[openstack-dev] [all] planning the PTG -- lessons from Swift's midcycles

John Dickinson me at not.mn
Wed Oct 12 17:30:49 UTC 2016

The Swift team has been doing midcycles for a while now, and as the new PTG gets closer, I want to write down our experience with what has worked for us. I hope it is beneficial to other teams, too.

## Logistics of the event

- 2 rooms is ideal, but can make due with one larger room
- move tables and chairs
- whiteboards/flip charts
- projector/tv
- host provides lunch and snacks
- host provides one evening meal/event

When someone offers to host a midcycle, this is what I ask them to provide. The PTG will be slightly different, but the general idea is the same. There's a few important things to note here. First, be flexible about who's talking about what and when people are working together. The point of getting together in person is to facilitate face-to-face communication, so be sure that the room logistics don't get in the way by forcing people into a certain configuration. Providing lunch and snacks allows the participants to not break any tech or social flow in the middle of the day. It keeps people together and helps facilitate communication. And the one evening event is super helpful to let people relax, have fun, and do something interesting away from a computer. In the past we've done everything from locked-room challenges and bowling to brewery tours and a boat ride under the Golden Gate bridge.

## Only agenda item is "set the agenda"

- dotmocracy
- too much to do for the people we have to work on it
- what's the big stuff we need the right people to be together for?
- schedule one big talk each am and pm

When it comes to the actual flow of the limited time together, there are two important things to keep in mind. First, make sure there's time to cover all the topics that are of interest to the people in the room. Second, make sure the big important stuff gets discussed without requiring someone to be in two places at once.

Unfortunately, these two goals are often in conflict. We've solved this in the past by starting the midcycle with one and only one agenda item: set the agenda. The most successful way we've done this is to ask the room to shout out topics to discuss. Every topic gets written down on a piece of paper or on a flipboard. When you've got all the topics written down, then give everyone a limited number of dot stickers and ask them to vote for what they want to talk about by placing one or more dots next to it. The trick is that there are more topics to talk about than people who are there and each person has less dots than the full schedule of time we have. So, for example, if there are 3 days together, that's a total of 6 morning and afternoon blocks of time. Give everyone 4 dots, and force them to prioritize. This also has the very real visual side effect of emphasizing that we are a team and not one person can be a part of everything going on. After everyone has put their dots on topics, sort the topics by number of dots. In our example, we've got 6 blocks of time, so choose the top six and schedule them. This ensures that the big stuff can get scheduled, the little stuff can fill in the gaps, and people can know when to be available for conversations that are important to them.

Imagine than you've got a glass mason jar, and you need to fill it up with stuff. You've got big rocks, small rocks, sand, and water. If you fill it up with water first, the water will spill out when you add anything else. But if you add the big things first, then you can fit more in. The big rocks go first, then small rocks fill up the spaces, then sand fills up the cracks, then the water can seem in the tiny air gaps. It's the same way with prioritizing the in-person meetings. Schedule the big stuff, then fill in any gaps with the small stuff.

## Social dynamics during the week

- you won't be able to participate in everything. that's ok
- there will be several conversations going on at one time. be considerate and flexible
- don't wait for someone to start a conversation. start it yourself. this is very important!

There's a lot going on at in-person meetings. It's ok to not participate in everything--you won't be able to, so don't even try. In the best case, there will be a lot of conversations going on at once, so be considerate and flexible. It's important to not sit back and wait to start a conversation--if you need to talk about something, grab the right people, a whiteboard, and a corner of the room and start talking.

But what do you talk about? Sometimes it's just talking with a whiteboard. Sometimes it's reviewing code together. And occasionally, there's even an opportunity for some pair programming.

After a topic has been talked about, check it off on the big list of topics that you made the first day. This keeps everyone aware of what has been talked about and what needs to be talked about. And by the end of your time together, it's a great visual reminder of the success of the week.

## Have fun

Overall, have fun. In-person meetups are a too-rare opportunity to meet with interesting and diverse people from around the world. The Swift midcycle hackathons we've had in the past are some of the most enjoyable events I've ever attended, filled with some of the smartest and most interesting people I've worked with. I hope your time at midcycles and the upcoming PTG is as productive as our team's meetings have been in the past.


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