Workflow Sprints

So, some years ago I came up with a methodology called Book Sprints. It is a facilitated process that takes a group of people to collaborate on producing a book in 5 days. Zero to book in 5 days as we say.

There has much I have learned from this methodology which can be re-purposed. After 10 years working with Book Sprints (10th anniversary this year!) I now know a lot lot more about why it works and what kind of situations would fit this kind of process. For example, facilitated methods like this don’t work when there is just one person that has the knowledge that you need to express. For help with this you need either a coach or a ghost writer. Ironically, when I started Book Sprints I was in exactly this situation…I couldn’t Book Sprint about Book Sprints because I was the only one doing them.

But when you get two or more people…it starts to get interesting….this is because Book Sprints are very good at developing a shared mental model of the problem very fast. The more minds with the right domain knowledge that come at this together, the better the result… with a few caveats…for example… it seems a natural limit for the number of minds is about 15 max. Thats because too many minds go too far too fast and you might end up with quite a lot of fragmentation. However, if you have the right people, the right methodology, and (most importantly) an experienced facilitator that knows how to wield the methodology – then magic can happen.

Anyways… I am now applying myself to taking these lessons and developing a new methodology, working title ‘Workflow Sprints’….what is it? Well… I have seen similar problems with the speed of production for books in the software world…the problem is – how do you redesign a (much) better workflow, and then design a platform to meet those needs quickly? What I see happening is that orgs will employ someone external, or re-deploy internal staff, to do a workflow audit, interviewing all parties, create a report with flow diagrams, and then use this as a basis for the developers to imagine a better way of doing things. It is a very linear and disconnected process, and it takes a very long time.

I believe that I can facilitate a group to do this in 2 days. Infact, I’ve already done it. Recently I went to EBI (Europe PMC folks) to do a workshop on their workflow. In a day we had redesigned it and had mocks ready to go. I was curious to see how much this remained true over time, and it appears that they are sticking to this design. They will fill it out, to be sure, but they had the starting point in a day.

Its not the first time I’ve done it, there have been a lot of workshops I facilitated with various publishing entities on the way, but it was the first time I felt confident enough to go in boots and all. Now that I see it can work I’m going to try and make this a thing. I have thought about the workflow I want inorder for this to happen and I’ll be trying it as a full blown method and workflow in the next few months with an org or two. The aim is to produce a summary of the current workflow (this takes a long time if using a legacy ‘interview’ process and much nuance is missed and I’m confident we can get a better result), a summary of the optimised / improved workflow, and wireframes of the new platform. All in 2 days. Which also means I can make this very cost effective, a whole lot faster than legacy processes, with better results and internal buy in since its the internal staff that design the new workflow and platform themselves.

Quite possibly you think this is a big call. But I’ve this before. When I started Book Sprints I didn’t come across anyone that thought it was possible… this feels very similar.

I think it is going to work very well. There will always be challenges as you can’t anticipate how all the variables at play will come together on the day. But I have been there before with Book Sprints, and I’m pretty confident in my facilitation skills so here goes….

Once I’ve proven this out with a few orgs I think this could prove to be extremely beneficial to any publishing org that is pondering how they can improve their workflow – with or without new technology. It could be useful for any org for that matter. Interesting days.

Some photos below of some of the orgs I worked with to help define this process…








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Kate and Cindy (UCP production staff) designing their system (Editoria)





Interesting Web Based XML Editor

Looks pretty comprehensive and interesting for XML QA:

I met with one of the developers in Berlin yesterday (Joachim)…nice chap. Will look into this editor in more detail. One thing for sure, it illustrates the difficulty of editing and validating XML docs in the browser – there are so many structural and syntax issues to anticipate.

Caffeine Daze

Some pics of my traveln coffee gettup. The first pics are of an espresso pump I was given for my birthday. It makes great espresso. You need a water boiler of some kind…great for camping as you can boil the water with gas etc… I’m taking this back to NZ to leave in my truck so I can have espresso after surfn!

First you need some good local coffee…


Then break out this baby… the only issue with this machine is that I have been stopped several times by security at airports because they don’t know what it is…


Break the top open and fill the cap inside with coffee…

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Then unscrew the bottom cup and fill it with hot water…


Screw the water cup back on and then manually pump the water through the grounds…

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It makes really nice coffee… you can see there is a lovely creamy head on the espresso….mm.m..

Then there is this wonderful machine… a velox portable espresso machine (its actually more like a mocha). It is from Italy and is still available new today. I had one for a trip I did to Antarctica several years ago. Unfortunately that machine died after many years of heavy use and I just didn’t seem to manage to get a new one (I brought 2 over the years but both lost in delivery). However…just recently my assistant Anne found the one below for 28 euro! Secondhand in Berlin and in super good condition. This particular one is actually from the 70s and still in perfect condition.

This one is my preferred option for hotels and things. It is fast and the slightly longer/stronger coffee means its a perfect wake up call and I don’t have to go find some terrible hotel coffee…

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Essentially you unscrew the top and fill the chamber with water.

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Then fill the top cap with coffee grounds, put the top back on, plug it in and turn it on…

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It also makes amazing coffee…slightly stronger and longer than the hand pump but they are both awesome…

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Editoria Vid

If you missed the webinar, the video is here (will be posted to Coko site shortly)…starts 9min 30s in:

Also, we had 40 or so live questions during the Q&A. We answered them all and Julien decided to do a quick dive into Right to Left (RTL) support. He posted this screenshot with mixed RTL and LTR text to show it works out of the box (still more to test):