Author: Alan Brown
Agile has shortened release cycles from months to weeks. We explore the importance of sprint start days within these vastly reduced lifecycles.
With Agile software development, the days of 12 or even six-month project lifecycles are gone. They’ve been replaced by much, much more frequent releases – often just weeks, or even days. With development cycles now so short, the day of the week on which you start your sprint becomes significant.
We use the Scrum flavour of Agile software development where work is done in regular short ‘sprints’ of one or two weeks. Ours are two weeks in duration. Our sprints used to kick off with a planning meeting on a Monday morning, swiftly followed by nine and a half days of development and testing and the all-important sprint review on a Friday afternoon.
A few months ago we switched our sprint starts from Mondays to Wednesdays. Here’s why:
I don’t like Mondays
The Boomtown Rats weren’t a software development team, but their sentiments are shared by many. With Sprint Planning, the Scrum meeting that takes the most preparation, on a Monday morning, it’s easy to understand how one’s thoughts during a Sunday lunch would turn to the busy day ahead.
Is this a good way to kick off a new sprint when the first step requires preparation and detail to be fresh in everyone’s minds, not to mention passion, motivation, and everyone fully engaged?
Moving our planning meetings from a Monday to a Wednesday morning did the trick. Having had two days fully immersed in development work, the whole team was inspired, energetic and able to contribute, with a Wednesday planning meeting adding variety to the schedule. The Product Owner, BAs and UX/Visual team had the new features at the forefront of their minds, having spent the last two days working on what’s coming into the next sprint, without a weekend getting in the way. The three to eight hours of planning went more smoothly, delivering estimates that were far more accurate in a more enjoyable environment.
I’ve previously written about the fantastic tools to allow distributed agile teams to perform, but there’s still a need for travel, especially in the early days of forming and norming. Avoiding the most important sprint meetings being Monday morning and Friday afternoon has made this travel less onerous for the individual and more cost-effective for the company.
Bank Holidays generally fall on Mondays
Moving to a Wednesday means we can avoid the vast majority of UK Bank Holidays. Only Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day have the potential to fall on a Wednesday – and all of these land during a holiday period when we wouldn’t be running a sprint anyway.
We no longer have to work around these long weekends; having to reschedule the planning meeting and find a vacant room large enough to accommodate the whole team.
Similarly anyone heading off for a long-weekend is likely to take a day off on Monday and/or Friday, potentially disrupting the start or end of a sprint starting on a Monday. Those heading further afield for their fortnight summer holiday are also less likely to miss a whole sprint when starting on a Wednesday.
Sharing limited resources
For most companies, meeting rooms are in short supply and planning needs the whole team and plenty of time, which limits your choice of venue. If you have more than one Agile team and they all kick off their sprints on the same day, then meeting rooms become a real problem.
Similarly, access to subject matter experts can be a problem, specifically the likes of architects and DBAs who are typically stakeholders in multiple teams.
By moving all the Product Development team sprints to start on Wednesday we found we avoided clashes with other programmes and were almost always assured of access to the room we wanted. And it’s not just planning meetings and a need for conference rooms that will coincide if all your teams start off on a Monday; testing and the need for access to test suites and infrastructure will also fall on the same days.
While it’s less relevant in the production of our white label digital banking platform, as we are delivering a product into integration teams, those who release into a live environment are going to find this far harder on a Friday afternoon. There are not many Ops Managers that I’ve worked with who would release a feature into a production environment just a few hours before the weekend.
Late finish – on a Friday!
Most of the time sprints and releases go smoothly and our newest features are complete by the end of the working day. But just once in a while things don’t quite go to plan.
Teams wanting to meet their own “definition of done” are far more likely to be able and motivated to burn the midnight oil during the week than on a Friday evening. Moving the release days to Tuesday means teams facilitates that 11th hour fix on the rare occasions it is necessary.
And there are other unexpected benefits too: according to research firm Mercer, a third of sick days are taken on a Monday, causing havoc to sprint planning far beyond the loss of one day.
Having switched sprint starts from a Monday to a Wednesday, our team is unanimous in that we won’t revert back. By choosing a day that works best for us we’ve been able to improve our productivity and the quality of our work.
Which day of the week do you start your Agile sprints on?