One or Two Day Tasks

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Development,Agile Executives,PMI-ACP,Product Owner,ScrumMaster | Monday 10 December 2012 10:44 pm

Recently while coaching Agile to a large client in the Salt Lake City area one of the developers on one of the teams asked me why an Agile team should decompose features into one or two day units of work.  It seems, he said, the particular unit of work he was considering could not be broken down into anything smaller than 4 days.

This is a common question for groups first exposed to Agile.   Decomposing features into one or two day tasks can be challenging at first.  Here are several reasons why it is a good practice:

1. Breaking down features and large tasks into one or two day units of work forces the Agile team member to really understand the nature of the tasks.  Ambiguity is the enemy of success and large units of work really are ambiguous.

2. Smaller units of work limit the amount of risk that a particular task can adversely impact a schedule that was estimated incorrectly.

3. Decomposing work into many one or two day tasks gives the team member a win every one or two days.   They and their teammates will njoy a sense of accomplishment more frequently, helping team morale.

4. Decomposing work in to one or two day tasks creates more transparency and precision so the team can account for completed work more accurately.  This many not be noticeable for one single work item but imagine the effect if the entire team kept work items at a non-decomposed level…too much ambiguity.

5.  Some teams I encounter hold standup meeting less frequently than daily.  This is a mistake.  Standup meetings should be held daily.  When I drill down and ask why, I typically hear that the team is reporting on the same work item the whole week.  Further questioning reveals they are not decomposing work into one or two day tasks.  When they start decomposing work into one or two day tasks then they have something new to report each day, and the standup meetings become more helpful.

Mike J. Berry, PMP, CBAP, ITIL, PMI-ACP, CSP, CSM, CSPO
John C. Maxwell Leadership Coach

Red Rock Research

Project Management Institute Announces New PMI-ACP Agile Certification Credential

Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) will be the designation of the new PMI Agile credential.  PMI has decided to recognize the prevalence and effectiveness of Agile practices within the project management community and has constructed a tangible foundation of requirements and guidelines for establishing what constitutes an Agile framework.  Perhaps we’ll soon finally see an Agile BOK. Key dates for the PMI-ACP are as follows:(May 2011) PMI is now accepting and reviewing applications for the PMI-ACP (Sep 2011) The PMI-ACP examination will be available(Oct-Dec 2011) The first PMI-ACP certifications will be awarded to successful pilot candidates. Sign up for the PMI-ACP pilot program here:http://www.staging.pmi.org/en/Certification/New-PMI-Agile-Certification/PMI-Agile-Certification-Pilot-Program.aspx

CBAP and Agile Development

I attended an excellent presentation hosted by the Northern Utah PMI Chapter, featuring Mike Sandberg, Novell’s Chief Business Analysts.  Mike spoke to a room of well over 200 folks about the CBAP certification.  This is the Certified Business Analysis Professional credential that us now coming of age.Mike talked about his own experience discovering the CBAP community and about the successes and issues involved with adopting the framework.Specifically, Mike spoke about how the PMP and CBAP roles work together.  He talked about some challenges regarding turf and terminology that sometimes befall newer groups.Someone in the audience asked Mike about how CBAP fits in with Agile.  Mike explained that this is a common question and that the business analyst would be most suited for the Agile Product Owner role.This seemed to make the most sense to me, and to the others present.Mike J. Berry, PMP, CSM, CSP, ITIL

Agile Development and Requirements Documentation

I keep hearing horror stories from managers about how their teams that have adopted Agile Development insist there are no documented requirements necessary when using the Scrum framework.This is wrong.  Scrum is intentionally quiet about software requirements so that groups can use what works best for them.At Red Rock Research,  we show groups practicing Agile how they can benefit from a high-level “strategic” use case model.  This strategic model, or High Level Analysis, is used to flush out the users, the needs of the users, and to expose any data flow requirements that were missed in the inception phase.This technique has proved quick and effective.Mike J. Berry, PMP, ITILv3, SCM, SCPOwww.RedRockResearch.com

Whiteboards for Everyone!

Do you like designing on whiteboards?  I do.   Colorful markers against a clean, white surface inspire all kinds of creativity and fun.

Recently David Crossett of Ready Receipts gave me a great tip.  He told me that instead of going to your local OfficeBOX superstore and paying $200 for a 4×8 whiteboard, just hit HomeDepot instead and get a $12 piece of showerboard.  It works just as good and if you need a smaller size they will cut it for you on site for no additional charge!  At that price, you can line your walls with thinking space.  Power to the Consumer–thanks David!

