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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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Agile Development Practices East 2010

March 17, 2010 By: admin Category: Uncategorized

Hey, agile enthusiasts! Speaking submissions have opened for Agile Development Practices East 2010. Like Agile 2010, this conference is a great place to connect with other agile practitioners and attend sessions with some of the industry’s heavyweights. This year, the conference is happening in Orlando, Florida, November 14 through 19. That might sound far off, but speaking submissions are due by March 29th, so if you’d like to share your process expertise with the attendees, you should get started today.
Head here to submit your proposal!

Tips for Successful Open Source Development (Here’s a Hint: Try Scrum!)

January 18, 2010 By: admin Category: Uncategorized

As Open Source development becomes increasingly common, it represents a whole new host of questions and potential challenges for traditional project managers interested in incorporating those practices into their daily operations. Luckily, Andrew Till of Information Week has provided a useful breakdown of how organizations can utilize Open Source development without running into too many headaches.
Scrum and agile users will be interested to read that Till advocates pairing Open Source development with a like-minded project management approach: namely, Scrum or agile. He writes:
“Leveraging open source software isn’t just about finding free code on the Internet and integrating it into your project. It has implications for your overall development model. Instead of traditional waterfall development models widely in use at large companies, open source projects often use Agile or Scrum iterative development methodologies where cross-functional teams collaborate to come up with requirements and solutions.”
Take a look at the entire list of nine tips here: http://www.informationweek.com/news/development/open-source/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=222002603

Are There Warring Tribes at Your Organization?

November 13, 2009 By: admin Category: Uncategorized

Over at Dr. Dobb’s, Tim Low uses the metaphor of a “jungle” to describe the current state of application development and likens the tension of competing management methods to warring tribes. For those familiar with these issues, Low’s description of how the “Waterfall tribe” has fallen out of favor with the “Chiefs” and replaced by the much more mysterious “Scrummies” will be an amusing read. And though the article is intended to be humorous, there’s plenty of insight in his extended metaphor.
Certainly, development in today’s rapidly evolving can be quite chaotic, even subject to occasional spikes in influence with management frameworks like Scrum. In other words, “it’s a jungle out there.” And—as I’m sure many readers can attest—developers tend to have strong feelings about which management strategies work and which ones don’t. Many would gladly do battle with those co-workers who disagree with their perspective.
But my favorite part of Low’s article is his description of Scrummies living on an island. Not only does this allude to the fact that Scrum teams self-organize and complete their work in relative seclusion from the managers and stakeholders, but it also gets at how truly different Scrum is from more traditional project management practices. In other words, Scrum’s not even in the jungle! Part of this separation has to do with Scrum’s unique terminology and processes, but I’d wager that the island metaphor also has to do with perceived mysteriousness on the part of traditional managers. Because Scrum demands development teams break from traditional management strategies and truly reorient their mindsets to embrace agile’s values, it can seem like another world altogether.

You can read the post in its entirety here.

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).

ScrumWorks Pro + Tasktop = Productivity

August 25, 2009 By: admin Category: Uncategorized

I know I’ve mentioned how my team uses ScrumWorks Pro here before. I just ran across a story on eWeek about a new integration that connects ScrumWorks Pro task management functionality with the inclusive IDE Tasktop Pro, which runs on Mylyn. It’s a powerful integration that would allow developers to streamline the relevant applications, documents, and source code within a single IDE. In fact, with the ScrumWorks Pro connector, Tasktop Pro users will be able to quickly turn emails or calendar invites into Product Backlog Items.

Tasktop already employs a groundbreaking piece of technology called the “degree of interest” model, which tracks developer behavior to only present the most relevant artifacts and information to the PBI being tackled. That level of focus allows developers to zero in on the task at hand, effectively ending the cycle of searching that can significantly disrupt productivity.

You can watch a screencast about the connector here.

Complexity Theory and Scrum

August 12, 2009 By: admin Category: Uncategorized

If you’ve ever looked into the agile management paradigm Scrum, you’ve likely discovered that the framework was informed by many practices with no direct connection to software development. For example, its most immediate roots are actually in new product development and Lean manufacturing processes popularized by Japanese automakers such as Toyota and Honda in the 1980s. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that many agile luminaries also bring up complex systems theory when discussing the origins of Scrum. According to the Wikipedia entry, “complex systems” refers to “a new approach to science that studies how relationships between parts give rise to the collective behaviors of a system and how the system interacts and forms relationships with its environment.”

