Monday, January 28, 2013

My booksprint experience

I spent two days this weekend to experience a booksprint to to write a book on agile in Finnish. Book version 1.0 - first release from the first sprint - was out 6.15 pm yesterday, just as we had scheduled. Scope ended up as 99 pages of varied experiences written with a variable quality. The book is called 376 years of agile experiences, that is, the summed number of years in the software industry for the writers that has influenced what we experience with agile.

I must admit I had my doubts on 20 egos in one place with a shared but really vague task. But towards the end, ended up being positively surprised that something actually was done to our definition of done "dares to show to a friend".

The work really started months ago, when I enrolled. I was quite active in the discussions, with the personal intent of reminding people we don't really agree on the topic we're about to write on and that it would be a loss if one decided and the others just executed the plan. As I understood, a booksprint could start with just an idea, and we could work towards making that idea real, together, as a facilitated group.

In preparation, three of us met up with a group of people who had created a book in Finland this way, but their topic was mathematics. They had actually started from an outline of what should be taught on the topic. And that was quite a different task than the one we had at hand.

On saturday 10 a.m. the booksprint session then finally started. We had about 20 people in the room, ready to write and learn. We had a facilitator to control the process, and went through a series of discussions: who are we writing for and why, what should we write about. All of these discussions, together with a lunch that had not been preplanned enough to stay for the kitchen to cope with our numbers, took until 3 p.m.

I feel the value of the group discussion was more towards getting to know the unknown people just a little, what they found relevant enough to talk about. But it wasn't actually taking the book forward, as planning is not yet doing, and doing teaches us much.

I ended up in a group of 6 people with a wide selection of topics to write about: doing things in agile. We had become a group since some of us wanted to write about product backlog -related stuff, but got a few other stickies to go with this from implementation to maintenance.

After all the discussion, I wanted to just try writing for a while, to sort out what kinds of experiences I personally could write about. With a little discussion, every one of us in the group started writing individual stories, without agreeing on what was our scope, our common goal or anything of that sort.

The facilitator came in to interrupts us with breaks on regular intervals, which made us realize how time was flying. After the first writing session, one of our team members started leading the effort. This particular team member was someone with a little less hands-on experience, and she started asking the others what they could write about, trying to agree a plan on who works with what so that we'd get something together. I found myself become irritated with this controlling of the work when I was not sure where I would start with my writing - I did not want to commit to anything yet, except that I will write and share my stories. I told the group that I probably will only write this one piece I was working on and change topic next day, and continued my writing - reading process.

To be a little less of a loner, I started talking about a picture we could have the graphics fellow do for us - that we would need to leverage the skills he has as he too was spending the whole weekend there, and pictures are relevant. So we drafted an idea on paper, and left him thinking about it. The paper draft was transformed to a powerpoint-style picture, and then replaced with a real one. 

At 6 p.m. large part of the group stopped working for the first day. A subgroup continued, with myself and a colleague. We read all the individual and dispersed stories people had contributed. We copy pasted text around, added intro text and structure. And by 11 p.m we had a structure that emerged from the stories we had written so far, reflected with the understanding of our area to write on, and our first picture in the chapter.

Next morning the team regrouped at 10 a.m. and by that time people who had left early had already realized that things were taken forward but nothing was removed. The structure inspired us into collaborating, and the complete silence from the first day talking about what people would want to contribute next. And we also identified a gaping hole in the theme of implementation that we wanted to work on.

With the good experience of reading and seeing the emerging structure, I went on to suggest I could help the other teams with similar stuff. I was denied with "we should do that together, 20 is better than 1" but eventually, we never did that. I feel that could have significantly helped make the book one book, whereas now you can more clearly see the team division in the styles. So, I gave up on the idea, and started writing more stories on our chapter, reading others writings and moving things around when it felt right.

On day 2 afternoon, we merged the work of another group on "teams" on our chapter, as they were nicely compatible as themes.  Also at this time groups were asked to contribute 15 minutes to commenting on some other groups stuff, and we go nice new ideas that ended up as completely new stories in the chapter.

We ended up with over 40 pages that I find has some structure (could be better), that had been proofread and commented on.

To contrast our process to another group: they worked out what they would want to write on with post-its, and were building a larger story. Their story will be in version 2 of the book. But some other stories from that group are available now. Just the drafts of what they were planning, missing that story is a loss - to be fixed soon enough.

My main takes from this were:
  • start doing but prepare to find the emergent structure
  • group helps remove my writers block as I can rely on people commenting
  • more of the process of how the book is done would be useful, I find that others comments contributed to our chapter because our writing enabled commenting; commenting on just misc notes that other groups had until 4 p.m was different
  • great people, great knowledge - and lots of failures in trying agile
Addition 30.1.2013: Another report can be found in