Brainstorm: Better Planning, Collaboration, & Reporting for Core Contributor Work

What’s this? :thinking:

This topic is for brainstorming ways to improve the planning, collaboration, and reporting of Core Contributor work.

Background :open_book:

As Core Contributors, we’re all working towards the same goal: to further the development and adoption of the Open edX platform. However our processes don’t always foster a feeling of teamwork, nor do they provide us with an easy way to collaborate on projects; just because our processes are asynchronous, doesn’t mean we need to work in isolation. Additionally, our sprint retros are not easy to read and don’t do enough to celebrate our wins.

By tweaking the way we do things, we can not only improve how Core Contributor work is planned, collaborated upon, and reported, but we can also cultivate a stronger sense of community within our group.

Goals :soccer:

  • Promote intentional planning
  • Facilitate communication between Core Contributors
  • Allow for easier coordination of efforts
  • Improve sprint retrospectives
  • Increase engagement from Core Contributors
  • Cultivate a better sense of community

Join the brainstorm :brain: :zap:

If you’re a Core Contributor, a member of a Working Group, or just someone with good ideas, this topic is for YOU! Please join the brainstorm by commenting on this thread and help us improve the Core Contributor workflow.

To get your brain ticking, here’s a summary of what the Core Contributor process looks like currently (at the time of writing):

  1. Core Contributor sprints run for 2 weeks
  2. An email is sent out 3 days before the sprint ends asking Core Contributors to complete the Sprint Retrospective and Planning questionnaire
  3. Another email is sent the day after the sprint has ended reminding everyone to fill in the questionnaire
  4. The Core Contributor Sprint Retro is posted on the forum a few days after the sprint has ended. It displays the results of the questionnaire
  5. An Async Update is posted on the forum every 2 weeks giving us a sneak peek of what’s going on across the community

Please let me (@ali_hugo) know if there are any steps missing, or if there’s anything else you feel is important to mention.

See you - and your ideas - in the comments below!


Screenshot of the Sprint Retrospective and Planning questionnaire:

I thought I’d kick this off with some of my initial thoughts. Interested to hear what you think…

Enable Discourse Chat? :speech_balloon:

  • Would there be any advantage to using Discourse Chat in addition to (or instead of) the “core-contributors” channel in Slack?
  • Whereas the forum is great for discussions that develop over time, a more immediate (although still async) communication tool might be useful for coordinating efforts
  • The temporary nature of chats might also encourage more communication between Core Contributors

Make Core Contributor sprints longer? :hourglass_flowing_sand:

  • (:warning:Warning: Big assumption to follow) I assume that most Core Contributors plan their contributions on a monthly basis. If I’m correct, would it perhaps make sense for our sprints to last a month rather than 2 weeks?
  • Core Contributors are busy people. Longer sprints might help reduce overhead (we’d only need to complete the ‘Sprint Retrospective and Planning’ questionnaire once a month, and @Dean would only need to post a sprint retro monthly, as opposed to every 2 weeks)

Improve ‘Sprint Retrospective and Planning’ reminders and questionnaire :memo:

  • Reminder emails

    • Today, the “Sprint Retrospective and Planning: Please add your update” email is sent 2 days before the sprint ends (4 days before the submission deadline). Would it be more useful to receive the email on the last day of the sprint? I find that I want to fill out the questionnaire right after receiving the email but, with the current schedule, I can’t because I still have more CC work to do before the sprint ends
    • The “Reminder: Today is the last day to complete Sprint Retrospective and Planning” email is sent the day after the sprint ends i.e. the day of the submission deadline. I think this timing works well), but I noticed something strange: the deadline mentioned in the first email (“Please add your update before the end of day this Monday (Jan 9)”), does not match the date of the reminder email. @Fox_Piacenti Have you noticed this? Also, please will you confirm whether the reminder is only sent to CC’s who have not yet completed the questionnaire?
  • Sprint Retrospective and Planning questionnaire

    • A few tweaks to the questionnaire could go a long way to making it more user-friendly, namely: simplifying the question text, and changing the order of the questions so that they follow a more logical path. It might also be nice to add a field where Core Contributors are encouraged to give kudos to fellow CC’s
    • Long-term goal: Improve the user experience of the questionnaire in Listaflow

Give ‘Core Contributor Sprint Retros’ a makeover :barber:

  • Improve the formatting of Core Contributor Sprint Retros so that they are easier to read. Consider creating some kind of template in Discourse. Alternatively, would there be any benefit to moving sprint retros to the Open edX wiki?
  • Long-term goal: improve Listaflow reports so that questionnaire feedback is represented more meaningfully

Maintain a list of Core Contributor projects :nerd_face:

