Agile Methodology – Advantages beyond the Development Team

26.10.2011 1

My last post noted we’re creating a Cultural Shift in the organization – I’ve instigated moving to Agile Methodology for the development of our products. I’m happy to report that the development team likes the advantages we’ve seen. There’s more focus and discipline on estimating work as we plan for sprints, we formally review sprint success and daily troubleshoot challenges, and formally capture the lessons learned after doing the work. All these are good things to the ordered minds of engineers and for managers too.

What was unexpected in all this is the discipline that other areas of the organization are developing to support the process. The original intent was simply to develop better – better quality, better testing, having a common definition of “done” etc. The advantages of having shippable product delivered in a relatively short time frame can’t be ignored and other areas of the business are examining their methods to getting the work done.

Advantages:

  1. Requirements are becoming more tightly defined and we’re receiving them without value statements.  Instead they are becoming goal oriented without any references to subjective terms ( i.e. simple, intuitive, user-friendly).
  2. The dependencies external to the development team are handled more efficiently.  Given that we have tighter development windows, other verticals are delivering more quickly to feed their information into the development team.
  3. Having a set development window means the desire to add last minute requirements to a product release has decreased significantly.  We can always do another sprint and take the time to implement correctly.
  4. We’re able to allocate resources far more efficiently and the organization can prioritize efforts.  This is the Biggest Win!
The Biggest Win:
I recently stopped all development activity.  I’m betting some of the PM’s out there are wondering how schedules were maintained if we stopped development.  Well they weren’t for a short while.  I recognized a need for the organization to determine priorities and since we have limited resources, applying them appropriately is always a challenge.  Allocating expertise to maintain multiple deliveries is hard with a limited pool.  To combat this, we took the time we needed to create sprint plans for five different projects.  The organization was wondering how we could deliver against all five and by boiling down each intiative we could see where we had common demands on specific developers.

 

Very quickly we were able to determine which resource was a bottle neck when we compared each sprint plan.  I presented the plans to management and they were able to prioritize projects against customer demand.  By showing where resources were needed against sprint objectives, it was easy to give direction on where efforts should go.  This directly translates to greater precision for determining cash flow, budget forecasting, hiring, and external delivery promises.  Development is now working on deliverables targeted directly to customers.

 

Future:
The biggest win is the biggest advantage and will provide opportunities to improve our internal best practices.  I’m contemplating creating operational tools where agile methods are utilized alongside traditional waterfall approaches  in other areas of the business.  I can see critical path methodology extended to operational activities, feeding inputs into the agile process of the development team.

Agile Methodology – webinar wastefulness and cultural shifts

07.09.2011 1

My Team Lead and I just sat through 70% of a webinar and opted out early.  The subject was supposed to be about scaling organizational change around Agile Methodology, which was exciting for us as we’re right in the middle of creating a cultural shift in our organization.

We have embarked on a path to firm up our agile processes and provide accountability right from the product owner down to the individual coder.  We’re keen on entrenching good methods and process because we’ve got big plans and want  to establish “how we do it!”  This is part of bigger plans  that we have for implementing test driven development and paired programming – the company is maturing!

What we found was a webinar that pointed us to reading cultural theories by well-published management authors.  The take-aways before opting out were: respect team members, don’t let anyone on the team talk trash, and try to provide enabling challenges.  None of those are bad ideas, but where’s the hands-on practical experience and other inside tips that we should know and was hinted at in the webinar summary?  As we’re ramping up and putting components into place, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the key to implementing a cutlural shift around Agile are hands-on ideas like is this:

  1. Plan  - identify what you think you need to accomplish and then determine how you’re going to do it.
  2. Assign resources to the tasks in the plan.
  3. Work the plan.
  4. Meet daily so that you can be flexible with any road blocks.
  5. Have a show and tell at the end of the week where the team can review the successes for the last 4 days!  Have management attend so that they can see the results and keep the buy-in strong.

(sounds like a sprint, hmmm….)

Inside Tip:  Set office hours completely devoted for discussing any change induced worries that team members might be having.  Also, don’t talk trash and help each other get there.
Now if I was to package this and throw in a few war stories, I might have a webinar myself.  Hopefully with useful content!

 

Case Study: Mobile Media – Roving Reporters and iPhones

26.06.2011 0

Challenge:

How do you empower reporters in the field to deliver real-time video news stories?  Is it possible to cut costs for production, provide a desktop quality video editing application, and reliably send the completed content into the newsroom?  This was the challenge for VeriCorder Technology Inc.

This start-up company was founded to produce mobile journalist tools working on the iOS platform.  The company vision was to develop a sophisticated video-editing app that could send stories  that integrated to any newsroom system.  Stories produced by mobile journalists could then be viewed using traditional media or by using the Internet.

 

Approach:

I was brought into the organization to manage development of the product, build business process for quality assurance and customer engagement, and direct the deployment of the product into the field.

This was a new business venture, working on a new development platform, in an emerging market.  Risks were significant.  My focus was on creating an Agile development environment, and recruiting the best team to complete the work and support early customer adopters.

 

Solution:

The product is a media system developed over three phases:

  1. Applications working on iOS devices that can record, edit, and send content to specific targets.
  2. System Architecture utilizing cloud solutions.  iOS devices can be remotely configured and specific permissions are set for app users.
  3. IP based playout systems that transcode video and allow administrators to display the content of their choice.

Several patents were filed during the creation of the product and a system was deployed for the 2010 Winter Olympics.  CBC, BBC, Vista Radio, NewsBoss, Fanshawe College, and David Systems have utilized the system and commercialization efforts are ongoing.