Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Future of Agile according to Uncle Bob Martin

The Future of Agile (If Any) - "Uncle" Bob Martin

Thank you to everyone at Skills Matter who put on a really nice free session with "Uncle" Bob Martin at DigitasLBi in London last night. And of course to Bob for giving his time for this!

I've never been up to any Skills Matter events or training before, but after the conversations last night I'll be looking for opportunities. Also the venue was excellent - relaxed, convenient and informal, for a group of (my guess) over 100 attendees to learn and discuss the seemingly "eternal" problems of software development.

This wasn't an event on the Agile South Coast calendar, but there were at least two of us up there. I know that when he's been speaking in London previously the Dev South Coast crew have managed to tempt Uncle Bob as far as Southampton for speaking, and the delights of the Cowherds pub. Maybe we missed a trick in not asking him down on this visit - let's keep an eye on his diary!

Uncle Bob Martin describes the Agile Software Development Process in Rings

Serious Flaimbait?

I guess the title of the talk fits nicely in to the series of recent on-line debates that I've been learning from recently like "Agile is dead, long live agility", and the more contentious "TDD is dead". Last night Bob reminded us that the problems that the original authors of the Agile Manifesto set out to solve are still hurting us in many of our software projects, and that software is invading (or supporting) our lives in more diverse, and more serious, ways.

Bob's first-hand history of the Agile movement and stream of challenging and forceful statements in support of XP practices kept it lively.

My views were challenged from many directions, but walking away I can't find much that I'd argue against. Perhaps just one thing - Bob warned us that Scrum has no interest in technical practices, and is weaker because of that: it is too easy for a software team to claim to be Scrum but not follow important software development practices. I think that Scrum is open and deliberate about this:
Scrum is not a process or a technique for building products; rather, it is a framework within which you can employ various processes and techniques. Scrum makes clear the relative efficacy of your product management and development practices so that you can improve. 
The Scrum Guide, Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland

In my experience, when a team starts work towards creating releasable increments at the end of every regular iteration they will need to reach out for the practices to support that.

However, Bob called out an unintended consequence of splitting out the technical practices from Scrum: it has become a tool for project managers. And because Scrum has become synonymous with "Agile" in many peoples' heads, the Agile conferences and discussions are dominated by Project Managers. Perhaps as a reaction to that, developers have re-grouped in to the Software Craftmanship movement. Two groups with the same aim are now divided by discipline.

The original "Lightweight Processes" that banded together under the Agile umbrella have offered us solutions to enable trust and communication between the business and the development teams. Are we building up that divide again? Good practices and effective understanding of business requirements have become more important than ever because software impacts so many aspects of our lives. Will there reach a point where software is implicated in some disaster so horrendous that the whole world will look to software professionals and ask "How could you let that happen?" How would we respond?

Hopefully not with manual test plans that look like this :)
The hands of a QA Manager: "Which half of the plan should I skip?"
I really enjoyed the session, and if you ever get the chance to hear Bob Martin speak I'd grab it - very engaging, just be ready for the pattern interrupt at the beginning ;)

All done

It was great to be able to head out to the session with a diverse range of my NewVoiceMedia work colleagues (2 developers, and  *no* project managers in this case).
Agile South Coast's Clive Skipper spotted me at the end of the session and we headed home with a fellow attendee, keeping the agile thinking going on the train. Awesome evening.

I missed the train home but discovered Mi Casa at Waterloo. Every cloud...

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Retrospective Game: Turn the Tables

Southampton Games Night - 10/06/2014

As part of the Southampton Games night I hosted a 30 minute session on a retrospective game that i have had some success in the past with called turn the tables.  The retrospective was based on the previous activity 'The User Story Game' to add to the mix the facilitator of that game was also taking part.

The Game is separated into 3 steps:

Step 1 - Write 2 Good points on green post it notes and 2 Bad points on red or in this case pink post it notes. The catch is you can only write a maximum of 2 words on each sticky.

Step 2 - Pass the green post it notes to the left and the red post it notes to the right.

Then comes the twist.  Starting with the green sickies each person has to try and explain what the person who wrote the sticky meant from the two words written down. The original author then marks them out of 5 for how accurate the description was. Once all the green post it notes have been done they can go into the middle of the table and the same activity is done with the red post it notes.

Step 3 - Pass the red post it notes to the right again and this time the person with the post it note has to try come up with ways of  improving the bad point. Once that person has given it a go the rest of the team can help out.

Below is a picture of the list of improvement ideas that came from the game

Why I like the game:

  • Its fun to play and your  guaranteed to have at least a  few laughs
  • It gives good results (in this example 11 improvements)
  • The turn based approach means everyone gets an equal say
  • It gives you a measure of how well the team know each other

Special Thanks

Original game

The book that changed how I view retrospectives - Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great (Pragmatic Programmers) 

It would be good to hear what others thought of the game? Have you tried it in your teams yet? How did it go?

Friday, 6 June 2014

Games and Activities Night at Agile South Coast in Southampton

Agile Games and Activities: Planning and Retrospectives

Coming up on Tuesday June 10 2014 at Ordnance Survey HQ in Southampton

Agile teams are big on collaboration, both inside and outside of the delivery teams, and often use "games" to kick start the hard work. A game that most Scrum or XP teams will be familiar with is Planning Poker, which helps team members agree on estimates for the relative complexity of stories in the Product Backlog.

At the next Agile South Coast meet up we're going to take the chance to try out some new games, as well as the usual chance to network and swap insights in our friendly Agile community.

The planned activities include a learning game that illustrates the benefit of conversation over documented specifications, and two activities to help during iteration retrospectives. I've been playing one of them at home with my children and they love it - lets see how it plays with the software delivery professionals of the South Coast as they retrospect on the Agile South Coast meet up next Tuesday :)

As usual for the Southampton events, register via the rolling Eventbrite link:

The Ordnance Survey building is easy to get to from the M27 by car, but I've found it's an easy cycle across town through Southampton too.

View Larger Map
Do you have any games or activities that you find useful in your work? Comment here, or even better, come along and show us (if it can fit inside a 30 minute slot!) See you there?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Virtual Attendee Options for Agile South Coast?

Virtual Attendee Options for Agile South Coast?

Some of the Agile South Coast crowd in Bournemouth
Thank you to Stuart Jones for getting me remote video conference access in to the most recent Agile South Coast meet up at Unicorn Training HQ in Bournemouth last week!

I'm not sure if this would be a regular option, but it worked well for me as the only remote participant. If Stuart wants to invest in a webcam to stick above the big screen in the room it would probably be possible to see everyone at the same time!

Obviously I missed out on the pub discussions afterwards, but it was an interesting evening of on-line chat.

On the evening we spoke about when to re-estimate story points (in Scrum), and then about the advantages of integrating Lean ideas in to an Agile development process. (I'll try to summarise our conclusions on that separately.)

Making this a regular option might mean that fewer people travel out to the venue, but if the overhead of running the on-line option is small, then it could be worth continuing.

What do people think? Has anyone got any experience running a user group and allowing on-line attendance, is it useful, or too much hard work?