Read the Docs Offsite 2019

The Read the Docs team just finished our first offsite ever in April of 2019. We all gathered together in person for the first time, and talked about the future of the project.

A picture will show this better than I can:

../_images/offsite-2019.png

The team at the house we rented in Aruba

The full list of attendees, which is the full-time staff, from left to right:

  • David Fischer
  • Manuel Kaufmann
  • Eric Holscher
  • Anthony Johnson
  • Santos Gallegos

Goals

Our biggest goal was building a shared understanding of the vision for the project. Being fully remote, it’s often hard to communicate at a deep level about mission and vision. Being together in person for a week gave us the space to understand each other and our views better.

The other large goal was to build a roadmap for the next 3-6 months for the project. We have often had smaller roadmaps, but never had the chance to discuss all the problems that we encounter with the project, and then prioritize them.

Format

We used the following format:

  • Before the offsite, we created a Trello board with a list of topics to discuss. This was all the major feature ideas, issues, and concerns that came up over the previous couple months.
  • For the first 3 days, we went through the list and discussed each topic. We took notes (almost 20 pages) of these discussions, and mostly tried to build a shared understanding on a path forward.
  • The 4th day we broke each section down into action items, and chunked them into 1-3 smaller sections of work. We called these “v1”, “v2”, and “v3” to break out the stages where each project could be shipped and have impact on our users.
  • The 5th day we took all the tasks, then sized and prioritized them. We broke things out into 4 piles representing months going forward, and tried to balance the tasks so each month had a similar amount of work in it. We then turned this into a Trello roadmap board.

This worked quite well for us. It gave us space to talk through all the various topics we had, but also gave concrete next steps to move forward on our tasks.

Outcomes

The most valuable outcome is something I said at the offsite:

Before, it felt like we were 5 contributors working on an open source project. Now, it feels like we’re members of a team.

For each member of the team, there was someone else they had never met in person before this. Having all met in person will make it much easier to collaborate online going foward, and to feel like we are working towards a goal that we all share.

In terms of technical output, the roadmap we have established will make us much more productive in our work going foward. The entire team now has vision around the roadmap items, and understands the tasks other people are working on much better. This has already lead to a much better ability to collaborate together.

We are hoping to do another offsite in 2020, and if we do our jobs right, hopefully we’ll have another teammate or two.