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Agile Development

Agile development takes software’s chaotic nature into account by asking that teams create software incrementally and iteratively, developing chunks of functionality each work cycle (or “sprint”).
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Archive for September, 2009

Advice on Feedback for Retrospectives

September 15, 2009 By: admin Category: Uncategorized

How do you tell a teammate when they’re not pulling their weight? When is constructive criticism helpful? When is praise harmful? If you are on a Scrum team, then these are likely questions you’ve asked yourself when attending retrospective meetings. After all, we all want our teams to excel and improve, but none of us want to hurt our team members’ feelings.
Well, as InfoQ reports, agile guru Liz Keogh helped kick off the week of activities at Agile 2009 on Monday with a presentation entitled “Giving and Receiving Effective Feedback.” To lead her discussion, she focused on a fictional employee, George, who receives a range of feedback. Using these examples, she went on to explain how feedback that is simply positive or negative is not entirely useful. That is, glowing praise may actually encourage an individual to assume that there is no opportunity for growth or skill development, thereby keeping him from advancing beyond the status quo. Of course, venomous feedback is equally counter-productive, as it can discourage an individual to the point of legitimate failure or foster acrimonious relationships among co-workers.
Below is Keogh’s list of positive ways to communicate feedback. According to her, effective feedback:
• Is about the recipient and not the person giving feedback
• Is only from the point of the person giving feedback and not any third parties
• Addressed directly to the recipient
• Includes the things that the person giving the feedback values and not just areas for improvement
• Makes suggestions and doesn’t just complain
• Uses examples and doesn’t speak about generalities
• Talks about things you’ve seen and heard i.e. instead of saying “the whole team was happy with your presentation”, say “the whole team smiled after your presentation”
• Talks about the impact on you
• Asks the recipient for help in making any changes that need to be made
• End with a bright future, the positive goal that everyone is working towards

What have your experiences been with giving and receiving feedback? What strategies do you utilize to make sure it is a productive exchange and not blind praise or one-sided criticism?

Addressing Organizational Dysfunction

September 09, 2009 By: admin Category: Uncategorized

There’s a common refrain in agile circles when discussing the dysfunction that keep successful development from occurring at organizations: “The biggest obstacles are always cultural.” That is, there’s no organization that can’t adopt agile or reap the benefits of the process improvements it realizes, there are only those organizations whose people are unwilling to do so. Certainly, dysfunction can refer to any number of behaviors and attitudes which prevent an organization from moving forward and ensure that it maintains a status quo approach to development. In that sense, dysfunction is simply any organizational practice that strands a team in stasis, incapable of the kind of ongoing change and improvement that has made agile so popular in recent years.

There have some suggestions made for how to resolve this issue, including leveraging the Human Resources Department (http://www.scrumalliance.org/articles/125-human-resources-and-scrum), but it still remains a pervasive impediment within the field—even among agile teams. In an article on Agile Journal (http://www.agilejournal.com/articles/columns/column-articles/889-how-agile-practices-address-the-five-dysfunctions-of-a-team), Tathagat Varma discusses this problem by first invoking Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, which identifies the five dysfunctions that damage an organization’s bid for highly performing teams:

• “Absence of Trust: Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.

• “Fear of Conflict: Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas.

• “Lack of Commitment: Without having aired their opinions in the course of passionate and open debate, team members rarely, if ever, buy in and commit to decision.

• “Avoidance of Accountability: Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the good of the team.

• “Inattention to Results: Inattention to results occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego career development, or recognition) or even the needs of their divisions above the collective goals of the team.”

Insofar as agile practices are designed to create transparency—in its emphasis on communication, collaboration, and self-organization—they directly address many of these issues. Of course, if an individual is unwilling to participate, the benefits agile promises are negated. How do you deal with individuals who remain stubbornly averse to change, even when it means realizing drastic improvements at your organization?

Scaling the Scaling Problem

September 08, 2009 By: admin Category: Uncategorized

I just attended an online demo of Danube’s new ScrumWorks Pro 4 and I’m happy to report they’ve gone to great lengths to address those issues facing today’s complex development environments managed using agile techniques. Namely, Danube has built a flexible yet robust system that can accurately model cross-product development. For those of you who have creatively utilized existing agile tools to achieve a similar (though—now that I see what this release can do—far inferior) result will immediately see the value in the release planner view and “epics” potential. In short, these new features allow organizations to monitor progress from a level above the product (usually called “program” or, in ScrumWorks Pro 4, “epics”). Most notably, it allows users to monitor the progress of the multiple constituent components which make up the program, thereby accurately tracking the overall progress of the program. In all, this powerful functionality provides very valuable information that can help shape release date forecasting and prioritization.
I highly encourage you to read more about this release here (http://www.danube.com/scrumworks/pro/release/4.0) or sign up for a trial here (http://www.danube.com/scrumworks/pro/trial).