  • Is there a list somewhere of Core Contributor projects/efforts? It might be helpful (especially for new CC’s) to get a snapshot of what’s being worked on (perhaps in the wiki?)
  • And what about a place to list ideas for future CC projects? This could give new CC’s an idea of where to begin

Make collaboration easier :construction_worker_man:t5: :man_office_worker: :woman_office_worker:t2:

  • Is there a better way for Core Contributors to ask other CC’s for help? Or let others know when they are available to help out on a certain project? With the flood of notifications we all get on a daily basis, it’s very easy to miss a forum notification or a Slack message

So there you have it, my – very long – two cents! I’m interested to hear what you all think; do you have answers to my questions, agree/disagree with my suggestions, or better yet, have some suggestions of your own? Please share! We’re all ears.


@ali_hugo this is great. I endeavour to review and possibly add comments asap.

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It looks like the template for the final reminder only mentions the sprint end date and not the due date. So that’s something we could definitely improve.

And yes, team members should only receive a notification if they haven’t completed their checklist.

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@ali_hugo Thank you for starting this thread! It would definitely be good to iterate over the current workflow, and get more collaboration & planning happening. We are definitely lacking on that aspect currently, as a community. :+1:

A few comments about your specific suggestions - I’ll reply by my order of preference of the suggestions :slight_smile:

Give ‘Core Contributor Sprint Retros’ a makeover

My favorite item in your list :slight_smile: I think it could help a lot to make the retro format more attractive to read, both visually (eye candy!) and with its content (ability to get useful information out of it quickly). Maybe turn it into something that resemble more a newsletter, rather than a report?

Make collaboration easier

There is a section of the retro report that’s dedicated to asking for help, and it’s definitely one of the most used and useful I think. Building and iteration on top of this could be a good idea.

Improve ‘Sprint Retrospective and Planning’ reminders and questionnaire

+1 to what you mentioned. I would also look into improving how we notify/chase people - currently it’s completely automated, and we all tend to disregard automated emails much more than individualized ones coming from a real person. Imho we also need to allow a real person to supervise this, and allowing to talk more individually to people who haven’t answered could help. The automation/tool could focus on facilitating the work of that person: list the people who haven’t replied, allow to email them directly and easily (but with a custom message), ordering by the number of checkins missed, linking to their slack PMs to use an alternate method to contact them, etc.

Maintain a list of Core Contributor projects

This already exists - that’s the roadmap, and the tickets on the Open edX org. But maybe we can find ways to better utilize those, and make them more visible?

Make Core Contributor sprints longer

Personally I plan every two weeks, but why not. It could lower the fatigue induced by more frequent checkins – but on the other side, longer sprints are much less agile - and when we discover that we need help at the beginning of a sprint, that’s a whole month to wait until being able to post about it.

Enable Discourse Chat

Wouldn’t that duplicate the role of Slack? Though maybe an option would be to replace Slack altogether? If anything, it would allow to get rid of a proprietary software dependency, likely reduce Axim’s bill, and regroup discussions on a single tool, instead of two.


Also +1 to your suggestion done elsewhere to do a poll/survey about this, it would be useful to get the answer from all the core contributors. Imho having a way to select some of your suggestions (the ones people think would be useful), and then rank those, would be a simple way to provide that feedback. Also including an open suggestion field (“other”) would be good, to get additional ideas. And maybe with a link to this thread for further comments on the individual items?

To make sure we get everyone’s input, using a survey software which allows to track who has answered or not, based on a list of emails, would likely be useful - to allow us to keep track of who hasn’t answered, and ping them or ask them more directly, as necessary?

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@ali_hugo I hope you enjoyed your first conference! :slight_smile:

Regarding improving the formatting of the CC Sprint Retros, is it really possible to create a template in Discourse? When I create the CC Sprint Retros, I copy paste from a Google Sheet directly into the Discuss post and for good or for worse, the result is as displayed in the CC Sprint Retros.

@Dean I had a great time at the conference, thanks! Hope to see you at the next one :slight_smile:

I’m not actually sure! By “template” I meant we could use HTML and markdown to style a Sprint Retro post in Discuss, and then copy/paste the styling each time a new retro is posted - not exactly the most efficient method, but it would make the retros easier to read.

Alternatively, perhaps we could use a tool like Markdown Tables generator - to spit out the markdown for a table from a csv. I would have to investigate a bit and figure out what would be the best approach.

Do you create this sheet from a csv downloaded from Listaflow? I’d like to take a look at the sheet’s default formatting to see how much work would be involved in making it pretty. :nail_care:t2:

@antoviaque Thanks for the detailed feedback!

I like this idea :+1:. @Fox_Piacenti and I got the chance to discuss this in person last week and decided to start working on the UX next month. We’ll keep you all updated.

