There are many legitimate reasons for not shipping: you have customers to help, emails to answer, phone calls to return, fires to put out, maintenance to do, employees to train, computers to upgrade, invoices to send, meetings to schedule, flights to catch…
These are all legitimate things; but they don’t move you forward.
This is the problem with being busy: it’s a whole lot of movement that results in zero mileage. It’s really frustrating, because you’re trying to get somewhere. You have a destination, but you’re stuck at the train station.
How to get unstuck
If you’re like most teams, your backlog looks something like this:
Here’s the problem: that cool new feature you want to build is stuck underneath other more urgent tasks.
It’s hard to get ahead because there’s always something more pressing to work on: a constant stream of incoming user stories, bug reports, and maintenance needs.
How do you get out of this cycle?
Think about being away at a conference
If you’re like most people, this is what your backlog looks like when you’re away travelling, or at an event:
You book the time off, you jump on an airplane, and you arrive in Las Vegas. As soon as your plane lands, your backlog is essentially empty. Everyone at the office knows you’re away, and you’ve put your “Out of office” reply on your email. The result? People don’t bug you. You do this so you’re able to focus on the speakers, meeting people, workshops, etc…
What if you could do something similar? Take time away from the office, but instead focus on that feature you really want to ship?
Your team’s week of hustle
Here’s how this works: you and your team take 5–7 days away from your regular routine, and focus on finishing a project. You get away from the myriad of unfocused tasks, and just focus on shipping something awesome for your customers.
First: get out of town.
No one disturbs you when you’re traveling. Customers, co-workers, and family members understand that you’ll be away, and respond accordingly — for that week, you’re essentially “out of range”.
Bring the whole team: drive or fly somewhere else, rent a co-working space, book some hotel rooms, and get to work.
On the first day, sit down, and sketch out exactly what you think your team can accomplish that week. What could you actually ship in 7 days?
Create a backlog only for items related to your hustle, so there are no other distractions (use a tag, like #weekofhustle):
If your project management software has a time estimating tool, ensure that everybody has about a week’s worth of work on their plate:
Once all the tasks are estimated and in the backlog, everybody puts their head down, and gets to work.
Day 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Each morning, have a stand-up meeting. Start by reviewing the overall progress for the project:
Then, go around the room and get an update from each team member. The standard Scrum stand-up questions work well:
- What did I accomplish yesterday?
- What will I do today?
- What obstacles are impeding my progress?
Remind everyone that the goal is to ship the project on day 7.
Day 7: ship it
Just like a Startup Weekend or Hackathon: the last day of the hustle is for shipping. Ship it, and then demo what you’ve done.
Isn’t this just a standard agile sprint? Yes! I’ve reviewed the process here for those not familiar with agile (a week of hustle is a great way to try agile out). There is another notable difference: you get out of the office, and you focus on only one project.
What are the benefits? I’ve used this week of hustle approach on a variety of projects. It’s especially helpful for software teams that feel like they’ve lost their energy, focus, or momentum: it feels really good to ship something significant.