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Sergio Tapia for Papa

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How Friday developer potlucks can help build stronger, happier engineering teams.

Before joining Papa as director of engineering, I worked with plenty of different startups and mid-sized companies and I would receive these large features to build that would easily take two weeks to complete.

Heading out for the weekend knowing that I had this beast of a feature still there was demoralizing. I couldn't really enjoy my weekend. The beast always lingered there in the back of my mind.

A big part of my job at Papa is making sure our engineering team is happy, productive and unblocked. I always approach things from the angle of: "I've been in their shoes. What would I have liked back then?" and do my best to make their professional lives easier.

This is where I thought of the potluck idea.

Here's the problem:

  1. You have large tasks to work on during the sprint.
  2. Smaller bugs and annoyances pop up during a regular sprint.
  3. These small things build up in your mind and you leave Friday worried about the small things and the unfinished big thing.

Here's the solution, our sprint potluck:

Every Friday after lunch, we take the rest of the afternoon to pick one item from our potluck list and do our best to knock it out.

This simple change brings a lot of benefits:

  1. People go home with a feeling of accomplishment. A finished ticket no matter how small, is finished.
  2. We whittle away at the long list of small annoyances.
  3. People's brains can relax from thinking about that big incomplete thing for an afternoon and two days. Surprisingly, coming back to the large feature yields great results. The break does pay off!

Specifically, we use Clubhouse as our project management tool.

Collecting the small annoyance tickets

Each week we have one person on rotation to triage requests from head of departments in a Slack channel we call department-support.

We figure out:

  • Is this a real issue?
  • Is this request too out there and unreasonable?
  • Is this a feature or a bugfix?

Then we place it into Clubhouse in our Backlog project.

The day of the sprint potluck

We all meet over Zoom and go over each triaged ticket in the Backlog project. Every person on the team picks one ticket they think they can reasonably address during potluck.

We move each ticket into the potluck iteration (Clubhouses' fancy word for an agile sprint)

We feast

We all relax after a Friday lunch and tackle these smaller items with more levity and a fresh set of eyes.

What happens if someone doesn't finish their potluck ticket?

They can take Monday morning to finish it off, but if they can't it means that the ticket is a candidate to become a normal sprint ticket - and no longer potluck. We discuss when its a priority to add it to the sprint.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about our sprint potluck and also if your team has any other engineering rituals.

Thanks for reading!

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