Sprints — concentrated bursts of activity where everyone on the team focuses on a well-defined goal — can be a good working method for developers, and indeed for many other business processes. But how do you establish a culture where they work effectively?
Sprinting picture from Shutterstock
"There's a huge focus on agility now," Intel enterprise solutions sales division general Gordon Graylish told a press briefing in Melbourne yesterday. "Enterprise IT is under enormous pressure. The message is often 'If you can't give this to me in two weeks, I'll go somewhere else to get it'. The sprint approach says 'let's break projects down into the functional things we need to get sorted', so it can be very helpful there."
Sprints are regularly used by the development team at Intel, with two-week bursts being used to solve specific coding problems and advance overall projects. However, Graylish readily admits that establishing that process takes some work. We asked him for tips on how to establish a functional "sprint culture". Here's what he suggested.
Define the requirements for the sprint very thoroughly. "You have to have very clear set of priorities," Graylish said. That means an agreed outcome, and usually requires planning.
Use the approach for high-priority work. "You have to know this is important; you don't do sprints on the least important thing you're working on," Graylish suggested.
Make it clear that this priority will be respected. "First of all you have to give people permission," Graylish said. Other tasks are likely to be ignored during the sprint, and that's OK.
Make sure your workplace is designed for collaboration. A traditional cubicle-bound environment won't encourage people to work together. Book a group meeting room or area if you can. That won't always work — especially if everyone on the dev team prefers to work with multiple monitors — but it's definitely worth considering during the early planning stages of the sprint.
Reward productive sprints promptly. "You have to acknowledge and reward that behaviour," Graylish said. "There needs to be agreement among executive management on how to do that."
Rather than an end-of-year bonus, look for a more immediate acknowledgement. "The idea is when you do something and somebody helps you, you reward them that day," Graylish said. "That reinforces the behaviour."
The bottom line? "It requires commitment and it's not easy, but if you don't take the right approach it's not possible to make those changes."
Incidentally, another context where sprints can make sense is for side projects, where time is often limited anyway. The same rules apply, but you're less likely to have such a lengthy duration.
Disclosure: Angus Kidman travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Intel.