I hope you enjoy this Agile themed, crossword puzzle, a good distraction from the surreal reality that surrounds us.
I hope you enjoy this Agile themed, crossword puzzle, a good distraction from the surreal reality that surrounds us.
I can’t help but chuckle at this scene with Peter Quill and the rest of “the scrum team” as they “deep dive” on the plan. It sounds more like the waterfall approach, the stakeholder and Project Charter on a napkin.
Stereotypical software developers are introverts, heads down, coding. Articulating where they are in the development lifecycle sometimes heavily relies upon tools for measuring progress such as JIRA, Product Backlog status of User Stories, e.g. “In Progress” with an Effort estimation of 3.
“Blocked” User Stories may require the implementation team to “break out of their shell” and work with their teammates to “unblock” Product Backlog items. It breaks people out of their comfort zone. We need to discuss options and opportunities for removing blockers. “All for One, and One for all”
Over a decade or so ago, the measure of my merit was the complete test coverage of requirements for software implementation. Back then I was a QA lead, and my focus was to make sure all use cases for the software under development had complete test coverage.
Requirements changes from our business through our business analysts must be vetted with the QA team so use cases/test cases must be updated to ensure coverage. Sometimes a dependency of one requirement had a ripple effect throughout the software, so lots of documentation updates were required. Milestone dates were in many cases fixed, so teams were squeezed to do more with less time.
Flash forward to today, and leveraging Agile principles, I breathe a slight sigh of relief. Iterating product delivery via sprints every 2 weeks is supremely better than attempting to traverse updates to Business Requirements Documents (BRD), and technical specs. User Stories in a Backlog are much more succinct, and in some cases, a bit more abstract leaving functionality open to some level of ambiguity and interpretation.
Sprint Close scrum ceremonies every two weeks with our Product Owner, the central mouthpiece for the definition of the software product helps define the path forward. Did we get it right? Where do we need to make changes? There is no substitute for an evolving product and accompanying dialog with our Product Owner.
Both sides of the aisle seem to agree, building a solution with iterative input from the customer enables the product vision to be realized far better than without frequent touchpoints.
Statements of Work (SoW) to engage 3rd party solutions integrators (SI) may be abstract in some way. Holding vendors accountable for loosely formed requirements is tenuous at best. Quibbling about he said, she said is a waste of time.
Fail fast, engage regularly and often with our [Business] Product Owner enables us to collaborate on a working solution. The focus is on the evolving product vision and not the paper trail.
A “last-minute” change request? It could push back our timelines and accompanying milestones. Dates can’t change, and teams need to absorb the changes, i.e. nights and weekends. Responding to incremental changes at a regular cadence is a sustainable life cycle.
A relic of the Waterfall model is the construct of a “gate” process. In order for a project to achieve a milestone, the project/solution would need to achieve certain criteria that would allow it to go to the next phase of the project. For example, going from solidifying requirements in a Business Requirements Doc (BRD) to the software implementation phase.
In Agile, we leverage the Product Owner (PO) and the Product Backlog to determine what gets done and when. A Product Backlog item (PBI) may cover the full lifecycle of a Feature, from requirements to implementation. The Product Owner dictates acceptance of the PBI based on the status/transparency of the Backlog, such as the criticality of the Bugs linked to the PBI. Product quality and implemented functionality are transparent to the PO, who will determine the next steps such as release the software, and/or go through another iteration/sprint. Iterations are a defined cadence agreed to by the implementation team and the Product owner, typically, 2-week sprints.
Epics, Features, Product Backlog Items, and Tasks are object types in a Backlog that enable the PO and the team to link objects and plan over multiple sprints. Epics or Themes of Sprints are “high level”, potentially strategic initiatives. Features roll up into Epics as a part of several sprints. Either Epics or Features may be high enough level to link to Psydo Project Milestones for a product roadmap of deliverables, and solicitation outside the team.
Aggregation of Product Backlog Items, Effort Estimations, roll up into Features, and then up into Epics, which roughly equate to milestone timelines.
The “Definition of Done” (DoD) for a Product Backlog Item may require 0 outstanding Bugs with the severity of “Critical” linked to this PBI. The DoD criteria could be analogous to a traditional Quality Assurance gate.
Tasks that are production rollout activities, without a project plan, should be planned for in future sprints, akin to estimating when items may be completed in the proper sequence. Some of the Tasks may be placed conservatively in “early” sprints and may require items to be “pushed forward” after each of the iterations.
Maybe you’ll meet them during the Project Kickoff. Maybe you’ll first hear from them during a biweekly Steering Committee. Or maybe you will first hear from them three months into the project at a quarterly meeting with the CIO and the rest of his portfolio. Maybe you will never hear from them directly.
The politics of requirements gathering and prioritization is a daunting process. I’m not going to drudge up all the stories and categorize them here because it’s a painful process.
Why are some of your milestones in your project plan:
• the milestone exists within someone’s year end evaluation
• the requirements of a milestone are so bipolar, they are bound to fail. Need a project to bucket the requirements to say “we tried”, and we can pin it to a project.
• backing into established project timelines based on expectations set at the highest levels, e.g. regulatory compliance
Global representation of legal and compliance requirements are a dichotomy of legal precedence between jurisdictions.
