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Project Management
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The Myth of "Discover by Doing"

Herding Cats - Glen Alleman - Wed, 07/27/2016 - 13:58

There is a popular Agile and No Estimates phrase...

It is by doing the work we discover the work we must do. 

This of course ignores the notion of engineering  or designing a solution to the needed Capabilities of the customer, BEFORE starting coding. It is certainly the case that some aspects of the software solution can only be confirmed when the working software is available for use. But like all good platitudes in the agile community, there is no domain or context as to where this phrase is applicable. Where can coding start before there is some sort of framework for how the needed capabilities will be delivered? 

  • Shall we just start coding and see what comes out?
  • How about just buying a COTS product a start installing it to see if it is going the meet our needs?

This sounds not only näive, but sounds like we're wandering around looking for a solution without any definition of what the problem is. When that is the approach, when the solution appears it may not be recognized as the solution. Agile is certainly the basis of dealing with emerging requirements. But all good agile processes have some sense of what the customer is looking for. 

This understanding of what capabilities the customer needs starts with a Product Roadmap. The Product Roadmap is a plan that matches short-term and long-term business goals with specific technology solutions to help meet those goals.

A Plan is a Strategy for success. All strategies have a hypothesis. A Hypothesis need to be tested. This is what working software does. It tests the hypothesis of the Strategy described in the Product Roadmap.

So if you have to do the work to discover what work must be done, you've got an Open Loop control system. To close the loop this emergent work needs to have a target to steer toward. With this target the working software can be compared to the desired working software. The variance between the two used to take corrective actions to steer toward the desired goals.

And of course, since the steering target (goal) and the path to this goal are both random variables - estimates will be needed to close the loop of the control processes used to reach the desired outcomes that meet the Capabilities requested by the customer.

Related articles Mr. Franklin's Advice Root Cause of Project Failure Herding Cats: The Myth of "Discover by Doing" Estimating and Making Decisions in Presence of Uncertainty
Categories: Project Management

Quote of the Day

Herding Cats - Glen Alleman - Tue, 07/26/2016 - 04:38

If you can't explain what you are doing as a process, then you don't know what you are doing - Deming

Process is the  answer to the question How do we do things around here? All organizations should have a widely accepted Process for making decisions.  "A New Engineering Profession is Emerging: Decision Coach," IEEE Engineering Management Review, Vol. 44, No. 2, Second Quarter, June 2016

Categories: Project Management

Quote of the Day

Herding Cats - Glen Alleman - Thu, 07/21/2016 - 19:03

A skeptic will question claims, then embrace the evidence. A denier will question claims, then reject the evidence. - Neil deGrase Tyson

Think of this whenever there is a conjecture that has no testable evidence of the claim. And think ever more when those making the conjectured claim refuse to provide evidence. When that is the case, it is appropriate to ignore the conjecture all together 

Categories: Project Management

Making Release Frictionless, a Business Decision, Part 2

In Part 1, I talked about small stories/chunks of work, checking in all the time so you could build often and see progress. That assumes you know what done means. Project “done” means release criteria. Here are some stories about how I started using release criteria.

Back in the 70s, I worked in a small development group. We had 5 or 6 people, depending on the time of year. We worked alone on our parts of the system. We all integrated into one instrument, but we worked primarily alone. This is back in the days of microcomputers. I wrote assembler, Fortran, or microcode, depending on the part of the system. I still worked on small chunks, “checked in,” as in I made sure I saved my files. No, we had no real version control then.

We had a major release in about 1979 or something like that. I’d been there about 15 months by then. Our customers called the President of the company, complaining about the software. Yes, it was that bad.

Why was it that bad? We had thought we were working towards one goal. Our customers wanted a different goal. If I remember correctly, these were some of the problems (that was a long time ago. I might have forgotten some details.):

  • We did not have a unified approach to how the system asked for information. There was no GUI, but the command line was not consistent.
  • Parts of the system were quite buggy. The calculations were correct, but the information presentation was slow, in the wrong place, or didn’t make sense. Our customers had a difficult time using the system.
  • Some parts of the system were quite slow. Not the instrument, but how the instrument showed the data.
  • The parts didn’t fit together. No one had the responsibility of making sure that the system looked like one system. We all integrated our own parts. No one looked at the whole.

