Several month ago, we thought about taking part in an interesting experiment. We decided to grab all the equipment we need at work and to go outside the office for one sprint, i.e. for a week. During the planning stage, we listed some assumptions we wanted to test:

  • Let’s take on a wider problem, not a list of clear and well described tasks. We want to become more involved in a project, so we count on our creativity. Besides, we want to learn how to support business on a daily basis.
  • We rent a house far away from our homes. A remote location will be perfect. We create a team-building environment that helps us focus and integrate.
  • We take a person from another team. We want to have somebody with an eye unclouded. Besides, it will be an opportunity for knowledge exchange.

Although we know each other well enough to foresee the experiment results, we managed to gather some interesting thoughts. Would you like to know what we did in the Białowieża Forest and what are the results? Read this brief coverage presenting three different points on view.

Team Leader’s story

I think that our Białowieża Forest experiment was very successful. Despite the atmosphere of ubiquitous coolness and all the positive vibrations, I did notice serious involvement in the project. Fresh air and serenity of that place was the perfect fuel for our creative thinking. Without imposing any rigid frames, we managed to divide time between work and leisure. :) Living in one house, cooking together and spending time in a different than usual manner was an excellent lesson. It really improved team morale and our relations. A colleague taken from other team helped us notice things we often are blind to (errors, problems). Besides, he showed us a lot of new tools we will start using in the project.

When working in sprints, we deal with minor functionalities. During the off-site, it was important to present the whole idea, not only its tiny bits. Otherwise, we would miss the wider picture. We had the opportunity to recognise and discuss potential problems. As a result, we came back with knowledge we can share during business meetings concerning our product.

Moreover, we proved, again, that efficiency improves when one can focus completely on a particular task. A whole range of everyday issues (meetings, backlog refinement, cooperation with other teams, other tasks) are indispensable in our work. However, it is worth organising them in a comfortable way to increase the work efficiency.

Product Owner’s story

Although the invitation for an off-site took me aback, I agreed. I was curious of working outside the office walls.

Various sources prove that changing the environment helps you focus and improve. Nonetheless, the result impressed me anyway. Suddenly, I saw guys I had been working with for some time already, coding from the early morning to the late evening and finishing task after task at a feverish pace. I was surprised by their persistence; after all it was not about working for 8 hours but in a prettier surrounding. To see a developer coding for 10-14 hours straight being genuinely surprised after noticing it is already 10 p.m. not 7 p.m. makes my heart sing. Perhaps it is not the most healthy approach, but it shows something really important – they enjoyed their work and were happy that they could stay 100% focused and solve problems on their own. Moreover, we felt free, as there were no self-organisation limits. Another bold move was loosening the rigid sprint framework. Our pre-work task refinement was not the most detailed one, whereas the tasks themselves included minimum information. Moreover, we did not estimate anything. The only form of “control” were daily stand ups and mini demos held after closing each task. I must say that I really think on implementing them in our Scrum.

The off-site turned out to be an impressive event. I think that every Product Owner should try it. The results were far better than expected and thrilled everyone. Delivered solutions are of high quality and there is no difference between them and those we deliver after each sprint. Except for the development method. The most valuable thing was the time I spent together with my Team; we are a well-oiled group, we respect each other, but we also laugh together. This trip showed that we simply like each other. I already miss all these small jokes, common meals and walks and creative games.

I am aware that such an experiment cannot be conducted too often, as after some time, it would become a constant element of our work routine. As a result, the profit of environment change would not be that spectacular. Nevertheless, I am ready to take part in the next iteration; perhaps this time with a bigger group, with a bigger plan and in some even more remote place? As a Product Owner I find the task “Off-site” done. :)

Scrum Master’s story

How to make eight guys feel the “team spirit” and make sure they will work hard somewhere in the Białowieża Forest? Will the Scum Master be the one to wake everyone up and remind over and over again about the daily schedule? Well, not in the case of a group of people passionate about their work so much that strenuous effort changes into a pleasant sensation. Breaking the 8-hour workday routine initiated acting without rigid limits. Although guys coded sometimes for 13-14 hours, they also found time for searching wisents (Polish bisons) in the forest and “Lajkonik” salty snacks night feast (sic!). It was a pleasure watching the team self-organising – selecting ambitious goals, asking for help when they needed it (brilliant communication with a Solutions Architect) and presenting spontaneously results of each resolved task. Besides, the team members started to get along with each other even better. During a retro meeting organised on the penultimate day, we answered some questions: 1) What did I like? 2) What did I learn? 3) What was missing? 4) What did I miss? It turned out that we all found this trip very valuable. First of all, it let us leave our comfort zone. To sum up, we did not waste time and returned from the Białowieża Forest with plenty of good solutions. Only Scrum Master, who did not have too much work with such a well-organised team kept asking himself one question: “Why did I buy this alarm clock anyway?”.

PS. Our team was the first to leave the office for so long. You can call us pioneers or guinea pigs testing whether such off-sites can bring any value. Perhaps you would like to know whether we recommend such adventures. Definitely, we do, but under one condition – remember to have a challenging, but interesting goal to increase the performance and make the best use of offered time. Unless a team plans to test the will and charisma of its Scrum Master. :)