Many a project managed using waterfall kept me balancing the needs and wants of Stakeholders from all walks of life, some exuberantly voicing their opinions regardless of their position of power, or lack therein. The Agile Product Owner (PO) is a relief of burden, a single mouthpiece of the business, which dictates backlog priority.
Does Agile make the requirements gathering and prioritization pain go away? Possibly. There are various implementations of Agile, hybrid situations, and there are lots of tools out there to help manage the Product Backlog (requirements). Another exercise, developing User Journeys, working with your Personas / actors to derive their story, that is telling and lots of fun.
Here is a list of seven failures from my professional career, how I met those challenges, and in some cases, turned them into opportunities
Eager to please throughout my career, I was burned many times, and in some cases continue to be burned by underestimating the effort required for an activity, or task, which roll up to the delivery of features, or meeting a milestone. In my earlier years, I “shot from the hip” to senior management, and they held me to those commitments. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to document and mitigate risks. In addition I learned additional tools, both process and communication / people skills:
* “Interesting point, let me consider, and get back to you.” You don’t have to provide an answer right away. Consider the scope and impact of the questions you are presented. Unless you are almost certain of the answer, try to defer.
* Planning Poker (Agile) collaborative (blind) estimates make better estimations. Through collaboration, you reach joint commitment. You eliminate the “boss knows best” factor.
Throughout my personal and professional life, I’ve struggled with this aspect of communication, more so earlier on in my life. Two people have a meeting, and discuss their point of views regarding the same topic. They both leave the room, and have two polar opposite prospectives of what was communicated.
Even in the same language, things get “lost in the translation.“. There are many process tools to better your communications style. You hear what you want to hear. You don’t probe deep enough into another person’s perspective.
Adding too much margin into an estimate, being conservative in your effort estimate at times may not be the best course of action. “Right Sizing” the estimate is typically the desired approach unless otherwise guided by the appropriate stakeholders. There are lots of tools for Effort estimation, poker planning, and fist of five are just two examples.
I was brought into a development team as a Software Quality Assurance manager for a well known Financial Services organization. I was to build a team of QA staff as well as mature their process workflow, e.g. implement software change management.
The department’s QA resources per team dwindled, letting go these resources, and not growing the teams as first advertised during the interviews. I found myself constantly working with the team putting out fires. Best case scenario, I worked “after” hours just to work on the strategic stuff like process improvements, and automation. I stuck to the opportunity to learn as much as possible. Sticking with the job, I built my knowledge and relationships that would wind up propelling my career to later on build and manage a 50 person, global team.
I chose to try my own startup at some point in my professional career. I had worked for a startup firm out of college, but that was not the same as my own self startup. There were lots of balls to juggle, decisions to make and prioritize. After a year and a half, I shutdown the company, more money going out than in, and I was also “relatively” self funded.
One of the several ill choices I made was “Build it and They will Come.” At the time it was 2009, and the mobile frenzy was just starting to heat up. Feb 2009, Apple was at 30 USD per share! 30! I built a client/server mobile application for expertise transactions, way ahead of my time. I was almost entirely focused on the development of the solution, I clearly lost sight of the focused requirement of building market share. I did post Press Releases, but I didn’t embrace digital marketing as a core spend and activity for my business.
Needless to say I was “The Best Kept Secret”.
As a software product, startup firm, you need to segment your product to align to a target audience. However, honing in on the target market maybe problematic if the “fish aren’t biting”.
You find yourself reassessing the strategic and tactical goals of your product, pivoting often to eventually find your “pay dirt”. There may be fundamental influences to your ecosystem, such as a shift in a 3rd party product previously seen as complementary now seen as “overlapping”. Sales pitch and marketing approach may need to change along with your product.
Although pivoting often may be the name of the game, you still should recognize the cost in adapting to change. Process flows like being “agile” and Scrum help to smooth the pivot, as these processes revolve around constant development iterations and reflections every few weeks.
I still have trouble with knowing when it’s time to say when. I enjoy troubleshooting problems, business, people, process, and technical. So, how long do you work on problem before you pull the ripcord?
Although I’ve been a huge fan of PlanningPoker.com since 2011, my Scrum Product team consisted of more than five members, and their Free Membership allows up to 5 users. The team I was working with had just started their agile transformation and was trying out aspects of Agile / Scrum they wanted to adopt. They weren’t about to make the investment in Planning Poker for estimations quite yet, so I stumbled across an estimation tool as a free add-on to Azure DevOps.
Microsoft’s Azure DevOps solution is both a code and requirements repository in one. Requirements are managed from an Agile perspective, through a Product Backlog of user stories. The user story backlog item type contains a field called “Story Points”, or sometimes configured as “Effort”.
All team members select from a predetermined relative effort scale, such as Tee Shirt Sizes (XS, S, M, L, XL) or Fibonacci sequence (0, 1/2, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…) All selections of team members are hidden until the facilitator decides to expose/flip all team selections at once. Flipping at once should help to remove natural biases, such as selecting the same value as the team tech lead’s selection. After that, there’s a team discussion to normalize the value into an agreed selection, such as the average value.
The interesting thing about this estimation tool is you can explicitly select stories to perform the effort estimation process right from the backlog, and in turn, once the team agrees upon a value, it can be committed to the User Story in the Backlog. No jumping between user stories, updating and saving field values. All performed from the effort estimation tool.