Oops. My boss told us we needed to fix it. I asked the question, “How will we know we are done?” He responded, “When the customers stop calling.” I said, “No, we’re not going to keep shipping more tape to people. What are all the things you want us to do?” He said, “You guys are the software people. You decide.”

I asked my colleagues if it was okay if I developed draft release criteria, so we would know that the release was done. They agreed. I developed them in the next half day, wrote a memo and asked people for a meeting to see if they agreed. (This is in the days before email.)

We met and we changed my strawman criteria to something we could all agree on. We now knew what we had to do. I showed the criteria to my boss. He agreed with them. We worked to the release criteria, sent out a new tape (before the days of disks or CDs!) to all our customers and that project finally finished.

I used the idea of release criteria on every single project since. For me, it’s a powerful idea, to know what done means for the project.

I wrote a release criteria article (see the release criteria search for my release criteria writing) and explained it more in Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management.

In the 80s, I used it for a project where we did custom machine vision implementations. If I hadn’t, the customer would have continued asking for more features. The customer did anyway, but we could ask for more money every time we changed the release criteria to add more features.

I use release criteria and milestone criteria for any projects and programs longer than three months in duration, so we could see our progress (or lack thereof) earlier, rather than later. To be honest, even if we think the project is only a couple of months, I always ask, “Do we know what done means for this project?” For small projects, I want to make sure we finish and don’t add more to the project. For programs, I want to make sure we all know where we are headed, so we get there.

Here’s how small chunks of work, checking in every day, and release criteria all work together:

  1. Release criteria tell you what done means for the project. Once you know, you can develop scenarios for checking on your “doneness” as often as you like. I like automated tests that we can run with each build. The tests tell us if we are getting closer or farther away from what we want out of our release.
  2. When you work in small chunks, check them in every day and build at least as often as every day, you can check on the build progress. You know if the build is good or not.
  3. If you add the idea of scenarios for testing as you proceed, release becomes a business decision,  not a “hardening sprint” or some such.

Here’s a little list that might help you achieve friction-less releases:

  1. What do you need to do to make your stories small? If they are not one day, can you pair, swarm, or mob to finish one story in one day? What would you have to change to do so?
  2. If you have curlicue stories, what can you do to make your stories look like the straight line through the architecture?
  3. What can you do to check in all the time? Is it a personal thing you can do, or do you need to ask  your entire team to check in all the time? I don’t know how to really succeed at agile without continuous integration. What prevents you from integrating all the time? (Hint, it might be your story size.)
  4. Do you know what done means for this release (interim and project)? Do you have deliverable-based planning to achieve those releases?

Solve these problems and you may find frictionless release possible.

When you make releasing externally a business decision—because you can release internally any time you want—you will find your project proceeds more smoothly, regardless of whether you are agile.

Reminder: If you want to learn how to  make your stories smaller or solve some of the problems of non-frictionless releases, join my Practical Product Owner workshop, starting August 23, 2016. You’ll practice on your projects, so you can see maximum business value from the workshop.

Categories: Project Management

Making Release Frictionless, a Business Decision, Part 1

Would you like to release your product at any time? I like it when releases are a business decision, not a result of blood, sweat, and tears. It’s possible, and it might not be easy for you. Here are some stories that showed you how I did it, long ago and more recently.

Story 1: Many years ago, I was a developer on a moderately complex system. There were three of us working together. We used RCS (yes, it was in the ’80s or something like that). I hated that system. Maybe it was our installation of it. I don’t know. All I  know is that it was too easy to lock each other out, and not be able to do a darn thing. My approach was to make sure I could check in my work in as few files as possible (Single Responsibility Principle, although I didn’t know it at the time), and to work on small chunks.

I checked in every day at least before I went to lunch, once in the middle of the afternoon, and before I left for the day. I did not do test-first development, and I didn’t check my tests in at the time. It took me a while to learn that lesson. I only checked in working code—at least, it worked on my machine.

We built almost every day. (No, we hadn’t learned that lesson either.) We could release at least once a week, closer to twice a week.  Not friction-less, but close enough for our needs.

Story 2: I learned some lessons, and a few years later, I had graduated to SCCS. I still didn’t like it. Merging was not possible for us, so we each worked on our own small stuff. I still worked on small chunks and checked in at least three times a day. This time, I was smarter, and checked in my tests as I wrote code. I still wrote code first and tests second. However, I worked in really small chunks (small functions and the tests that went with them) and checked them in as a unit. The only time I didn’t do that is if it was lunch or the end of the day. If I was done with code but not tests, I checked in anyway. (No, I was not perfect.) We all had a policy of checking in all our code every day. That way, someone else could take over if one of us got sick.

