In Agile sprints and cycling, a hill can be your friend

“They didn’t mention this in the brochure!”

My wife and I were three days into a 400-mile bicycle trip across New York State along the Erie Canal with about 450 other riders. Except for the occasional lock here and there, canals are generally flat. At least that’s what the marketing implied.

Neither of us are what you would call “cyclists,” and while we did some training beforehand, much of the appeal of the ride was that it would be along the historic waterway in scenic upstate New York. Much to our surprise, there were sections of the route that veered away from the canal proper and into some of the more hilly sections of the state.


Chick Rubenau cycling along the Erie Canal in New York State

The first couple of days after leaving Buffalo were smooth riding with level trails along the banks of the canal. But somewhere outside of Palmyra we rounded a corner and came upon a large hill. The first of many on our trip!

While we weren’t necessarily looking forward to such challenging, grueling climbs in the torturous, sweltering heat of mid-July (I hope I’m amping this up enough), we came to realize that while cycling on the flat sounds ideal, there is a certain sameness to it, a repetitive cadence that can be tiring in its own way. Sure, there are no hills to climb, but there are also no chances to coast, to give yourself a bit of a break.

Your Scrum sprint teams may be feeling that same kind of burnout. When you’re in the midst of an extended series of sprints, you can work yourself into a cadence that promotes a focused level of effort and increased output. That’s good. It’s one of primary upsides of time-boxed development. But over time it can also be draining without some kind of change up.

Sure, you could spend a couple weeks vacationing in Cancun lathered up in SP-50 to protect your pale programmer skin, but what about the rest of your team?   As a group you may benefit from mixing it up a bit, some hill climbing and some coasting for a stretch.

We had a break in our routine at work these past couple of weeks. There was a bit of a push as we tied up a new release followed by a couple-week break from daily stand up meetings and other Scrum ceremonies to take some time to discuss and plan at a high level our next release cycle. We also had our first ever company hack-a-thon (with t-shirts), a three-day free-for-all of coding and research into new development skills of our own choosing.

After some hill climbing and a bit of coasting we’ll be reinvigorated and ready to get back into a groove.  We’ll be back to heads down development, pedaling on the flat with our predictable cadence of two-week sprints and daily stand ups as we begin anew, churning out fresh projects and features.

If you’re ever looking for a unique summer vacation, I highly recommend the Cycling the Erie Canal annual event. You’ll meet some fantastic people, experience history up close, and see some of the best scenery that upstate New York has to offer!

And those hills? You’ll be fine… until you hit Canajoharie!