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

Software Development Best Practices – Software Requirements Management

I recently hosted Red Rock Research’s second weekly software development best practices seminar for the general public.  Our topic was Software Requirements Management.Requirements Management is perhaps the most controversial topic in software development.  Everyone seems to have their own technique.  It is also the most important skill-set–statistically more important than development skills–to the overall success of a software project (Standish CHAOS Report, 2009).Let me say that another way because this principle is not intuitive…if you want to improve the performance of your development projects, improve the skill-sets of your business analysts who generate requirements.  Statistically, this has more of a performance boost on a projects outcome than any other skill-based area.Many published requirements management techniques exists, and yet in a $220 Billion industry with a project failure/delay rate of 64%, it appears that most of these published techniques are not embraced.Our seminar covered Eliciting, Prioritizing, Validating, and Documenting a requirements baseline.  We discussed the progression of system context diagrams, UML actors, use cases, data-flow diagrams, High-Level Overview diagrams, High-Level Design diagrams and finally the Software Requirements Specification document.   We talked briefly about  a Concept of Operations document and a System Design Description document.We discussed the difference between a plan-based documentation stack, and a minimized Agile-development documentation stack–which would be generated during a Sprint-Zero.  (Yes BTW, you DO create documentation for Agile projects!)We discussed techniques to control scope creep after the requirements baseline, and then discussed techniques for dealing with what I call ‘approval noise.’What puzzles me the most about this topic is an entrenchment I encounter occasionally, as expressed by one of the seminar participants.   He stated, after the seminar, that all of this was interesting in a textbook-like manner, but that he felt none of it was pratically applicable.I asked him to explain how his company performs requirements practices and he said “Well, we have nothing written.  We have everything in our head and we just talk across the cubicles.”  He then told me he was frustrated at some additional items he was asked to add to his project that morning because it was supposed to be completed two weeks ago.  He also told me that the owner of his organization wished they had a structured approach to software project management, and that–oh, by they way–many of the programmers were given layoff notices at the beginning of the week because the company is failing.Hmm, it’s almost as if the problem is not properly in focus.  Downstream problems are caused by upstream actions or omissions.  I mean no disrespect, I just wish to point out the obvious that if companies like this would adopt upstream structure they would benefit from downstream success.You see, the problem proper requirements practices solves is not at the development effort level, it is at the project management, estimation, budget, and strategy planning–or business level.Software centric business level practices become predictable and executives can be proactive if their projects properly consume the time estimated.Projects will consume the time estimated if they include all of the functionality needed for a desired level of business value, and those functions are identified in whole, at the beginning of the project.  This way the software project time-frames and feature-sets can be included accurately in the estimation, budgeting, resource planning, and strategic planning of a company.  This way, scope creep will be minimal, and the whole company will benefit from a predictable project delivery process.Without proper requirements skills, entire feature-sets get missed upstream and need to be added ‘at the last moment’ downstream,  the risk of re-work increases drastically, and recurring cycles of this erode project managers and the development team’s credibility in the eyes of the executive team and the waiting customers.  In worst case scenarios, this can lead to layoffs and finally company failures.If you haven’t been trained on proper requirement management techniques, you are holding your organization at risk.  Attend our next three-day Software Requirements Management training course held September 7-9 in SLC.Mike J. Berry, PMP, CSM, CSPMwww.RedRockResearch.com

Book Review: The Book of Five Rings

Recently, while attending the ’09 Agile Roots conference in Salt Lake City, UT, Alistair Cockburn–the keynote speaker–referenced Miyamoto Musashi’s 16th-century book called The Book of Five Rings.

I like Asian philosophy (and swords and such) so I picked up the book and read it.  The book was written in 1643 by an undefeated Japanese samurai master who was so effective he was rumoured to have spent the latter part of his career entering sword-fights purposely without a weapon.  Although meant as a battlefield manual, the book has gained popularity as a handbook for conducting business in the 21st century.

The book was translated into English by Thomas Cleary at some point and the edition I read was published in 2005.   Improperly named “The Book of Five Rings,” the book is actually a compilation of five scrolls.

The Earth Scroll: Musashi talks about how a straight path levels the contours of the Earth and how various occupations provide life-improving principles.  He talks about observing patterns and learning from them.  Certainly a great primer for any business trying to get across the chasm.

The Water Scroll: Here Musashi talks about how water conforms to the shape of its container.  He suggests a separation of one’s inward mind against it’s outward posture, maintaining that one’s control over one’s mind must not be relinquished to outward circumstances.  He translates these philosophies into about 80 pages of sword fighting techniques.  An interesting modern parallel is found in Jim Collins book, Good to Great, where he talks about how the most successful companies are able to say ‘No’ and not be influenced by immediate but non-strategic opportunities.

The Fire Scroll: As with any book written by a 16th century samurai master, you’d expect a core discussion on combat strategy.   The fire scroll is full of combat strategies, positioning, and pre-emptive theory.  Very interesting.  Did anyone notice how Apple’s announcement of the latest iPhone came about 1 day after the Palm Pre phone was officially launched–killing it’s market blitz?  No coincidence there.

The Wind Scroll: The wind scroll contains a directive to study and be aware of your opponents techniques.  Translated into business speak, this means one should always study ones competitors.  Be aware of new offerings, partnerships, markets, etc. that they pursue.  Emphasis is placed on observing rhythms and strategically harmonizing, or dis-harmonizing with them as appropriate.

