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Ceterum censeo… » Agile

Ceterum censeo…


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  • Michael's Blog
  • Michael's Curriculum Vitae

  • Warning: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 11

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    Warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 24

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    Warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 24

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    04/12/2014 (3:27 pm)

    Statement of Beliefs

    Filed under: Agile ::

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    While updating an out of date LinkedIn profile, I wrote this:

    I’ve spent most of the past two decades studying and developing systems within corporate environments. This includes both the technology systems, and the business processes they support. And the biggest system in my life have been the ones used to develop software.

    The software development systems are the ones that most attract me. No matter how good the starting point, there’s so much opportunity for improvement. Improvements in the ability to deliver software have so much potential to improve business processes. This needs to be the key focus throughout the IT industry.

    I’m looking for opportunities to make technology systems a key part of business success. I’ll know I’m there when there’s a clear, quick, pain-free line from “Wouldn’t it be great if…” to “And now we can…”.

    My guiding principles are:

    • Overwhelmingly, everyone is trying to help.
    • How people help is determined by how they see the local system.
    • Conflicts occur where local systems don’t connect properly.
    • Conflict isn’t bad, if everyone agrees with how it happens.

    No html in LinkedIn summaries, which was one of the things that really needed to be changed.


    Warning: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 11

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    01/02/2011 (4:09 pm)

    Learnings from 2010

    Filed under: Agile, Project Manager ::

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    Well, that was a busy year. 10 months of testing, one milestone after the other, never able to fix things to our satisfaction before the next milestone was upon us. No time to pause, relax, reflect… by the time any problem was solved, attention had moved to the next problem. We did it, but it was a stretch.

    At the end of it all, although I have a much wider viewpoint, my view is still centered on my involvement in software development. (I might stop calling myself a system analyst though… it’s been a while since I did that.) So, given that I’ve actually had a week to reflect, I’m going to take the time to review how I think of software development.

    1. Development is a vast problem space with solvable solutions.

    By “development”, I mean everything that happens between deciding to write a requirement and ending further development. So that includes requirements documentation, design and coding, and testing.

    At the risk of being dogmatic, development is a solvable problem space. That is, there are a wide range of workable, practical methods to derive solutions to all of the issues in this space. Which means:

    • If you’re coding, and producing unreliable software…
    • If you’re testing, and can’t evaluate risk factors in the software…
    • If you’re writing requirements that no one understands…

    …then either you can do some research and find out how to do your job better, or continue to do a mediocre job.

    Development remains hard, though, because the problem space is vast. Dealing with that vastness really takes time, and there’s no substitute for that. Even experience doesn’t help. Also, see Michael Boulton and the Unsettling Rule.

    Also, not every solution is palatable to the stakeholders. Some of these solutions may be “(As far as I know) that can’t be done”.

    2. Project Management is a small problem space with messy solutions.

    The issues of project management are actually really straight forward:

    • How much will it cost?
    • When will it be ready?

    The PM simply has to organize things to answer these questions. Easy, huh?

    The mess comes because “it” isn’t a fixed concept. “It” is the vague image floating in half a dozen heads. “It” will change over time. So the PM needs to do the famous balancing act of Scope, Cost, Time and Quality. More messy still is the negotiation and expectation management that falls under the heading of “politics”.

    Prescriptive project management seeks to define “it”, stop “it” from changing, and deliver “it”. Anyone who thinks “it” is something else is therefore wrong. Agile project management seeks to expose the messy nature of “it”, and make that mess a joint problem.

    But here’s the thing: those aren’t exclusive approaches… they are opposite ends of a continum. The most perscriptive planner understands the need for identifing what needs to be fixed now, and what needs to wait. Any manager who advocates agility without a clear goal is abusing the term. There’s lots of points on that continuum.