I just ran across a great article on Scrum’s origins and complex systems theory by Laszlo Szalvay of Scrum company Danube Technologies. You can read it here. Within the article, Szalvay makes the connection between Scrum and complexity theory very clear. To oversimplify the discussion, think of the evolution of human life. Just as humans have had to adjust to survive in a rapidly changing and often unfriendly world (dealing with climate changes, predators, and so on), so, too, must software development react to survive during chaotic development stretches and a tech market that’s changing faster than ever before. There’s much more depth in his discussion, so I’d encourage you to take a look at the full article.

Corporate Culture as Impediment

July 29, 2009 By: admin Category: Uncategorized

Talk to any experienced practitioner of Scrum or agile and they’ll all tell you the number one impediment to organizational adoption of agile management techniques is a company’s culture. Change tends to make people nervous. They assume that if change is being implemented, it’s a direct response to their own shortcomings as employees. But the fact is that, when agile or Scrum is introduced, it’s usually leveraged to address a much more deep-seeded problem with how work is being managed. That is, it’s not so much a matter of how individuals are performing as it is about flaws affecting the entire management system. So when organizations suddenly mandate that their employees rethink how they do their jobs, they get scared. Sometimes they get stubborn—refusing to embrace the change or even give it a fair shake.

I just ran across this article by Vin D’Amico discussing the topic. It’s a good start to the conversation, but there are a lot more factors to consider. A great piece I’ve read on the subject is by Laszlo Szalvay of Danube Technologies, which actually advocates leveraging human resources to minimize cultural resistance. You can read it on the Scrum Alliance website here.

The Great Certification Debate

June 18, 2009 By: admin Category: Uncategorized

Dr. Dobb’s web site recently ran a Q & A with Scott Ambler, IBM’s practice leader for agile development, addressing the state of agile. As such, Dr. Dobb’s editor-in-chief Jonathan Erickson throws some pretty big, open-ended questions at him. For the most part, I agree with his views throughout this succinct interview. (For example, his assertion that most barriers to agile adoption are cultural is dead-on.) But I was less convinced by his complete dismissal of the role of certification within the various niche communities. Scrum, which has emerged as the single most popular agile subset, shoulders the majority of his criticism, as he explains:

“The Scrum community has done a horrendous job of certification. Right now people are taking a two-day course and then coming out of it claiming to be a ‘Certified Scrum Master.’ Sadly, many organizations aren’t catching on to this, assuming that ‘certified’ actually means something instead of doing their homework and looking into the ‘arduous’ process behind it. I’ve pointed this out to several customers and every time they were offended that such a thing was going on. The Scrum folks are trying to put a veneer of respectability over this by soon requiring people to take a test.”

Certainly, I agree with Ambler’s assessment that Scrum—or any agile method, for that matter—is far too nuanced to assume that it can be mastered in two days. And I imagine any Scrum trainer, certified or otherwise, would tell you that what is taught in a Certified ScrumMaster or Product Owner class is only the tip of the iceberg. (And no, I don’t think that making course participants take a test improves matters much.) But I do think that certification holds value for employers, individuals seeking professional development, and organizations, at large. Let me explain.

Because Scrum and agile are relatively new approaches to project management, employers are still trying to figure out how best to assess the experience and aptitude of an individual for integrating into an agile environment. One way that employers can gauge the base knowledge an applicant possesses is through certification. No, it can’t guarantee that the individual’s personality will mesh with other members of the team, but it is an indication that the candidate possesses some familiarity with the basic principles and processes of Scrum. Organizations will likely need to develop their own, custom screening process, but certification can provide some insight into an individual’s qualification.

From the perspective of individuals who are seeking to pursue a career in Scrum, certification is the best possible option short of on-the-job experience in a Scrum environment (and even then, it’s still a pretty good idea). Certification represents a step such an individual can take toward not only finding a career in Scrum, but demonstrating his or her commitment to learning the framework.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, certification is an important factor for organizations seeking to train their staff en masse. For an individual to achieve Certified Scrum Trainer status, he or she must have been vetted by other trainers and practiced Scrum for years. In other words, the trainer’s experience is essentially proven. Training large groups of employees can be very expensive. In fact, it might be tempting to be cheap and hire an uncertified trainer. But will it be money well spent if the quality of the training turns out to be worthless? This is a real danger. Consider how carefully constructed the Scrum framework is and how its value is derived from the way all the moving parts interact. Engaging an uncertified trainer runs the risk of actually arming your teams with the wrong ideas, i.e. recommendations that effectively undermine Scrum’s ability to realize the benefits it advertises. If that happens, you’ll be left with a broken system, not a well-oiled machine.