.

Daily DEC Standup

Every morning at 8:06, everyone working in the DEC gathers in the kitchen to share a few minutes of conversation. We call this our morning standup, and it covers four topics:

  1. During New Faces, new team members introduce themselves. We often have new folks joining the team, or visitors to our space, and we want them to feel welcome. This also helps the team know who the new folks are and what they’re working on.
  2. Next is Interestings. Anyone may speak up with a few words about news, articles, announcements, or other items of interest to the team.
  3. The Helps segment is an opportunity to ask for assistance. Team members may be seeking expertise on how to integrate with a service, getting users for usability testing, or even help cleaning up the kitchen prior to an event.
  4. During Events, people share upcoming events, both internal and external. Lunch speakers, meetups, conferences, and webinars are all fair game.

The DEC-wide standup begins the day with intention. It encourages timely arrivals, and creates momentum for the team.

Daily Product Team Standup

Immediately following the large standup, product teams gather near their desks for a daily product standup. Each team member spends a few moments updating the team on new progress since yesterday, what they plan to take on today, and any other pertinent information – upcoming vacation, meetings that will take them away from the product team, or news that affects the team.

Why do we stand?

“Standups” are called that because we stand up when we have them. This keeps the meeting brief. No one wants to stand in a circle for 30 minutes listening to people talk, so everyone is encouraged to keep updates short but effective.

Iteration Planning Meeting

Usually shortened to IPM, the Iteration Planning Meeting happens once a week on Monday mornings. Limited to no more than one hour, IPM is the time for discussing and estimating stories in the backlog. We make sure to estimate enough for one week, and maybe a bit more, but no more than two week’s worth. Anything more is wasteful, because the backlog is subject to change. IPM is limited to one hour – after 60 minutes of sitting in a conference room talking, people’s eyes start to glaze over with boredom.

Retrospective

Every Friday, for the last working hour of the week, each product team has a retrospective. This one-hour meeting gives the team an opportunity to think back on the past week and determine if there are any process improvements to be made, or team dynamics to improve. There are dozens of ways to run a retrospective (“retro” for short), but the goal should always been continuous improvement of the team and of product delivery.

Sounds like more process for process’ sake, to me!

While this may sound like yet another process template, for us, these ceremonies are valuable and reliable. They provide a useful framework for a week of work, and a reliable rhythm for product development.

That said, everything is eligible for improvement. Some teams have altered these ceremonies to better fit their needs. Some examples:

  • A team member who lives in another state has to travel on Monday mornings to be with the team for the workweek. To accommodate travel plans, the team moves IPM to Monday afternoon. It’s important that the whole team is present, and there’s value in having the weekly meeting at a consistent time.
  • A team with distributed engineers is dealing with a time zone mismatch, so they move their daily product team standup to 9:05, and conduct it via video calls in Slack. This allows the team to mimic the standard in-person standup as closely as possible.
  • On a particularly complex and technical product, the team begins to struggle with getting stories estimated in IPM. Stories are being rewritten during IPM, and the team is feeling frustrated. After bringing it up in a Retrospective, the team schedules an additional weekly meeting, called pre-IPM. This one-hour meeting is attended by just one engineering pair (on a rotating basis) so that the Product Manager can work through complexity with the engineers, to ensure stories are ready to go when the whole team gets together for IPM. In this case, spending the additional time each week preparing increases the efficiency of IPM, and everyone feels better about how their time is spent.

In Closing

Agile Software Development values “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” http://agilemanifesto.org/. Each of the ceremonies listed above has a purpose, and should any of them begin to lose their purpose, it’s important to understand why. We are not agile because we have standup. We have standup because it supports our agility.

Becki Hyde