Each of us did the same thing. This time, we built whenever we wanted a new system. Often, it was a couple of times a day. We told each other, “Don’t go there. That part’s not done, but it shouldn’t break anything.” We had internal releases at least once a day. We released as a demo once a week to our manager.

After that, I worked at a couple of places with home-grown version control systems that look a lot like subversion does now. That was in the later 80s. I became a project manager and program manager.

Story 3: I was a program manager for a 9-team software program. We’d had trouble in the past getting to the point where we could release. I asked teams to do these things: Work towards a program-wide deliverable (release) every month, and use continuous integration. I said, “I want you to check everything in every day and make sure we always have a working build. I want to be able to see the build work every morning when I arrive.” Seven teams said yes. Two teams said no. I explained to the teams they could work in any way they wanted, as long as they could integrate within 24 hours of seeing everyone else’s code. “No problem, JR. We know what we’re doing.”

Well, those two teams didn’t deliver their parts at the first month milestone. They were pissed when I explained they could not work on any more features until they integrated what they had. Until they had everything working, no new features. (I was pissed, too.)

It took them almost three weeks to integrate their four weeks of work. They finally asked for help and a couple of other guys worked with the teams to untangle their code and check everything in.

I learned the value of continuous integration early. Mostly because I was way too lazy (forgetful?, not smart enough?) to be able to keep the details of an entire system in my head for an entire project. I know people who can. I cannot. I used to think it was one of my failings. I now realize many people only think they can keep all the details. They can’t either.

Here’s the technical part of how I got to frictionless releases:

  1. Make the thing you work on small. If you use stories, make the story a one-day or smaller story. I don’t care if the entire team works on it or one person works on it (well, I do care, and that’s a topic for another post), but being able to finish something of value in one day means you can descend into it. You finish it. You come up for air/more work and descend again. You don’t have to remember a ton of stuff related but not directly a part of this feature.
  2. Use continuous integration. Check in all the time. Now that I write books using subversion, I check in whenever I have either several paras/one chunk, or it’s been an hour. I check that the book builds and I fix problems right away, when the work is fresh in my mind. It’s one of the ways I can write fast and write well. Our version control systems are much more sophisticated than the ones I used in the early days. I’m not sure I buy automated merge. I prefer to keep the stories small and cohesive. (See this post on curlicue features. Avoid those by managing to implement by feature.)
  3. Check in all the associated data. I check in automated tests and test data when I write code. I check in bibliographic references when I write books. If you need something else with your work product, do it at the time you create. If I was a developer now, I would check in all my unit tests when I check in the code. If I was really smart, I might even check in the tests first, to do TDD. (TDD helps people design, not test.) If I was a tester, I would definitely check in all the automated tests as soon as possible. I could then ask the developers to run those tests to make sure they didn’t make a mistake. I could do the hard-to-define and necessary exploratory testing. (Yes, I did this as a tester.)

Frictionless releases are not just technical. You have to know what done means for a release. That’s why I started using release criteria back in the 70s. I’ll write a part 2 about release criteria.

Categories: Project Management

Assessing Value Produced in Exchange for the Cost to Produce the Value

Herding Cats - Glen Alleman - Wed, 07/20/2016 - 13:35

A common assertion in the Agile community is we focus on Value over Cost.

Both are equally needed. Both must be present to make informed decisions. Both are random variables. As random variables, both need estimates to make informed decisions.

To assess value produced by the project we first must have targets to steer toward. A target Value must be measured in units meaningful to the decision makers. Measures of Effectiveness and Performance that can monetized this Value.

Value cannot be determined without knowing the cost to produce that Value. This is fundamental to the Microeconomics of Decision making for all business processes.

The Value must be assessed using...

  • Measures of Effectiveness - is an Operational measure of success that is closely related to the achievements of the mission or operational objectives evaluated in the operational environment, under a specific set of conditions.
  • Measures of Performance - is a Measure that characterize physical or functional attributes relating to the system operation, measured or estimated under specific conditions.
  • Key Performance Parameter - is a Measure that represents the capabilities and characteristics so significant that failure to meet them can be cause for reevaluation, reassessing, or termination of the program.
  • Technical Performance Measures - are Attributes that determine how well a system or system element satisfies or expected to satisfy a technical requirement or goal.

