By Max Krembs
I've had the pleasure of working as the producer for People ForWords, a team participating in the Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPrize. I joined the team for the project’s vertical slice milestone that ran from the end of May to the beginning of July, 2016. Our team is developing a new Android application that teaches and reinforces basic reading fundamentals aimed at adult learners between the ages of 25 and 50. In Codex: The Lost Words of Atlantis, Players take on the role of an archeologist, seeking to uncover the secrets of the lost city of Atlantis. As we finished our vertical slice milestone last week, I sat down with the team to perform a retrospective of how they felt our work had gone in the past month, and to identify what things we can do better moving forward with the remainder of the project.
What Went Right
1) Creating lines of communication
Our team functions primarily virtually—and we generally only come together face to face one day per week. When I joined the project as their first producer, one of the first requests that I received was a more defined method of collaboration that allowed people to leave notes for each other, share files, and notify each other of changes. We elected to use Slack as a collaboration tool, which allowed us to stay in touch constantly and keep each other apprised of our progress. The team particularly enjoys our integration with Google Calendar, as it allows them to set up meetings with one another and Slack sends reminders right to their computer or mobile device.
2) Rethinking documentation
Additionally, the team asked for a new method of creating documentation. Prior to my arrival, team members collaborated using Word documents hosted on network drives, which the team felt was far too cumbersome. We began migrating our work over to an Atlassian Confluence wiki solution, which any member of the team can view and contribute to online. The team loves the transparency and the centralization of this solution, and they enjoy that they can embed more complex web content than what a simple Word document supports.
3) Weekly production meetings with action items
Because the team functions primarily as a network of contractors coming together to collaborate on work, and because I was joining partway into the project after it had already found its footing, I decided to avoid creating a traditional backlog. Instead, I worked with the team to identify overall epics and milestone definitions that comprise the project, then worked with team members at our weekly production meeting to determine how progress was moving forward towards the larger goals. At each meeting, we work together to create a detailed list of action items so that each team member has a record of what work he or she agreed to do in the next seven days. The team appreciates the flexibility that the system creates for them, and they appreciate that the action items are folded into our wiki, so that it cuts down on the number of tools they need to work with.