How we name our sprints

Ask a couple of programmers how many spaces you should indent your code and you may be in for a long and heated conversation. (The correctly answer is four, obviously!)

I had no idea, until I started looking into it this week, that asking an Agile project manager whether and how you should name your sprints might spark an equally passionate debate.

The main argument against naming sprints seems to be because iterations are ephemeral: they last a very short time. They are transitory, fleetingly short-lived and brief, temporarily impermanent and… well, you get the idea.

But compared with the age of the universe you could argue that so am I. And I quite like having a name. It makes things easier for me (when applying for a bank account, say) and it makes things easier for my friends too (for example, when they spot me across the street and want to attract my attention. It’s easier to shout ‘Gareth!’ than something more descriptive like ‘Ahoy there, big Scottish bloke wearing the green coat and the black hat!”). Without names, everyone would address one another like David Dimbleby does when picking out audience members on Question Time.

Why?

Back in November I wrote a post where I explained a little about why we name our sprints. We do it primarily so that we have a consistent label across multiple project boards, to identify a particular two weeks of work. It gives us a recognisable, navigational landmark to aim for when switching between business as usual, project and programme boards.

We also do it because people are better at remembering names than numbers. That’s why we type google.co.uk into our browsers rather than 216.58.208.131 and why we let our smartphones remember our friends’ telephone numbers.

Let me give you an example. We’re currently running through sprint 16 on project DC1001 (External website redevelopments), sprint 3 on DC1002 (CDN), and sprint 5 on DC1003 (WordPress multisite). I had to look up those numbers just now. But I could have told you immediately that we’re currently on the second week of the Vladimir Karpets sprint this week.

We also do it because, well… it’s fun.

Naming sprints

While some teams like to name their sprints based on the primary goal for that sprint, for example “shopping cart” or “invoice management”, we’ve (for the most part) adopted a more predictable alphabetical system based on a theme.

TV shows

Our first theme was television shows from our childhood. So we had the likes of Noggin the Nog, Only Fools and Horses, Parallel 9, Quantum Leap, Rainbow, Superted, Taz-Mania, Upstairs Downstairs, and the final sprint was the Voyages of Doctor Doolittle.

We started at ‘N’ because it was sprint 14 when we came up with the idea of also naming the sprint (and N is the 14th letter of the alphabet).

Often a lot of thought would go into choosing the right sprint name. It was often an in-joke or referred to something that was going on that week; occasionally it was simply a show that one of us liked.

Noggin the Nog is simply classic British childrens’ television. Only Fools and Horses referred to something a consultant had said to us. Parallel 9 was when we started running two concurrent projects. And the Voyages of Doctor Doolittle was our former colleague Duncan Stephen’s last sprint with us (his  Twitter name for years had been @doctorvee, and he was leaving us… hence the voyages of another doctor.

Sprints Superted to Voyages of Doctor Doolittle
Sprints Superted to Voyages of Doctor Doolittle

Scottish summer

During last summer we simply named the sprints after which week of the summer vacation it was and accompanied it with a Windows wallpaper, many of the kind of weather we’d like to see but which Scotland spectacularly fails to reveal year on, year out.

That was a useful way to keep track of where we were in relation to the new academic year as it crept slowly closer.

Scenic wallpapers
If the Windows XP ‘bliss’ wallpaper (far right) had been made in Scotland it would likely have looked like the image on the far left, and be called ‘typical!’

Cyclists

As we approached the new academic year we looked for a new theme. As Steve and I are fans of cycling that seemed like an obvious choice.

It's a sprint finish every week with these champion cyclists
It’s a sprint finish every week with these champion cyclists

Again, we’ve adopted an alphabetical approach: Armstrong, Boardman, Cavandish, Dowsett, Evans, Froome, G (Geraint Thomas’s nickname… yeah, we kinda cheated there!), Hoy, Indurain, and Julich. Which brings us to our current sprint named after Russian cyclist Vladimir Karpets.

It’s not all boys, we do have (Victoria) Pendleton and (Laura) Trott lined up. I would have liked to have included more female cyclists, we just had too many male cycling heroes that we couldn’t leave out.

At the start of each sprint, during our opening planning meeting, one of the highlights has been telling the rest of the team who these people are and what they’ve achieved.

Conclusion

I agree entirely with the argument that sprints are transient. But that in itself is no reason not to name them.

The main benefit for our team, as I said, has been to provide a familiar landmark while navigating between Trello project boards.

Naming the sprints has given them something of a character — a mascot, if you will — that a straight-forward number or even just a colour wouldn’t offer.

For us, naming sprints has been fun and in places educational, whether it’s sharing YouTube clips of our favourite childhood programmes or getting passionate about Chris Froome’s two Tour de France wins, or seeing the team gasp as they watch Geraint Thomas get bumped off the road by Warren Barguil and ride straight into a telegraph pole on stage 16 of the 2015 Tour.

Come October, though, we’re going to have to find a new theme. I think we should let the girls choose next time.

 

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