Without these measures attached to the Value there is no way to confirm that the cost to produce the Value will breakeven. The Return on Investment to deliver the needed Capability is of course.

ROI = (Value - Cost)/Cost

So the numerator and the denominator must have the same units of Measure. This can usually be dollars. Maybe hours. So when we hear ...

The focus on value is what makes the #NoEstimates idea valuable - ask in what units of measure is that Value? Are those units of measure meanigful to the decision makers? Are those decision makers accountable for the financial performance of the firm?


Categories: Project Management

Quote of the Day

Herding Cats - Glen Alleman - Tue, 07/19/2016 - 15:08

Where You Stand Depends On Where You Sit

This notion of the basis of all good discussions. It is also the basis of discussions that get us in trouble. For example, I sit in a FAR 34.2/DFARS 234.2 Federal Procurement paradigm and a similar paradigm for Enterprise IT based in ISO 12207, ITIL V3.1, CMMI,  or similar governance processes.

Both these domains are guided by a Governance framework for spending other people's money, planning for that spend, performing the work with that money, reporting the progress to plan for that spend to produce the needed value, and taking corrective actions when the outcomes don't match the plan to increase the probability that the needed value (Capabilities) will be delivered for the planned cost to keep the Return On Investment on track.

This paradigm is independent of the software development method - traditional or agile.

If you work where the customer has a low need to know the cost, schedule, or what will be produced for the money, then you likely sit somewhere else. 

Categories: Project Management

Is It Time to Stop Thinking about Projects?

Mike Cohn's Blog - Tue, 07/19/2016 - 15:00

For at least 15 years, I’ve heard people say that projects are dead. Projects and project-based thinking are relics of the 20th century.

I don’t buy it. Let me explain.

Let’s start with the definition of a project. The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project this way:

A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. The temporary nature of projects indicates that a project has a definite beginning and end.

The general argument against projects is that work is more continual now. There is no “definite beginning and end.” And many endeavors we might call project do not have a “temporary nature.”

As an example of why we might think projects are dead, think about a developer with a freshly earned university degree. The developer gets hired at Google and is assigned to the AdWords project. The developer then works on AdWords for the next 40 years.

Has this developer worked on a project? After all, a 40-year career spent on AdWords was not of a “temporary nature.” And there was no “definite beginning and end” other than the beginning and end of the developer’s career on the same product.

Yes, that’s true. But during our developer’s 40-year career on AdWords, there were undoubtedly initiatives or milestones that were focused on.

For example, Google occasionally overhauls or significantly enhances its ranking algorithms. Past algorithm updates have been given names like Penguin, Panda, Pigeon, Pirate and Hummingbird. Each of these updates was likely a “temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” In other words, each was a project.

Did each have a definite beginning and end? Perhaps not. The ease with which software can be released today (especially for web-based products) often blurs start and stop dates of projects. An initial release is made and then, for example, is quickly updated over the next few weeks.

But, for all reasonable purposes, our developer’s 40-year AdWords career can be thought of as having been split into a series of shorter projects.

Why This Is Important

With any iterative and incremental process such as agile, there is a risk of delivering less value than possible because of focusing too much on the short term. When product owners are told to select the most important things each sprint, they can be tempted to select urgent items that customers are screaming for today rather than important items that will deliver more value over the longer term.

Projects mitigate this risk. Projects provide a planning horizon that is longer than a sprint--typically in the range of two to six months. This “definite beginning and end” that is focused on a “unique product, service or result” encourages product owners to select truly important things to work on rather than whatever some customer or salesperson screamed about yesterday.

I always encourage product owners and their teams to identify a milestone they are working toward that is longer than a single sprint. I like doing this quarterly, but other cycles can work equally well. The project, then, is the temporary pursuit of that milestone.

Projects remain a useful construct. They provide a motivation to accomplish something grander than could be done in a single iteration. Further, they serve as ways to group common work and provide a tangible target for teams working on them. Projects also facilitate communication about related sets of functionality.

Projects aren’t dead yet and I don’t see them going away.

What Do You Think?

