A different kind of doc sprint

This past weekend (March 21-22) several folks from a variety of backgrounds in the Drupal world got together to hammer on high-level documentation issues. Angie Byron, Neil Drumm, Emma Jane Hogbin, Lee Hunter, Cindy McCourt, Todd Neinkerk, David Strauss and myself gathered in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, holed up in a hotel for the weekend, and worked on defining where Drupal documentation needs to go, the barriers before us and the work necessary to move past them.

This wasn’t a “typical” documentation sprint, in that we didn’t rally around specific handbook or code tasks, and we weren’t online in IRC. As a matter of fact the sprinters’ laptops were largely packed away or neglected all weekend. We had one laptop up, attached to a projector for capturing notes and organizing. We were very fortunate to be presented with an opportunity to try a new approach to sprinting (at least as far as the Drupal community is used to). We had a professional cat herder, in Cindy, to help us organize, stay on track and achieve our goals in a much more efficient way than anything I would have coordinated myself. I’ve got another post coming down the pike that will go into detail about the how this sprint was run but we definitely feel like this was a great success and a useful model for other, similar kinds of sprints.

We started with some basic visions of what we all want, to set the tone:

  • Awesome and maintainable Drupal documentation
  • Become the model for open source project documentation
  • Make Drupal doable
  • Foster documentation participation and collaboration

Now, those all sound pretty darned good, but getting there is the fuzzy part. This is the place where, we, as a community, keep getting tripped up. There are lots of issues and there are lots of ways to solve them. How do we coordinate ourselves and get moving in sync? We are great at tackling lots of small tasks, but how do we gather our forces together to go for the big stuff? Well, while we are generally not into the “road map” thingy (we’re volunteers – no one can tell us where to go or what to do), I think our documentation efforts suffer from a serious lack of at least a general geographic map that we can all refer to and get our bearings. Building your own road is much easier if you have a better sense of the lay of the land before you, and moving together is easier if we can all see meeting points and possible barriers in our way. Our weekend in Toronto was designed to get us kickstarted with a rough idea of what this kind of map would look like.

So, with this short list of big ideals, pens, paper and a fair amount of caffeine, we spent the weekend brainstorming about the things that make docs sucky. Then from that mucky mess we worked to define major goals to get things to not suck (e.g. “Improve entry points for different audiences”). We spent time breaking those goals into specific actionable tasks so that we could see a way forward as well understanding the relationships between them (e.g. “Define what needs to be provided for different audiences and different purposes”). The next steps that I’ll be continuing this week are to get into each task and start defining what is needed for each task, the constraints we need to work within and its relationship to other tasks (do we have dependencies, parallels, conflicts?). This will give us the framework to really build out the landscape of what we are dealing with and allow working groups to form around specific goals with some sense of where they are going. I’m hoping to get the basic map of our work out to the community sometime next week. Then we can all start figuring out the “rubber meets the road” details and organize ourselves to get some things done. I am really optimistic and energized by this whole process and I can’t wait to share the craziness of the weekend with the whole community (my fingers and brain can only go so fast).

This sprint was funded by the Knight Foundation grant that was awarded at Drupalcon DC at the beginning of the month (with pre-funding backing from Development Seed, Palantir, Lullabot and Acquia). I can’t thank them enough for making this happen.