Better Sprints with Team Traditions

The Background On Team Traditions

Creating team traditions in the Dropbox Databases team has helped us:

  • Improve our sprint velocity, ship more high priority projects!
  • Reduce our KTLO (operational load)

We dramatically improved our sprint velocity from SP7 to SP8 by introducing Team Traditions!

Team Traditions

Sometimes traditions are called processes or structure, but it’s much more than that.

Traditions give everyone in a team a way to work well together. They are super helpful when new team members join too!

Traditions in other fields:

  • NBA pre-game talk with coach and team
  • NBA mid-game timeout to check-in and change course if required based on the situation
  • NBA post-game video walkthrough to reflect and determine how to make improvements (sounds like a retro!)
  • NBA awards night to celebrate achievements
Steph Curry & Coach Steve Kerr — Warriors!
Coach Becky Hammon and the Spurs!

Team traditions help us aim higher and build enduring culture, it’s important to choose the right traditions that work for each team as they should energize and engage the team. A great way to find out what motivates and demotivates your team is to ask using a survey.

It’s also great to ask in person during team meetings, 1:1s and send out surveys to capture feedback on your team traditions and ask how they could be improved.

Warriors — look at that team work!

Databases Team Traditions for week 1 of a new Sprint

For Databases team members, this is what our calendars look like at the start of each new sprint. We are a globally distributed team so if you are in the USA these Team Traditions are in the morning, if you are in Europe they are at the end of the day. Our sprints are 6 weeks long.

Sprint Retro

At the beginning of each new sprint run a retrospective of the last sprint
{45min, week 1 on Tuesday}

  • Take time to reflect on your team’s achievements/challenges that came up
  • Things that went well
  • Things that could be improved
  • What actions to take into the next sprint (choose 2 or 3)
  • Rate the value of the retro for each team member

**You might be thinking, why run a retro in the first week of a new sprint?**

  • You will have finished the sprint and then had a weekend to think and reflect.
  • Having a weekend to think about what you would do differently next sprint is extremely beneficial. It helps you prepare and change course for the new sprint to make sure you are constantly improving.
  • It’s a chance to get together as a team during week 1 of the sprint to think about how you can make improvements in the future. Your feelings and thoughts will be very fresh.
  • It helps to connect the past to the present so that the future will be an improvement.

Sprint Kick Off

{45min, week 1 on Monday}

  • Kickoff happens at the start of the Sprint in week 1
  • An opportunity to get together and plan the new sprint
  • The direction of this meeting will be heavily influenced by the retrospective

Sprint Scoping

{30min for each new P1 — High Priority Project}

Scoping meetings are something new we recently decided to add which helped us further improve our Sprint Velocity in SP2.

  • Scoping meetings are 30min meetings where we complete a Detailed Design for any new sprint projects. This gives us the opportunity to determine how much we can get done in a sprint. This helps us focus and keep the end goal in sight.
  • Book a 30min meeting per new P1. This meeting gives us the opportunity to determine the key milestones and estimate our final end delivery date for multi-sprint and high impact projects.
  • As a project team complete the detailed design, come to an agreement as a team on what will be in-scope for this sprint in particular. You can always adjust course later #timeout

Sprint Weekly Update

{30min on Monday morning}

Why weekly and not daily? For many years in Australia I worked on engineering teams with 2 week sprints and daily standups. Then I moved to the USA and tried 6 weeks sprints with a weekly update. I have growth mindset and always happy to try new experiments. It has been so much better. We still have face-time 3 x a week but it there is more purpose and focus.

  • This tradition is inspired by Mark Imbriaco (GitHub, DigitalOcean, Heroku & OperableInc)
  • Get together and review what is in “Complete This Week”
  • Complete This Week is something special, it’s a column on your Sprint Board just for projects delivered this week. After the weekly status meeting cards are moved to “Complete Past Weeks”
  • Review what is in “Waiting For Review”
  • Review what is in “Blocked”
  • Review what is “In Progress”
Our Sprint Planning Board for Databases

Weekly Team Meeting

Weekly Team Meeting {30min on Tuesday morning}

  • This tradition is inspired by Zach Bouzan-Kaloustian (Foursquare, Fab & DigitalOcean)
  • Share key news with the team and create opportunities for discussion
  • This team meeting has sections

Team Corner

  • PTO Updates
  • News (exciting news — newborn babies!! birthdays)
  • Upcoming team demos

Dropbox Corner

  • Product Roadmap updates
  • Business updates (e.g. changes)
  • Office updates (e.g. news on moving)
  • Invite guest speakers from across Dropbox to attend and share what’s happening

Sprint Corner

  • Sprint P1 update, where are we at overall
  • All projects (P0, P1, P2 and KTLO Project) update

Weekly KTLO Meeting

{30–45min each Wednesday morning}

  • On-call handoff
  • Key actions for the next week to reduce KTLO

Sprint Demo Day

{45min week 1 of your sprint on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday}

  • Each team member has the opportunity to share a demo of what they created during the sprint
  • Invite along guests from your leadership team to attend and watch the demos

Team Roadmap

  • A 6–12 month roadmap for your team

What Other Team Traditions Might You Have?

Onboarding a new team member

You can measure and then improve team member ramp-up time by adjusting team traditions

Examples:

  • Welcome Dinner at the Tuck Shop during first week
  • 1:1 with each team member during the first week
  • Shadowing
  • Peer-programming
  • Knowledge sharing mini-sessions
  • Lightning talks
  • Walkthroughs

Team Building

You can measure and improve team member engagement by adjusting team traditions

Examples:

  • Team lunch at the Tuck Shop
  • Birthday breakfast at the Tuck Shop
  • Asking everyone to send a Happy Birthday DM at the same time when it’s someone’s birthday so they get a nice flood of happy DMs : )
  • Sending your team a postcard when you go on vacation
Please share your own Team Traditions in the comments! ❤