Back to top

A year of tackling the small stuff through bash weeks

January 9, 2019

Digital Team icon

Published by:

Digital Team

What started as a development exercise has become a larger effort at the Digital Team.

Now that we’re in the midst of our first debt bash week of 2019, we thought it would be a great time to reflect on our experience with regular bash weeks in 2018.

During these weeks, we put aside some of our bigger projects for smaller efforts that still deserve our attention, and to focus on our workflow and organization. We want to make sure we’re being efficient while creating useful metrics that we can use to track our progress as a team. You can read more about our first debt bash week in our blog post from last January.

For many, the idea of pausing all active work might seem daunting and unrealistic. But, we’ve come to look forward to our bash weeks, which we hold every two months. Aside from tackling the little stuff, these weeks also give us a chance to:

  1. work on proactive and blue sky projects, and
  2. think through larger structural updates and system upgrades.

With a year of regular debt bash weeks under our belts, we’ve learned a lot. We hope you can gain some insights from our work as well.

A screenshot of the Github project board for our current bash week.
A screenshot of the Github project board for our current bash week.

Getting the whole team involved

When we came up with the idea for a debt bash week for the Digital Team, we were at first only focused on our product and web development staff. We wanted to address the technical debt and backlog that can creep up over time, along with minor issues that are important but would cause interruptions to our progress on larger efforts.

Over the course of the year, we realized that taking the time to step back could be important for the rest of the Digital Team. Our designers and content creators focus most of their time on bigger projects and day-to-day maintenance. And just like our developers, they often have to push off smaller issues.

We even started getting staff from other City departments involved. Designers from outside of our team have taken on a few projects during bash week, and we’ve discussed turning these weeks into a bigger effort across the City, including within the Department of Innovation and Technology, where we sit.


Remembering to prep and reflect

Before each debt bash week, we hold a meeting with our whole staff to go over the priorities for the week. Using Github, we create a project board that tracks the progress of the different issues the team wants to address. This helps us stay on top of the work we’re doing. And, if we’re working with stakeholders at the City on a big project, we make sure to let them know that we’re taking a break to focus on bash week.

Even though we’re working on smaller issues, we are still on call for high-priority items during the week. Especially on our content side, there’s always going to be a website update or social media post that needs to go out now. The goal of this week is really to be mindful of the fact that — when we’re not working on ASAP issues — we’re taking some time to clear out our backlog.

Just as important as our prep is the fact that we take the time to step back after the week to review what we’ve accomplished. Over the course of the year, we included follow-up, retrospective meetings as a regular part of our process. These meetings allow us to learn about what worked, and what didn’t. They also give our staff members a chance to share and brag about what they were able to accomplish.

Based on the feedback during these meetings, we made a few changes to our workflow:

  • We set up a weekly “maintenance” hour on Wednesdays for small security and software updates. This regular schedule for system upgrades frees up bash week for more non-maintenance (and thought-provoking) items.
  • We created a bash week project board column for projects that still need to be worked on and can’t be fully “paused” during the week. This helps everyone set expectations on how much time they can actually focus on debt bash items.

Highlights from the year

In just five debt bash weeks in 2018, we were able to close 94 issues on GitHub. Our tickets ranged from minor bugs to fixes on major projects. We were able to address all sorts of development, design, and content issues. Here are just some of the highlights:

Week one (January 16-19):
  • Added a Docker-based local environment for our Boston.gov Drupal installation. Now, developers — both inside and outside the City — can reliably get Boston.gov running on their machine in about 15 minutes. That used to take all day, if it even worked at all.
  • We moved search.boston.gov from a separate web application into Drupal.
Week two (March 26 - 30):
Week three (June 4 - 8):
  • We’ve been working behind the scenes on a new application for BOS:311, so we decided to use part of the week to user test our prototype.
  • We performed testing on our current Drupal 7 content management system for Boston.gov. We’re in the process of moving to Drupal 8, but maintaining our current system is still critical.
  • We enhanced the performance of our databases to make it even easier for our developers to set up local environments on their computers.
Week four (August 6 - 10):
  • This was the first bash week that included the whole Digital Team. With the success of the first three weeks, we felt a bash week could also benefit our design and content staff.
  • Our design team spent time creating ready-to-go graphics for potential emergency events in the City. These include everything from seasonal events to the things we hope never happen.
  • Our development team continued to make major Drupal updates to php and Drush versioning. They were also able to add more accurate info to the current “my neighborhood” lookup page.
  • We made headway on a more comprehensive quality assurance plan for updates to Boston.gov. We want to make sure we’re making updates that create a more delightful experience for you, our users, without breaking anything.
Week five (October 29 - November 2):
  • As part of our effort to streamline the City’s social media accounts, we created a map of all of the existing accounts at the City. We placed each account within their corresponding department and cabinet. We’ve been using this map to help us archive old accounts and check in with departments about their social media presence.
  • We created 70 new icons for our Boston.gov experiential icons library. These are the black and white icons you see in sections on pages across the website.
  • We made further updates to Slack to support our deployments and make things easier for our developers.
  • We updated our Wicked Free Wi-Fi map to follow the style of our new online format.
  • We went through and updated all of the broken links on Boston.gov.
  • And, speaking of broken things, we also updated our 403 error page so that Paul Revere’s horse is running the right way.

We’ll always have smaller projects come across our desks that we just can’t make our number one priority. But, thanks to our debt bash weeks, we’re able to make time for them. Whether it’s just general housekeeping or fine-tuning existing applications, these weeks give us the chance to iterate and polish our digital tools.

Have you seen something on Boston.gov or an existing digital tool that you think needs fixing? Please let us know at feedback@boston.gov. It could become a ticket for our next bash week.