    3. The Customer has a wicked problem space with few solutions.

    What’s really become entrenched for me this year is despair at the problems faced by the customer. The customer is required to

    • imagine a new way of doing things
    • understand the implications to the business process
    • balance competeing priorities when setting functionality
    • designate a way from here to there

    …which is hard enough to start with. But there are further pitfalls:

    • the customer may not be a user
    • the customer may not have project experience
    • the customer may not accept the responsibility of the role
    • the customer may not be one person
    • the customer may not have authority to make decisions
    • the customer may not have the support of the people they represent

    All of which makes the customer’s role as envisiged by Agile processes a wicked problem. Now, sometimes you get lucky and the customer does have the answers. But in general, asking novices to deal with these issues… well, let’s call that an anti-pattern.

    I only see a few ways out of this problem. Build small projects. Get something concrete as quickly as possible. Deal with people who have talent and passion. I’m coming to appreciate Lean Software Development methods because they give tools and a framework to the customer.


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    05/22/2010 (6:35 pm)

    Remote Standups

    Filed under: Agile, Project Manager ::

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    Not one week after claiming that one team liked informal communications, I started getting feedback (via organisational heirarcy) that the team was feeling neglected and out of touch. So for the last several weeks we’ve been holding daily stand-up meetings by phone. I’m very happy with the increased insight into what’s happening day to day, and I’m reasonably confident that the team is happy with the improved communications.

    How it works

    The dev team goes to a meeting room near their desks. This is largely a courtesy to the other people in the Melbourne office, since a phone on speaker loud enough to be heard by 6 people would be really distracting. I stay at my desk, talking by phone. It’s a little distracting for those around me, but I think no more than any other phone call.

    standup wiki entrySince I’m at my desk, I make notes on a wiki page. Before the meeting I set up a page, and also display the notes from the previous day. While the meeting is in progress, I update the wiki with the various activities everyone is reporting.

    The meeting takes 10 to 20 mintues. The agenda is standard for a standup; what happened yesterday, what happened today, and blocking issues.

    After the meeting, I send a link to the wiki to the team, and some more manegerial people. People who missed the stand-up (sometimes) update the wiki with their own contents. The overall project manager and the development manager are both able to review the meeting and get and idea of what’s happening in the day to day operations.

    standup wiki entryFinally, the accumulated record of stand ups is helpful in trying to fill out various end of month functions, such as who was away.

    Improvements and concerns

    Early on we found getting started to be a bit hit and miss. We’d burn a three or four mintues getting everyone in the rooms and on the phones. An early starter in Melbourne nominated himself the contact point, and the starting has improved.

    Extended discussions about blocking issues was an early trap. Since the stand-up felt more like a meeting, we initially delved too much into the issue. This was pointed out as time-wasting for those not directly involved. Now we consciously defer these discussions till the end of the meeting, and those not relevant leave before the detailed discussion. The detailed discussion only goes for 5 to 10 minutes. This is akin to remaining around the board after everyone else has left.

    Standup progress chartFinally, we’re missing the big chart which allows everyone to see progress. We can’t stand around a whiteboard filling in boxes, because a) it’s not in the space of the meeting, and b) I wouldn’t be able to see it. I’ve added a chart to the bottom of the wiki page, trying to monitor the progress.

    I’m not really happy with the progress chart, since it’s hard to maintain. I’m still trying to work out a better solution, but I’m kind of stuck. A possible countermeasure is to change the meeting to talk about current tasks, rather than person by person, which will need to change the agenda of the talk. I’m still thinking on this one.


    Warning: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 11

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    Warning: mktime(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 11

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    Warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 25


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    05/04/2010 (3:54 am)

    But you’re doing it wrong…

    Filed under: Agile ::

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    I wanted to make sure we were working on the defects that were most important to the business. I explained what would happen, and what it meant. The business agreed, and diligently went off to prioritize.

    Which is great, except they came back with the wrong order.

    I want them to own the decision. I want them to set the priority. Which made it sooo hard to bite my tongue and not criticize their choices.

