User Experience Design In ‘The Cloud’…Literally

There we stood with a giant white wall, markers, and notes in-hand ready to begin our sprint planning meeting. This time we weren’t in front of a whiteboard. We were surrounded by clouds. Our User Experience Design team decided to take their sprint planning meeting outdoors.

For those of you not familiar with a sprint planning meeting, it’s a component of an agile development process we use in our R&D department called Scrum. During sprint planning, a team spends several hours together planning/estimating tasks and setting goals for a time-boxed development iteration.

After spending a day together the previous week white water rafting, the team wanted to keep the outdoor adventure theme going. So, we set our eyes on a 7.5 mile hike (round-trip) known as McAfee’s Knob on the Appalachian Trial. Our goal was to hold a sprint planning meeting atop the mountain at 3,197 feet above sea level. What we didn’t anticipate when planning the trek was a last minute forecast calling for rain. A little rain wouldn’t deter us from our team outing. We forged on with our plans and packed a few tarps and some rope for a shelter. As we walked through the office to leave for the hike with rain pouring outside, we received quite a few “you’re crazy” looks from fellow Rackers. Honestly, as I drove to the trail head and the rain continued to pour, it crossed my mind a few times that we may be crazy for going through with the outing.

As we made our way up the trail, the rain continued to come down in buckets. When we reached our conference room (aka McAfee’s Knob) the rain had stopped, however, we were met with a white wall of nothing.  Instead of looking out over a beautiful landscape of valleys and mountains, the User Experience Design team was literally in the clouds. Visibility was down to less than 30 feet. Perfect weather for a meeting!

We broke out notes, product backlogs, and post-its and began our planning meeting. With our agenda in hand, the team worked with their product owner to discuss items on the backlog, define requirements/tasks, and set priorities and goals for the coming iteration. While taking pictures of the team working together, I saw a change in the team dynamic outside of what I normally see in a conference room. There was an energy I hadn’t experience before; the team was engaged, having fun, and plowing through the meeting agenda.

A through-hiker tackling 300 miles of the trail came into our “conference room” to take a few pictures of the view. He asked, “What are all of you doing up here?”

We simply answered, “Having a company meeting.”

I can’t repeat his exact words, but he thought it was awesome that our company allowed us to get out of the office and venture into the woods for a meeting. His next question was, “Are you hiring?”

As he asked this question, I realized that what we have at Rackspace is unique.