Does your agile team organize work in projects (temporary endeavors in pursuit of an objective)? Have you experienced the sub-optimizing I’ve described when product owners look ahead only one iteration? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

50 Days Away from Home

NOOP.NL - Jurgen Appelo - Mon, 07/18/2016 - 19:50
US Tour Destinations

I feel a bit strange.

Saturday was the first of a 50-day trip across the USA as part of my global book tour. I was on the first of what will be 14 flights, looking at a schedule comprised of 20+ cities, 17 events, 3 road trips, a couple of train rides, a handful of national parks, and many, many coffees.

I have never done this before. I’ve never been away from home for more than 4 weeks. Given that I’m someone who loves to be home, this will be a challenge. A slight feeling of homesickness is nothing strange to me.

Fortunately, I won’t be all alone. Raoul will join me on this trip after 14 days. And I’m looking forward to meeting many people with both familiar and unfamiliar faces. Maybe you are one of them! If you are, don’t be offended when I politely decline some social invitations. It will be hard enough already for me to keep my sanity. And I can only recharge when I’m not socializing.

Now and then, we should all do something that feels uncomfortable. When we do something that is a little bit scary, we are creating a new experience. And experiences make us happy. I’m sure I will feel that way about this trip as well.


The post 50 Days Away from Home appeared first on NOOP.NL.

Categories: Project Management

Systems, Systems Engineering, Systems Thinking

Herding Cats - Glen Alleman - Mon, 07/18/2016 - 17:17

On our morning ride, the conversation came around to Systems. Some of our group or like me - a techie - a few others are business people in finance and ops. The topic was what's a system and how does that notion impact or world. The retailer in the group had a notion of a system - grocery stores are systems that manage the entire supply chain from field to basket.

Here's my reading list that has served me well for those interested in Systems

  • Systems Engineering: Coping with Complexity, Richard Stevens, Peter Brook, Ken Jackson, Stuart Arnold
  • The Art of Systems Architecting, Mark Maier and Eberhardt Rechtin
  • Systems Thinking: Coping with 21st Century Problems, John Boardman and Brian Sauser
  • Systemantics: How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail, John Gall
  • The Art of Modeling Dynamic Systems: Forecasting for Chaos, Randomness and Determinism, Foster Morrison
  • Systems Thinking: Building Maps for Worlds of Systems, John Boardman and Brian Sauser
  • The Systems Bible: The Beginner's Guide to Systems Large and Small, John Gall
  • A Primer for Model-Based Systems Engineering, 2nd Edition, David Long and Zane Scott
  • Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Donella Meadows

These are all actionable outcomes books. 

Systems of information-feedback control are fundamental to all life and human endeavor, from the slow pace of biological evolution to the launching the latest space satellite ... Everything we do as individuals, as an industry, or as a society is done in the context of an information-feedback system. - Jay W. Forrester

Categories: Project Management

Software Development Conferences Forecast July 2016

From the Editor of Methods & Tools - Mon, 07/18/2016 - 14:12
Here is a list of software development related conferences and events on Agile project management ( Scrum, Lean, Kanban), software testing and software quality, software architecture, programming (Java, .NET, JavaScript, Ruby, Python, PHP), DevOps and databases (NoSQL, MySQL, etc.) that will take place in the coming weeks and that have media partnerships with the Methods […]

Symptoms versus Root Causes

Herding Cats - Glen Alleman - Mon, 07/18/2016 - 01:01

There is a popular graph showing project performance versus the estimated project performance in "Schedule Estimation and
Uncertainty Surrounding the Cone of Uncertainty," Todd Little, IEEE Software, May/June 2006. 

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 4.52.40 PM

This chart (above)  shows data from samples of software development projects and is used by many in the agile community and by #NoEstimates advocates to conjecture that estimates are usually wrong. In fact estimates can easily be wrong for many reasons. But knowing why they are wrong is rarely the outcome of the discussion. 

This approach is missing a critical understanding about assessing the effectiveness of any estimating process. It starts with the notion of an ideal estimate. That is a post hoc assessment of the project. The idea estimate  is only known after  the project is over.

Next is another critical issue. 

Did the projects (in the graph above) overrun the estimate because the estimate was wrong or because the project was executed wrongly?

In our domain of complex projects, many of which are Software Intensive System of Systems, there are four primary Root Causes of Unanticipated Cost and Schedule Growth, shown below.

