More Regular, Open, and Transparent Planning

Continuing with the work to refine and improve how we build Ubuntu in an open, transparent, and collaborative way, I want to take a few minutes to discuss some work going on to improve the regularity of our planning and the benefits this brings.

Traditionally planning for Ubuntu has worked like this.

  • We ship a release.
  • Shortly before a release we rapidly prepare blueprints for the next Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS). Everyone is welcome to participate.
  • We discuss topics at the UDS and jot down work items into blueprints.
  • We then execute on those work items over the course of the six month period.
  • We track this work on status.ubuntu.com and use burndown charts to visualize this progress.

While this has served us well, there are a few problems with this approach. The most notable issue is that we work in software, and a lot changes in software in a six month period. This means we define a set of work items, prepare the burndown, and then if requirements or direction changes it can be difficult to reflect those changes across our community and we have to go and postpone a bunch of work items and re-build our burndowns. This means that even though the changes are made to open blueprints, it can cause folks across our community to be out of sync. It also presents the misconception that everything at UDS is locked in for the duration of the six month cycle. If something changes in our strategy or a new opportunity opens up, it can be difficult to change course with everyone on the same page.

Solving this is part of our theme of making Ubuntu engineering as transparent and agile as possible.

One approach we are experimenting with in the Ubuntu Engineering Management team at Canonical is to increase the regularity and transparency of how we plan. Instead of locking in every six months we will do it like this:

  • We host the virtual UDS (vUDS) every three months and use the event as a means to plan out the next three months of work. All discussions are open, everyone is welcome to participate.
  • Blueprints will be used to track that work and work items will be divided up into monthly milestones.
  • On the last week of every month we will review the work performed in the last month to see how well it was completed and then plan the forthcoming month’s work. This provides an open opportunity to identify blockers, define new goals, and change coarse if needed.
  • A new burndown chart will be generated on status.ubuntu.com and we will host a Google+ Hangout presenting the goals for the next month to ensure that everyone is fully up to speed on what is going on.

Now, to set expectations clearly: this is just an idea for how to improve this workflow, and we are doing it for the first time this week, but the idea is that it will dramatically increase the transparency of which teams are working on what, making it easier for others to (a) know what is going on and (b), participate in areas of interest.

My team is currently preparing the work items for April and you will be able to see the final burndown here when it is complete. From there you will be able to see all the blueprints.

I will provide plenty of feedback on what is working well and less well, and your feedback is welcomed, as ever, in the comments.

Building Re-usable Processes

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, we want to make virtual UDS an event that is repeatable and useful for not just UDS but also for domain-specific events too (such as a LoCo themed UDS). The goal is that this event format is repeatable for our wider community.

Likewise, the monthly planning process is also designed to be repeatable for our wider community too, making it simple to get everyone on the same page for planning and executing on awesome projects.

As ever, feedback is always welcome, but I think this combo of a wider planning event every three months combined with monthly work item sync-ups and planning will result in a pretty effective formula for helping Ubuntu to be as effective, transparent, and collaborative as possible.

  • radiostorm

    Thanks for all your hard work Jono.

  • http://IronPatriotNY.me/ Ricardo N Feliciano

    Sounds like a decent idea. I’m looking forward to seeing this play out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002487259611 Ethan Anderson

    s/coarse/course line 20: same pronunciation, one means rough the other means path; you can delete this comment when fixed.

  • http://twitter.com/jonobacon Jono Bacon

    Thanks, Ethan! Fixed!

  • CheeseBurg

    I like the direction Ubuntu is going with this. It allows people like me (non-coders) to feel like we a part of the Ubuntu process. I have two question though and this might not be the place for them so I understand if you don’t want to answer them here.

    1) How can people like me help out the Ubuntu project more. I know there are several areas I can help but is there a centralized location I can go to see all my option, like an ubuntu user site? If there isn’t I think with the website redesign, there should be a page like that.

    2) I know Ubuntu is open source but this CLA thing bothers a lot of people. I was wondering what is the justification for it and why does every part of Ubuntu have it (i.e. Upstart, Mir, Unity)? I feel like if you removed it, at least for some part of the OS, you would get more developers.

    Like I said, if this is not the right place to ask this then all I ask is that you point me to the right place.

  • Dinda

    Great work! Glad to see these steps. One big change is that Ubuntu is now ‘established’ and everything is shifting to a cyclical/maintenance mode instead of cutting edge/new kid on the block/startup mode. Can be much harder to keep the enthusiasm going and much harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel unless project goals are clearly communicated to everyone at every level. UDS keynotes helped set that tone so maybe an annual or semi-annual “State of Ubuntu” or “Bug No. 1 Status Report” or other big event might help. Ubuntu Birthday Celebration?