Sunday, October 26, 2008

Towards Agile Talking Points [was: Towards an Agile Litmus Test]

Last week, I published a poll which tried to identify criteria for an agile litmus test.  I wanted some talking points to complement the Nokia test as I start to coach a new agile project. There seem to be strong feelings against testing. The inquiry generated little enthusiasm on dzone, whereas Michael's criticism of these tests came up strongly positive.

As I started the above mentioned project, I discovered that the questions I proposed were not that helpful.  The real problems become obvious very quickly as I watched the team do its sprint retrospective and sprint planning. Reacting to what I see is more important than doing an academic evaluation.

As I write this article, 8 people have voted on the poll. Not exactly the wisdom of crowds, but you can get an idea of what people consider important. Here are the top vote getters:
  1. Colocated: Is the team colocated? - 8
  2. User Stories: Do you define the product in terms of user stories? - 8
  3. Releases: Have you delivered running, tested, usable functionality to users at least twice in the last six months? - 7
  4. Continuous: Do you do continuous build / test / deploy? - 7
  5. Retrospective: Does you team conduct a retrospective after every iteration? - 7
  6. Testers: Do you have testers? - 6
  7. Bug DB: Do you have a bug database? - 6
  8. Access: Does it take less than three days from when you have a question to when an expert answers it? - 6
  9. Build: Can you build in a single step? - 6
  10. Talk: Does everyone talk to each other, constantly? - 6
One of the more interesting suggestions in ensuing the discussions was, When starting a project, I should not be looking for practices, but rather but looking for smells (or symptoms). I could identify a couple from the questions in the poll:
  • How many releases have you put out in the last 6 months? ( 0 or 1 is a problem)
  • How much effort is required to build and test the software?
  • Does fear play a role in deciding when to give the boss bad news?
I still think it is useful to have some tools and approaches, readily available in my backpack, for "debugging" an agile development project. Some would be used when talking to management about their problems, to convince them of the need to do something. Others might be asked of the team in the course of a retrospective. Still others might find their way into an Agile RFP, so that non-agile companies don't make the cut.

Question for you, gentle reader: What are the symptoms and smells of bad software development and especially bad agile development?



Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Towards an Agile RFP

Yesterday I attended an open space session at the Stockholm Scrum Gathering on Agile Contracting. My work on creating an Agile Request for Proposal fell on very interested ears. So as promised, here an overview on the series on planning big agile projects, which concludes with the sub-series on the Agile RFP:
The articles on the RFP process -- Finding a Partner to Trust -- are the last three in the series:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Quick Poll: A Litmus Test for Agile Development

This summer, I asked how many teams are doing Scrum according to the minimal definitions of the Nokia Test. 74% of Scrum Teams responding are doing what Jeff Sutherland now calls Scrum-Butt - "we're doing Scrum, but for some reason, we can't do all of Scrum." According to Jeff, even Scrum-Butt companies may improve their revenue, but those who go beyond Scrum-Butt do much better financially than those who accept dysfunctions. Jeff has extended the Nokia test to identify the factors which help companies achieve this "hyper-productive" state.

Most of my clients are not yet ready to extend the envelope. They are trying to achieve the basics of good agile management and development. For these companies, the Nokia test is a good place to start, an early milestone, but not the final goal. (BTW - Alistair Cockburn's 7 Crystal Properties also look like a good starting point, and some of his points are raised in the candidate list below).

The next question is how is software engineering doing? I want a litmus test, i.e. a short list of questions for challenging developers and their management on their engineering practices.

My question to you: What questions make a litmus test for "pretty good agile development?" My goal is to come up with ten to fifteen yes/no questions.

The Joel Test was an early example, but is now dated. There have been several attempts at more agile definitions of the test (e.g. confused of calcutta and jbrister), but these have not been validated. All of these lists contributed to the list of candidates, below.

This week, I ask for your help in picking the questions. Next week (or so), I will summarize and then conduct a survey based the questions you select.

Here is the poll: Which questions make up the Litmus Test for Pretty Good Agile Development?
  1. Source Code: Do you use source control?
  2. Build: Can you build in a single step?
  3. Daily Build: Do you make daily builds?
  4. Bug DB: Do you have a bug database?
  5. Fixing: Do you fix bugs before writing new code?
  6. Sched: Do you have an up-to-date schedule?
  7. Spec: Do you have a spec?
  8. Quiet: Do programmers have quiet working conditions?
  9. Tools: Do you use the best tools money can buy?
  10. Testers: Do you have testers?
  11. Intervew: Do new candidates write code during their interview?
  12. Hallway: Do you do hallway usability testing?
  13. Wiki: Do you use a Wiki?
  14. Continuous: Do you do continuous build / test / deploy?
  15. TDDev: Do your tests drive your development?
  16. Pair: Do your developers pair and support each other?
  17. Talk: Does everyone talk to each other, constantly?
  18. Hiring: Does the team select its new members?
  19. Colocated: Is the team colocated?
  20. Testing: Can you test in a single step?
  21. Releases: Have you delivered running, tested, usable functionality to users at least twice in the last six months?
  22. Deploy: Can you deploy in a single step?
  23. Integration: Do you integrate the system at least twice per week`
  24. News: Can you give your boss bad news?
  25. Access: Does it take less than three days from when you have a question to when an expert answers it?
  26. Improvement: Did you get together within the last three months to discuss and improve your group’s working habits?
  27. Retrospective: Does you team conduct a retrospective after every iteration?
  28. User Stories: Do you define the product in terms of user stories?
  29. Acceptence: Do you define acceptence tests before you write code?
BTW 1:All questions are in the form key-word:question. The keyword is there to help readability of the poll in doodle.

BTW 2: I will be at the Scrum Gathering in Stockholm and look forward to meeting as many of my readers as possible! Please let me know if you're coming!

BTW 3: Voting closes Midnight (UTC) on October 25. So vote now!

Have I missed anything important? That's what comments are for ;-)

Thanks for your help!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Are there really situations for which agile is unsuitable

Last Wednesday, Dani Tobler of Zühlke gave his take on the virtues of agile and non-agile (i.e. RUP) approaches to product management.

Dani brings his experience developing embedded software and teaching students at a "Fachhochschule" (Technical University) to the table. Applications for which electronics, mechanics and software all play are role. Incremental releases and feature driven development seem less natural to the world of embedded systems.

An interesting analogy: Project planning compared to mountain climbing. If you are trying to climb Mount Everest, you plan, staff and budget quite differently than if you are planning family trip to nearest park (in our case, the Uetliberg). So the approach to large SW Project might/could/should be different than for small projects.

He presented decision criteria which Zühlke used to use for deciding whether Agile was appropriate:  Size, Criticality, Team Skills, Change and Culture. And proceeded to debunk all of them. Only two cases where agile is really challenged:
  1. The team or management really does not want to do it 
  2. All of the developers are really junior and need to guidance on what to do. This case applies particularly to a university context in which students are just learning the tools of the trade.
Agility  brings discipline and effective communication into the development process. RUP offers proven practices (e.g. the development phases, risk first development strategy which do have value.

The discussion afterward was as usual spirited and interesting, including a discussion of complex vs. complicated systems (which I will attach the German language correspondence in a comment).

Materials
  • Dani's Presentation (Mind Map, PDF)
  • Thought for Day: What is Agile? PDF