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Make IT Work: Break the routine

Published in Technology

Written by

Markku Rontu
Sustainability Engineer, Senior Software Architect

Markku Rontu is a full-stack digital engineer capable of shipping solutions all the way from initial concept creation to continuous deployment. In his free time, he dances salsa or swings a longsword, while trying to bring about a sustainable digital future.


April 27, 2022 · 6 min read time

Consultants are said to change projects often, but what if you stay long? What do you do in long-term relationships and long-haul projects? Spicing things up can break the monotonous routines, but what can you do that is not only fun but valuable?

Hi, my name is Markku Rontu, and I work as a Sustainability Engineer and Senior Software Architect at Nitor. Some people call me "Make," hence the name of this series. I have been working on Enterprison (pun intended) systems for over 20 years, and I wish to give you my 20/20 hindsight, or at least some tips and viewpoints to consider and have a laugh at

In the #2 tip, I said Burndown should point down. And I basically claimed that you should fire any team that fails that test. While that is often true, life still happens to good teams too. I have survived a continuous “project” of at least five years in my career three times. How can we approach the ebb and flow of project work? Especially, if we aim for a long-term relationship and good Total Cost of Operations (TCO). So prepare for the long haul with this reminder:

Break the routine

You and your team are stuck together in the same room for the duration of the project, like in an aeroplane on a long-haul flight. Likely nobody will sleep the whole leg, so could you offer in-flight entertainment? This analogy doesn't carry us far, but maybe it’ll help you remember the tip. And who said work shouldn't be fun? Just in case you wonder, I don’t advocate for champagne, fancy dinners or movie nights here. Some sort of a break in the routine fits the bill, and sometimes it’s good to do it outside the office context.

Many teams work in an agile manner, or at least in iterations or sprints. But sprinting a marathon is doomed. We can't expect the top speed for every mile or sprint. Like Usain Bolt can't race the 100 meters a whopping 422 times in a row. Maybe a more conservative pace is needed? There are many kinds of sprints that you can do to recharge, once you graduate past doing scrum by the book.

Teams are said to go through the phases of forming, storming, norming and performing. If we keep changing the team, or the conditions a lot, we'll stay only in the forming and storming phases. But eventually, we are in the performing phase. Then constantly shipping releases also starts to get old; boredom and complacency set foot. We can break the monotony with fresh ideas.

Here are some specific ideas, pretty weird ones perhaps, on how to spice it up once the team feels like it:

  • Maintenance sprint. When is the time to update the dependencies or do that one thing that bugs users? Good teams can fit it in the regular work, but even so, a change of theme can be useful. Cleaning and tidying always make me smile afterwards. What about you?

  • Hardening or HIP sprint. A variation of maintenance is hardening but could be innovation or even planning if that's where your weakest link is. Doing these semi-randomly makes it a pause from the regular feature factory mentality.

  • Team hackathon. For me personally, the most inspiring, but the most demanding variation of special themes, is the hackathon. Usually, you get to choose what you work on, but the idea must fit and be shipped in a short time slot. Often the working times are special like over the weekend, or well into the night. And that's the idea too! So, this one is not for the times when you need a break, but for the time when the team feels like conquering the world.

  • Remote/Together sprint. Once we get out of the forced remote times, it makes sense to meet and have get-togethers. Or if you usually work co-located, then go ahead and work remotely for a time.

  • Faraway sprint. Companies can sometimes ship the whole team to a truly remote location, like a nice beach house in a warm country. Some companies can even ship the whole family there. Product companies have the advantage here, and there are always many considerations like can everyone make it, and how to transport the gear.

  • Invite guests. How about taking some people from other projects to develop with you for a sprint? It doesn't have to be that they specifically need to know your project details in the future. Think about the advice: "Talk to a rubber duck". What insight will you gain when pairing up with a relative stranger?

  • Exhibit your work. So maybe you are at the top of your game and demo every sprint. But who do you demo to? How about a demo at a company fair, a conference or a public location. Our team once demoed our release at the railway station (public transport app). You will get new viewpoints to consider, and break up the routine for sure.

  • Professional guidance. In Finland, we call this "työnohjaus". Many teams outside IT can use a professional guide for the team. You can also think of it as a coach if you will. A person who is trained in teamwork, but also handling difficult subjects and feelings. I wish this was regular for IT also.

  • Mob programming. Could you work together on the same feature for the whole sprint? Like actually at the same keyboard and displays? Try mob programming. Maybe you will finally gain that shared understanding of how the codebase works while working together? You could learn some new features of your development tooling? Maybe you will like it so much that you will keep doing it? Without trying it, you won't know for sure.

  • Paid vacation. Why not just take a break? We all know thinking happens while showering or exercising. Take paid time off, even for the whole team, and freshen up. As a minimum, make sure there are times in the project when vacation can be taken.

I hope these give you ideas to vary the work and break up the monotonous routines of a long project. I skipped some obvious ones, like after-work or celebrating enough. Remember to freshen yourself up to get to the finish line eventually. Don’t forget the basic stuff either. Be sure to retro continuously or at least regularly. 

Have you tried these in your teams? Let me know!

A Mile an Hour: Running a different kind of marathon

- Beau Miles

You will be remembered, in the long haul, for the quality of your work, not the quantity of your work. No one evaluates Picasso based on the number of paintings he churned out.

- Tom Peters

Where people aren’t having fun, they seldom produce good work. 

- David Ogilvy

When all is said and done, monotony may after all be the best condition for creation.

- Margaret Sackville

Written by

Markku Rontu
Sustainability Engineer, Senior Software Architect

Markku Rontu is a full-stack digital engineer capable of shipping solutions all the way from initial concept creation to continuous deployment. In his free time, he dances salsa or swings a longsword, while trying to bring about a sustainable digital future.