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 5.02.08 PM

The top graph shows samples from the programs in the business. But it does not show WHY those programs ended up  greater than the initial estimates. The graph is just a collection of data after the fact. What was the Root Cause of this unanticipated cost (and schedule) growth. The paper goes on to speak about a Estimating Quality Factor but that is only One of the four core Root Causes of cost growth from the PARCA research. As well the paper mentions other causes of growth, similar some PARCA causes.

But each project in the graph is not assigned a specific (maybe even more than one) cause. Without that assignment it is not possible to determine if estimating was the Root Cause, or as stated above one or more of the three other causes was the reason the project was above the Ideal line. 

In the notion of Ideal I will assume the estimate was Ideal if the project actuals matched the estimate.

The problem here is those advocating estimates are flawed, a waste, not needed, do harm, or are even evil use this chart to support their claim. Without stating what the Cause for the deviation from the Ideal is. Just that it IS. Not Why. There is no basis to make any claims about the issues with estimating. 

Without the Why, NO corrective action can be taken to improve the performance of both the project or any of the four listed (and many other) processes including  the estimating process for the project. This is the fundamental basis of Root Cause Analysis. And it comes down to this ...

Without the Root Cause for the undesirable outcome, no corrective action can be taken. You're just treating the Symptom. Those conjecturing a Cause (say Estimating is the smell of Dysfunction) have no basis on which to make that statement. It's a house built on sand.  Same for the Cone  of Uncertainty - also popularly misused, since the vertical scale is rarely calibrated for the specific domain, instead some broad and uncalibrated range provided for notational purposes.

And as a notional concept the Cone of Uncertainty is useful. As a practical concept, only when the vertical scale is calibrated (Cardinal versus Ordinal) can it be used to assess the uncertanty of the estimates during specific periods of the project. This is another misuse of statistical data analysis.

There are databases that provide information needed to calibrate that chart as well. But that's another post.

For now, take care when seeing the first chart, to ask do you know the cause for the projects that is above the Ideal Line?  No, then all you can say is we don't know why, but there are a lot of projects in our organization that have a Symptom of cost overrun, but we have no way to know why. And therefore we have no way to know how to fix this symptom. Just that we've observed it. But can't fix it.

To start to apply Root Cause Analysis, here is an introduction to the method we use on our Software Intensive Systems.

Root cause analysis master plan from Glen Alleman



Categories: Project Management

Managing for Happiness FAQ

NOOP.NL - Jurgen Appelo - Thu, 07/14/2016 - 13:55
Managing for Happiness cover (front)

In June 2016, John Wiley & Sons will release released my “new” book Managing for Happiness, which is a re-release of last year’s #Workout book. Some people asked me questions about that.

Why do you re-release the #Workout book with a publisher?

My aim is to be a full-time writer. That means I must sell more books so that I can earn a full income from writing. (Right now, I don’t.) A global publisher can help me with that. A second reason is that I want to reach as many people as possible with my message of better management with fewer managers. A third reason is that wider availability of the book (in bookstores and libraries) is not only good for new readers but also for my reputation as a public speaker.

Categories: Project Management

Pairing, Swarming, and Mobbing

A colleague asked mobbing last week on Twitter. Here’s the short answer, including pairing so you can see everything in one place:

  • Swarming has a WIP (work in progress) limit of 1, where the team collaborates to get the one item to done.
  • Mobbing has a WIP limit of 1 for an entire team with one keyboard.
  • Pairing is two people and one keyboard, often with a WIP limit of 1.

A WIP limit of one means the team or pair works on just one story/feature at a time. Sometimes, that feature is large as in the team who worked as a swarm on very large stories. (See the post Product Owners and Learning, Part 2 for how one team finishes very large features over a couple of days.)

Here are some examples of what I’ve seen on projects.

Team 1 swarms. They get together as a team and discuss the item (WIP limit of 1) with the product owner. They talk among themselves for a couple of minutes to decide on their “plan of attack” (their words) and then scatter. The testers develop the automated and take notes on the exploratory tests. The developers work on the code. 

Aside: On another team I know, the UI, platform, and middleware devs get together to discuss for a couple of minutes and then write code together, each on their own computer. (They collaborate but do not pair/mob together.) On another team, those people work together, on one keyboard for the platform/middleware work. The UI person works alone, checking in when she is done. Everyone checks their work into the code base, as they complete the work. Teams develop their own “mobbing” as sub-teams, which works, too.

