Here in New Zealand we’re about to move from spring into summer. People don’t bother with their winter coats when they walk out the door to work and they’re starting to think about abandoning their umbrellas. Which could be a mistake, especially in Auckland where there’s always a chance of rain.

Out in the suburbs people are getting ready for a summer of entertaining. Barbeques are being cleaned, or if no amount of scrubbing will remove that rust, replaced entirely. The walk to the bus stop becomes an obstacle course of abandoned grills and outdoor furniture. Soon invitations will be sent out, invitations to enjoy the newly-renovated patio or see if those Weber grills are really as good as people say. And those invitations might well include the phrase ‘bring a plate’.

‘Bring a plate’ is a fairly common phrase in New Zealand and Australia. It’s a Synecdoche and shouldn’t be taken literally. The same thing is called a ‘potluck dinner’ in the United States.

So why am I talking about bringing a plate? Two reasons. The second one I’ll get to later. But the first reason is that words are weird. There are often many different phrases that could be used to describe the same thing.

I’m really proud of Cemplicity’s small but mighty development team. And while we get a lot done, we can always improve. Here are a couple of ways we try to do that that. You may already be doing similar things under different names. Because words are weird.

Current Working Contracts

Our initial set of working contracts was decided during a team retrospective, but we’ve updated it several times since then. It’s possible to add or remove working contracts at any time, so long as the entire team agree with the change.

We try and maintain a small set of working contracts at all times. We should be able to fit all our current working contracts ion a single page of A4 paper. Each working contract is summed up with a single phrase and accompanied by a small description and a picture that relates to the contract (or what happens if we don’t follow it).

We display our working contracts on the team board, between the current work in progress and the ‘done’ column. In theory, this means people will see them during our daily stand up or when completing work.

By focusing on these behaviors, we hope to turn them into habits. Once we believe a behavior has become something the team just naturally does, we can remove it from our current set of working contracts. And it’s important we do: if we keep a working contract around once it’s become a habit, people tend to ignore the paper. But it’s also possible for contracts that have been turned into habits to fall off over time. We record all the contracts that have become habits on a second BAU list and review this occasionally. We don’t want any newly-established habits to be abandoned like that gym membership you bought in January last year when you were planning on really getting fit. You still carry the membership card in your wallet, don’t you? But do you go?

Tech Hui

Our co-ownership model provides plenty of opportunities for knowledge sharing. But often the knowledge being shared is specific to our codebase. And while that’s essential, we don’t often get the chance to talk about other things.

Every few weeks we organise a tech hui. Hui is a Māori word that means to gather, to congregate. This is a chance to tell other members of the team about tech-related things we’ve learned recently. There’s no leader in a tech hui: we run the session like an unconference: at the start of the meeting people write any topics they’d be interested in discussing on the whiteboard, then we all vote on which discussions they’d like to have. Everyone is encouraged to bring something to contribute. This could be as simple as ‘I saw this cool website’ or as complex as a demo of some new tool or technology.

Tech huis are fun, informative and definitely of use even when the topics discussed aren’t immediately applicable at Cemplicity. That doesn’t mean a hui is nothing but a chance to chat about shiny but pointless new tech – we have adopted a number of new tools and techniques after they were first brought to the attention of the wider team at a hui.

Remember I said there was a second reason I started this post talking about ‘bringing a plate’? If you organise a tech hui and nobody brings a plate of topics to discuss… well, that makes for a pretty short hui. And a disappointing barbeque.

This Blog was written by Grant Stone our Development Lead and Nick Cahill our Chief Technical Officer.