Monday, October 04, 2010

The Worklog aka Diary

This is a pattern I've been applying for the last five years, ever since company wiki became the standard at my workplace. At some point I added it as an agile practice to the Cantara wiki, and named it "The Diary". However, I always end up calling it Worklog in practice. It's a bit of a GTD technique, with some positive side-effects.

Basically, on a day-to-day basis, write down what you're working on in a wiki page.

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2010-10-04
- Fix the funky registration bug -
Bug tracker id #18355. 
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2010-10-05
- Still the funky registration bug -
Jason committed a fix in r8040, but it didn't work. Writing unit-test.
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2010-10-06
- Knowledge meeting -
Awesome stuff. Remember to upload the presentation to wiki.
- Registration bug -
Resolved task. Talked to Jason and product owner, done-deal.
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Keep focused
I'm an easily distracted person. I'd be working with something, get side-trekked by a build-break, or a colleague needing assistance, and then when getting back to work on the original task, I've forgotten what I was doing, and start doing something different, like refactoring that ridiculous exception handling! How on earth did that get in there? Woops, there goes my personal WiP limit...If I've got the current task on top of my worklog, I'm more likely to get back on it. And any other incoming tasks, I can just paste in further down, and I'll get on them later.

Multiple paste buffer
Many people keep an txt on their desktop, simply using it as a quick copy/paste buffer. That SQL statement was rather handy, wasn't it? Better paste it into the worklog.txt for later use.

(By the way, Clips for OS X is awesome.)

Mini problem database
And dang, haven't I seen this exception message before? It was something manual that needed to be done when setting up a new server instance. Didn't I have the exact problem three months ago? Ah, I'll just search my worklog to see what it was that time.

Be transparent
Ever had a manager asking what you're working on last week? Ever had a colleague asking about what you're doing? The most transparent thing you could do is to put your worklog out there in open. Yes, on the company wiki. If you want people to be all agile and open about what they are really doing, you'll have to be first out there.

Keep history
It's great to have a quick look through the last week right before a Retrospective, or a meeting to make sure you've remembered the worst impediments and ideas you had. Freshen up what you're working on.

Some tips
Use notepad. Browsers generally suck. I've lost so much worklog from keeping my new content in a text field in the browser that crashed on me. Better keep your intermittent content in a wee text-editor, and paste it into the wiki page at the end of the day. Most recent entries on top works for me.

Archive old content. At the end of every year, archive your worklog-wiki page. We use MediaWiki at work, and I use my Talk page for worklog. At the end of the year, the page is usually quite a few MB's, so then I move it into a tfnico_worklog_2009 archive page.

Don't write too much. Yes, of course you'll regret not noting down some things at some points, but the key is to not make this into overhead work. Just do it as the worklog.txt, or notebook you always had, just that you store it on the wiki at regular intervals.

Are Yammer and CampFire better tools for this? Sure, but you haven't got those tools now; you've got a wiki. And if everyone catches on and does a worklog, invest in Yammer.

If you haven't got a wiki, you've got bigger problems.