Finally, The Emptiness Scroll:  This scroll discusses the value of escaping personal biases.  Emphasis is placed on not lingering on past situations and being able to adjust quickly to new scenarios.

Overall I found this book ‘enlightening’ to read.  If you like metaphors and inferences, or sword-fighting, then you will enjoy this book.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

Two Days with Alistair Cockburn

Posted by mikeberry | Agile Development,Most Popular,PMI-ACP,Product Owner,ScrumMaster | Saturday 11 July 2009 9:16 am

I recently attended an Agile Development Product Owner class taught by Alistair Cockburn.  The content was excellent.  He taught us about the proper perspectives an Agile Product Owner needs to successfully interact with the project sponsors, users, and the development team.Alistair Cockburn has authored several books on Agile Development, and is one of the original signers of the Agile Manifesto.I would describe Alistair’s environment as squirrely and fun.  We built user-stories out of the Rumpelstiltskin and Cinderella stories (from the original Nicht fur Kinder european versions–full of voilence and gore!)We also discussed the differences between Use Cases and User Stories.  I was happy to hear he prefers Use Cases, because so do I.All class attendees had already been through the ScrumMaster course, so as we executed sprints for our product backlog, it was interesting to see how many attendees actually sought the sponsors/users feedback during the iterations–without being reminded.Overall it was an educational and enjoyable experience.Mike J. Berrywww.RedRockResearch.com

Excellence over Heroics

I value Excellence over Heroics.

‘Excellence’ can be defined as “the crisp execution of established procedures.”  Think about that for a minute.

Do you know of a software development shop where several prominent developers often stay up late into the night, or come in regularly over the weekend to solve high-profile problems, or put out urgent mission-critical fires?

The thrill of delivering when the whole company’s reputation is at stake can be addictive.  I remember once staying up 37 hours in-a-row to deliver an EDI package for a bankers convention.  I was successful, delivering the application just before it was to be demo’d.  I went home and slept for 24 hours straight afterwards.

The problem with ‘Heriocs’ is that the hero is compensating for the effects of a broken process.  Think about that for a minute.

If heroes are needed to make a software development project successful, then really something upstream is broken.

Most problems requiring heroics at the end of a project stem from improper effort estimations, inability to control scope, inadequate project tracking transparency, mismanaged Q/A scheduling, unnecessary gold-plating, or inadequate communication between the development team and the project users/stakeholders.

A well-organized development group humms along like a well-oiled machine.  Proper project scoping, analysis, design deconstruction, estimating, tracking, and healthy communication between development and the users/stakeholders will bring that excellence that trumps heroics.

Hey, I hear that Microsoft is looking for some Heroes.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

Book Review: Motivating Employees

Employee motivation is an ever-present concern for most proactive managers.  Interestingly enough, motivation can come from both functional and dysfunctional sources.

I’ve seen employees motivated for many different reasons: recognition, financial incentive, empowerment, personal growth, tension release, fear, and finally there’s that weird Lord of the Flies thing where employees get motivated together against another employee.

In their book, Motivating Employees, Anne Bruce and James S. Pepitone describe the most effective ways to motivate a team.  They describe the three C’s which are vital to functionally motivating employees:

1. Collaboration: Be sure to involve employees in decisions and discussions where their efforts are involved.

2. Content: As they produce suggestions, act on those suggestions immediately.

3. Choice: Be sure to offer choices to your employees–even if you can predict what they will decide.

These three techniques actually empower your employees.   Involving employees in decisions that affect them, or the outcome of what they are working on produces a level of buy-in that is hard to match any other way.

Bruce and Pepitone continue with an examination of Theory-X and Theory-Y motivation and management styles.  These styles were originally presented in the 1960’s by Douglas McGregor.

McGregor states that Theory-X managers proceed from the assumption that their employees are uninformed, lazy, and needy of high-structure.

Theory-Y managers, however, proceed from the assumption that their employees are qualified, intelligent, and capable of making proper decisions provided they are given proper goals, accountability, authority, and resources to accomplish their tasks.

Although Theory-X is the most effective approach during some situations, if you consider the amount of college-educated employees in the workforce today, it’s easy to see how Theory-Y, if applied properly, yields much higher performance.

The authors continue with a formula for encouraging Entrepreneurial Thinking.   Their five-step formula is:

1. Explain the organization
2. Demonstrate how the organization operates and generates income
3. Help your employees understand the competition
4. Encourage intelligent risk-taking
5. Inspire innovative thinking

Another great idea the authors present is to link motivation to performance.  They suggest you develop a written-list of performance standards for meeting and exceeding the expectations you’ve agreed upon during collaborative sessions with them.

The authors talk about how important it is to weave fun into everything your organization does.   This may sound like a unusual suggestion at first, but the authors point out that there is a direct correlation between fun on the job and employee productivity, moral, creativity, satisfaction, and most importantly–retention.

The final few chapters in the book discuss de-motivating factors (or individuals), and how to deal with them.  There is also a good chapter on conducting effective employee-reviews.

Overall I recommend this book to any manager.   It’s a great book to re-read every so often.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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