I started this series of blog posts with the intent of sharing with IT managers (and perhaps-someday managers) the process and experience of participating in an open source sprint. I have no idea whether this one is representative of most sprints, as it’s my first—but I did come home with a few Lessons Learned.
First, 20 people can accomplish a huge amount in five days. I haven’t yet found the summary of what the Get Paid team finished during the week, but here’s a short summary of what the ten-or-so people working on documentation did, submitted to me kindly by JoAnna Springsteen:
“The goal behind holding a documentation sprint was to really dig in and fix up plone.org ‘s documentation. We have a lot of documents on a lot of topics but it’s a standard complaint that no one can never find anything. After months of reorganizing, talking, and plotting, we decided that our goals for a doc sprint would be to reorganize the plone.org documentation area and deliver the latest release of Plone with up to date documentation. As the sprint comes to a close, I’m happy to report we have accomplished our intended goals.
“Our team of documentation sprinters in attendance included Aleksander Vladimirskiy, Joel Burton, Steve McMahon, Darci Hanning, Erik Rose, Bob Edmonston, Rob Stephenson, Balazs Reé, Jeff Pittman, Esther Schindler, Nate Aune, JoAnna Springsteen, and Veda Williams, as well as many virtual sprinters. This was possibly the first ever non-virtual documentation sprint. The sprint got off to a fantastic start thanks to all of our wonderful sponsors. Because of their support, we were able to cover a lot of the costs associated with the sprint. Our sponsors helped set a standard of support that I hope only grows more from here.
“So what exactly did we do out here in Silicon Valley for a week? Our biggest task and biggest success was the reorganization and redesign of the front page for plone.org/documentation. Erik Rose and Steve McMahon led us in a massive card sort where we all took turns trying to categorize all the documents from plone.org/documentation. Veda Williams and Joel Burton collaborated with Erik to work on a new design for plone.org/documentation that you will see very soon. Steve and Alex Clark also worked on updating the software for Plone Help Center so that it can support our new design and tagging of documents.
“Alex C. joined us a few days late but took on the challenge of updating the api.plone.org documentation for a total of three versions of Plone. Steve also updated the Archetypes manual as well as working on a UI tutorial. Alex Vladimirskiy tackled documenting open id, new roles, and new workflows for the Plone 3 release. Bob Edmonston worked on a document that describes how to use macros and metal in plone page templates. Darci Hanning work on versioning documentation for Plone 3 as well as providing assistance for plone.org issues and chipping in on the doc resort. Esther Schindler and Balazs Reé worked on writing up some extremely critical documentation for the KSS product. Joel Burton served as a SME, editor, and cheerleader as well as cranking out a manual on ZPT. JoAnna worked on a kupu document, contributed to the workflow manual and the doc reorganization. Jeff Pittman and Rob Stephenson worked on reconciling end user documents on plone.org with learnplone.org documentation.”
“These are some substantial contributions to plone.org/documentation that will be visibly noticeable to the Plone community and extremely helpful to those who participate in the IRC chat room. The documentation team sincerely hopes that the products from this sprint are helpful to all members of the Plone community.” [End of JoAnna’s text]
All of which is pretty impressive for three days of 9-to-5 work. Not counting anything that people did back at their hotel, though I think that for most people, such effort was divided between “keep up with my Real Job back at the office” and “drink beer by the pool”—one hopes that everyone kept each of these straight. Nor did it count our prodigious consumption of the famous food supplied by Google, which is probably another post entirely.
Figure 1: A tiny piece of the documentation card sort process.
One quiet lesson is that leadership is necessary only when it’s absent. That sounds rather Yogi-Berraish, but what I mean to say is that when teams work well, the only leadership necessary is for someone to announce an event: “We’ll start the lightening talks at 3:30” or “Remember, we have to be out of here by 5, so we’d better do the daily status meeting at 4:30.” While there were people in charge of both the doc and development teams, they were more coordinators than bosses. Some people do have a personality component that causes them to hover around other team members to supply social WD-40, and that kibbitzing is a hard-to-measure necessity. In this case, people took those roles on themselves.
Another pleasant observation was the openness of both the people and the development process. It’s easy to imagine that a sprint would be just like a bunch of coworkers who, ho-hum, share an office every day and occasionally schmooze in the company breakroom. Maybe, if you have a golden team and you’ve come to expect more. I doubt it, though.
The sprint teams (which were socially one group even with a couple of white boards shoved between the tables) already had their interpersonal relationships established over IRC, and there was a sense of fun about the opportunity to work together. Everyone was interested to learn from one another, too; the lightening talks that so engaged me were a quick way to download the contents of someone’s brain on one specific topic, as a resource that would not ordinarily be available. I even gave one on “how to get plone (or other open source projects) more attention in the computer press.”
Figure 2: The sprint team came from all over the world, and encompassed professional developers, computer consultants, trainers, university IT staff, a librarian, and… well, I never did think to ask everyone about their real-world persona.
Plus, everyone tacitly understood that this work was being done for a greater good. No one had to say it aloud, but everyone remained cognizant that we were creating software and documentation that would help someone solve a problem. There’s nothing quite so cool as the sense that you’re making a difference in the world, not just “putting in time for The Man,” and it’s a remarkable feeling to wallow in that perception for a full week.