    I’m hoping when I show them the list of things that we won’t have time to fix, they might reconsider.


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    Warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 24

    Warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected the timezone 'UTC' for now, but please set date.timezone to select your timezone. in /hermes/bosnaweb19a/b2387/nf.birchgrovecreative/public_html/michael/wp-includes/functions.php on line 25

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    04/25/2010 (8:09 pm)

    How too much time isn’t enough

    Filed under: Agile, Business Analysis ::

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    Four years out from delivery, a plan was drawn up. The plan put in place plenty of milestones… analysis complete, development complete, a bunch of test phases, and, of course, implementation. All set up four years in advance, with the best understanding available at the time.1

    (Actually, the implementation does in fact need to be set up this far in advance. There’s a wide ranging logistics and training effort required, and significant hardware procurement, all more or less independent of the time required to actually build the system.)

    Anyway, given the understanding at the time, a whole year was put aside for testing. I remember thinking “Wow! A year! That’s so much time just for testing. That’s going to be one heavily tested system. We are going to be so sick of testing by the end of it.” I was half right.

    The thing is, that massive 12 month test phase isn’t actually 12 months of testing. It turns out to be…

    • three months of testing by these guys over here
    • one month of testing by them
    • one month of testing by them, and them, and them, and whoever else seems relevant
    • two and a half months of testing by some other guys
    • one month of testing by those guys
    • five months of user testing, and some training at the same time

    Every single group2 is now carefully lining up to do what they have to do during what’s suddenly turned into an incredibly brief window of testing. (Because when 2 and a half months were allocated, it wasn’t to fill up space in the schedule.) All of these tests are integration tests of one sort or another, so of course things are going to go wrong.

    Oh, by the way, the test plan doesn’t really include the other system test phases that are still going on because of course development is running late. Only one subsystem has completed the scope of development, and none are really ready for integration except for one that is so big that everyone else will have to accommodate its shortcomings. Routinely.

    The end result is that testing consists of scrambling to resolve the issues turned up in the last phase of testing while trying to meet the next phase. The degree of forward planning means that ever party is locked into a particular time frame, and rescheduling becomes an big deal. Plus, the lockstep means that scope is fixed too… there is no option to separate.

    The pity is that 3 months into testing, there are significant stakeholders who still haven’t seen the core product, because they’re not the ones doing the testing. The testing has actually become a series of barriers between the users and the product.

    Man, I am going to be so sick of testing by this time next year.

    In closing: The solution here is not to have planned a longer test phase. Anyone who hears this tale and says “well, clearly so-and-so should have been allowed 4 months, not two” has missed the point. The solution is vertical testing. Get one section of the application through the whole process, much, much earlier. That would

    1. allow early resolution of the technical integration issues
    2. increase user understanding of what was being developed
    3. provide everyone with some faith that something is happening

    As it happened, the system is divided up into vertical segments. But that didn’t (and couldn’t) lead to vertical testing because the organisation structure prohibited it. The vertical segments are there to allow division along business segments. We couldn’t have everyone working on the one segment… they’re not the right people. We wouldn’t have gotten here any faster. The project is simply to big to go fast(er).

    1In terms of difficulty, this is a combination of the scene at the end of White Men Can’t Jump, where Woody Harrelson makes a hook shot across most of the court’s length, and the later levels of Wii Sports Resort Archery, where there’s a bunch of moving obstacles between you and the target. But on the plus side, the people holding the target are willing to move around a bit and help the score.4

    2Well, I’m pretending they’re different groups. The real split is by areas of interest. sometimes the groups are distinct, sometimes not. Whether or not the actual groups a split depends on resourcing. Hint: the groups I’m working with aren’t split.

    3Truth be told, the users aren’t good candidates for early reviews. They carp over minor formatting issues, and don’t have a real grasp of priorities. But this is a self fulfilling prophecy - being a good candidate is the result of experience, and they’re locked out of the experience.

    4Gee, it’s fun to push metaphors.

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