average sprint speed: 1 sprint/month

I've proposed a DebConf11 BoF on Debian sprints and, more generally, on how we have been using Debian money in the past 1.3 years.

As part of the BoF preparation, I've taken the time to review the last 16 months of sprints and check how the Debian Sprint Program — which we've recently streamlined and "marketed" quite a bit — is going. In particular, I've finally done the homework of preparing the big table™ of sprints and their costs, in order to evaluate how sustainable the sprint program is. Without further ado, here is the table:

Debian sprints held from April 2010 to June 2011
No Sprint When (month) Where Attendees Debian cost (EUR)
1 groupware (report) 04/2010 de 4 240
2 FAI (report) 06/2010 de 7 570
(DebConf10) 08/2010 us
3 ftpmaster (report) 09/2010 de 3 350
4 DSA (report) 09/2010 de 3 400
5 release team (report) 10/2010 fr 6 0
6 kernel team (report) 10/2010 fr 3 120
7 www team 12/2010 at 5 1430
8 debian med 01/2011 de 25 460
9 security team 01/2011 de 7 1000
10 emdebian 02/2011 uk 17 0
11 ftpmaster 03/2011 de 5 2000
12 groupware 04/2011 de 6 300
13 alioth 05/2011 uk 4 500
14 debian edu 06/2011 de 9 760
15 release team 06/2011 be 5 1640
(DebConf11) 07/2010 ba
Total 15 sprints 16 months 9770

To better understand the table, several comments are in order:

  • numbers are approximate in various ways. In particular, 2010 costs predate a protocol I've agreed upon with the Debian auditors to do proper accounting, hence it is possible that some costs are slightly overestimated
  • costs are Debian's costs and do not include reimbursements for non-Debian people that might have attended the sprint. This also explains why some sprints have been at 0 cost: they have been entirely sponsored by other entities interested in supporting Debian, such as companies or institutions.
  • where needed, costs have been normalized to Euro
  • we have streamlined the sprint process around October 2010 (you can find the underlying rationales in an old RFC). Sprints happened before that data had a different way of being announced and of reporting back to the project.
  • the above data are not detailed enough to properly estimate per-person costs, as we lack a breakdown of Debian vs non-Debian attendees
  • no costs for DebConf-s are included, as they have their own budgets which aims to be amortized 0 cost in the long run

Please note that the purpose of the table is not to be precise and transparent about Debian finances and how we use them. That is a (very!) worthwhile goal and I do think Debian should do much better in informing its community about how donated money are used to further Debian goals. But that is a broader topic on which the auditors are working; it is not up to me to discuss it here. If you are interested in that topic though, you might want to follow tbm's BoF at DebConf11.

The purpose of the table is rather to find out some general figures about Debian sprints held in the recent past:

  • we have had a total of 15 sprints in 16 months (about 1 sprint/month)
  • we have spent about 10'000 EUR for sprints, for an average per-sprint cost of about 650 EUR
  • all sprints have been held in Europe
    (given DD geographical distribution, I find quite surprising that no group of US-based Debian hackers have asked for sprint sponsoring)
  • about half of the sprints have been held in Germany
    (probably thanks to DD-density there and also to the welcoming attitude of friendly venues such as the Linux Hotel)
  • the variance of per-person costs is high: there are very cheap sprints (e.g. when people travel within Europe by train and stay at friends') and quite expensive sprints (e.g. when one or more of the participant needs to be flown oversea — which has happened only once, up to now)

I'm personally quite happy about those figures. Enabling volunteer developers to meet and hack together in person is possibly the most valuable way of using donated money. Having 1 sprint/month is not bad, but in a project the size of Debian is quite possibly a minimum. Doing more than that is highly desirable. It is also financially sustainable, especially if we will be able to show — by actually having more sprints and being transparent about them — that we can put into good use donated money.

Another, more subtle, aspect of sustainability is that related to sprint management. Processing sprint requests and ensuring that transparency guidelines are actually followed by the organizers is still quite some work. I've been mostly doing that myself up to now, which is all fine and well, but does not necessarily scale. Other organizations (such as KDE e.V.) have realized that to the point of having hired people specifically to manage sprints in an otherwise volunteer community. In Debian we are quite keen of maintaining the project running on a volunteer basis. At the same time I feel we should have more room for scalability in the number of sprints we could run. So if you are looking for a management task to help Debian with, think about becoming, err, "sprint master", and contact me.

If otherwise you want to focus on Debian hacking, what are you waiting for? Check the guidelines and propose your sprint!

To know more about sprints, Debian money, and how you could help with all that, be sure not to miss the Sprint and money BoF.