3 Ways to Handle End-of-the-Year Holidays on Your Agile Team

The period from mid-December to early-January can be disruptive for an agile team. You’re used to working on a regular cadence, maybe in 2-week iterations. Suddenly, there’s an avalanche of company holidays and vacation time that throws off your velocity and cadence. Here are 3 ways you can make the end of the year a useful and productive time rather than a few weeks of frustration and waste.

#1—Just Keep the Lights On

One option is to drop out of your normal cadence, identify the most important items to keep working on, and just let the work that gets done get done. You don’t try to predict it, and you don’t worry about how much gets done. You just try to make sure use the time you have available to focus on the right things. In January, you pick up with your normal cadence. This approach reduces stress while still avoiding waste.

#2—Run a Long Iteration

Another option is to run a longer than usual iteration over the holidays that, while covering more elapsed time, works out to about the usual amount of available person-days. If you have a team of 7 running iterations of 10 working days (2 calendar weeks), this time of year you might get that same 70 person-days over 3 weeks, so you just run a 3- week iteration instead. This has the advantage of keeping velocity relatively stable and avoiding overcommitting. It also allows you to start and end your iteration while people are still in the office to meet.

#3—Do Something Different

Finally, consider taking a break from your normal work and doing something different. You can keep an expedite lane going for really important stuff but otherwise let teams self-organize to spend the last couple weeks of the year exploring new ideas they haven’t had time for, improving their tools, cleaning up their code (or equivalent). You can add constraints around this like it must be done in pairs—i.e., you have to convince at least one person your project is worth doing—or people have to demo what they’ve done to the rest of the team or whatever. Breaking from the regular delivery cadence can be a good approach for people to get reenergized before restarting your cadence in the new year.

One of our clients, Geonetric, had an interesting variation on #3 this year. They used their teams’ mid-December retrospectives to look back at their big wins over the year and celebrate them. Then, teams were asked to come up with a creative way to present at an all-company meeting about the one or two things they were most proud of for the year.

What have you used to make the end of the year a useful and productive time for your teams?

About Richard Lawrence

Richard is partner at Agile For All and an agile trainer and coach. He helps teams and organizations become happier and more productive. When Richard's not working with teams, he's usually on his mountain bike with his wife and three boys.