Oh, I see - I’ve never actually looked at the roadmap :grimacing:. Can CC’s pick any task in the backlog column and work on it?

If we decide to use it, I think the forum Chat would replace Slack altogether. That said, I haven’t used the chat before, so don’t know how powerful / user-friendly / accessible it is. This would need some investigation.

On it! I like your idea of ranking suggestions. I’ll use Typeform so we can track responses and nudge CC’s who haven’t responded.

Thanks again for your insights :bouquet:

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Hey @ali_hugo! Yes I download a CSV from Listaflow (latest sample attached)
2023-03-18 - 2023-04-01 .csv (66.8 KB) then pick and choose and copy/paste the important information into this public sheet here. From there I copy/paste directly into Discuss.

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@ali_hugo All time spent on tickets on the openedx org count as core contributor time yes, although before working on one I would recommend asking about it on the ticket, and confirming that 1) the work would pass product review (ie will the feature be actually wanted & included in the official project?) and 2) for non-technical work, that development time will be dedicated to the task and use of the work you do on it. That might save time, by avoiding working on things that would then not be used. :slight_smile:

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@Dean Great! Thanks for the additional info. I’m busy working on a survey that I’ll send out to all Core Contributors asking which of the ideas discussed in this thread are worth pursuing. You’ll receive a notification when it’s ready. From there, we can decide which improvements to prioritise.

That’s a good tip. Thanks!

@ali_hugo Another aspect worth considering: the work being done by @jalondonot to move some of the contributor meetup updates from the synchronous meeting to an async update on the forum. Each sprint’s updates are being grouped in a single thread, which contains both the core contributor async sprint updates compiled by @Dean and the recap of the (now async) updates that used to be given for each working group and significant project or event.

See for example the thread for the last sprint:

@jalondonot mentioned that it could be good to regroup the updates and information that we share and cleanup what’s not useful. Maybe it would be worth combining the effort done for both updates? I.e. make a nice update that combines the main information in a brief, nice and digestible way?


@antoviaque Thanks for letting me know that the Core Contributor and Working Group updates are now displayed in a single thread each sprint. I agree with @jalondonot’s suggestion to reassess the updates and decide what is and isn’t important to share; currently, there is a lot to wade through, and I suspect that most community members won’t have the time to do so. I’m sure there’s a more succinct way to share updates with the community. I’ll look into this and keep you posted.


Call for review

I’m reviving this thread :woman_zombie: to ask for your help…

I’ve created a draft survey covering some of the points discussed above. I’d like to send it out to all of our Core Contributors, but first I want to know if we’re asking the right questions, and if we’re asking them in the right way. I’ve placed the survey into a whiteboard in an attempt to make it easier to review. I’d love to hear what you think!

Follow these steps to review:

  • Open this link to access the whiteboard
  • Select “continue as guest” in the top right
  • Enter your email address (you can add a dummy address if you like)
  • Zoom in and out to view the structure of the survey
  • Add feedback directly to the whiteboard (by selecting the text tool in the sidebar), or as a comment on this thread

Let me know if anything is unclear. Thanks in advance for your help!


Great survey, Ali!

A few comments:

  • When asking about the CC work sprint schedule, I would add a link to the schedule so people can review it.
  • When asking “Should we continue doing sprints”, I suggest asking “why?” regardless of the response (if we’re after this info, and if it doesn’t add too much time to the survey).
  • When asking if we should keep using the sprint questionnaire, I also suggest asking “why?” regardless of the response (again – if we’re after this info, and if it doesn’t add too much time to the survey).

Thanks for your feedback @gabrieldamours!

Good idea! Do you know of a link that could work here? I can’t seem to find anywhere that describes the schedule.

2 more good ideas! I will add “why’s” for both of these questions.

Thanks again for the help. :slight_smile:

You’re welcome!

Me neither, so maybe we’re involuntarily raising a documentation issue, here. I would have expected to find a “Core Contributor Sprints” description/section somewhere in the Core Contributor Program description page, but could not find anything related to the sprint process. It would certainly help newcomers (and current members, even) understand the process better, and its importance. Maybe it wasn’t added because we’re still in beta (?)

Maybe. It does feel quite prescriptive to add a schedule to the documentation before we know how Core Contributors want to plan their time. So instead of adding something to the wiki now, I think I’ll add a description to the question like so:

When planning your work, do you follow the Core Contributor sprint schedule?
Sprints start on Saturdays and run for 2 weeks

@gabrieldamours Would that make the question clearer to you? (P.s. I hope the schedule I’ve described there is correct! @Fox_Piacenti @Cassie Could one of you confirm, please?)

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+1 to what you’ve said, and to your description : )

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