Team 1 has an agreement to return every 25 minutes to check in with each other. They do this with this kind of a report: “I’m done with this piece. I need help for this next piece. Who’s available?” Or “I’m done as much as I can be for now. Anyone need another pair of eyes?” (Note: you might want more or less than 25 minutes. They chose that time because they have smallish stories and want to make sure they maintain a reasonable pace/momentum.

As people finish their work, they help other people in whatever way they can. Early in Team 1’s agile days, they had a ton of automated test “technical debt.” (I would call it insufficient test automation, but whatever term you like is fine.) The developers finished their stories and helped the testers bootstrap their test automation.

Team 2 mobs. The entire team sits around a table with one keyboard. The monitor output goes to a projector so everyone can see what the person typing is doing. This team has a guideline that they trade off keyboarding every 15 minutes. (You might like a slightly longer or slightly shorter time. In my experience, shorter times are better, but maybe that’s just me.) Sometimes, the tester leads, developing automated tests. Sometimes, the developer leads. This team often uses TDD, so the tests guide their development. 

Team 2 checks in at least as often as they change keyboarders. Sometimes, more often.

Notice that the work in progress (WIP) is small, one story. In both swarming and mobbing, the teams work on one story. That’s it. Their focus is doing the work that gets that story to done. that story getting to done.

Pairing is one keyboard, one machine, two pairs of eyes.The keyboarder is the driver, the watcher is the navigator. You get continuous review on the work product as you proceed. I often ask what I consider “stupid” questions when I am the navigator. Sometimes, the questions aren’t stupid—they prompt us as a pair to understand the item better. Sometimes, they are. I’m okay with that. I find that when I pair, I learn a ton about the domain.

Here’s the value of swarming or mobbing:

  • The team limits their WIP, which helps them focus on getting work to done.
  • The team can learn together in swarming and does learn together in mobbing.
  • The team collaborates, so they reinforce their teamwork. They learn who can do what, and who learns what.
  • The team has multiple eyes on small chunks of work, so they get the benefit of review.

If you work feature-by-feature, I urge you to consider swarming or mobbing. (Yes, you can swarm or mob in any life cycle, as long as you work feature-by-feature.) Either will help you move stories to done faster because of the team focus on that one story.

I wrote a post about pairing and swarming and how they will help your projects a couple of years ago.

Categories: Project Management

Cracking the Code Interview

From the Editor of Methods & Tools - Wed, 07/13/2016 - 14:03
Software development interviews are a different breed from other interviews and, as such, require specialized skills and techniques. This talk will teach you how to prepare for coding interviews, what top companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft really look for, and how to tackle the toughest programming and algorithm problems. This is not a fluffy […]

A collection of #NoEstimates Responses

Herding Cats - Glen Alleman - Sun, 07/10/2016 - 19:40

The question of the viability of #NoEstimates starts with a simple principles based notion.

Can you make a non-trivial (NOT de minimis) decision in the presence of uncertainty without estimating?

The #NoEstimates advocates didn’t start there. They started with “Estimates are a waste, stop doing them.” Those advocates also started with the notion that estimates are a waste for the developers. Not considering those who pay their salary have a fiduciary obligation to know something about cash demands and profit resulting from that decision in the future.

The size of the “value at risk” is also the starting point for estimates. If the project is small (de minimis) meaning if we over run significantly no one cares, then estimating is likely a waste as well. The size of the project, whether small or multi-million’s doesn't influence the decision to estimate. The decision is determined by “value at risk,” and that is determine by those paying NOT by those consuming. So the fact I personally work on larger projects does not remove the principle of “value at risk.” Any client’s (internal or external) V@R may be much different than my personal experience – but it’s not our money.

Next comes the original post from Woody – “you can make decisions with No Estimates.” If we are having a principled based conversation (which NE’er don’t) then that statement violates the principles of Microeconomics. Making decisions in the presence of uncertainty (and I’m assuming all projects of interest have uncertainty), then estimates are needed to make decision. Those decisions are based in MicroEcon on the Opportunity Cost and the probability of making the best choice for the project involves assessing the probability outcome of those choices, estimating is required.

Real options is a similar process in IT based on estimating. Vasco stated long ago he was using RO along with Bayesian Decision Making. I suspect he was tossing around buzz words without knowing what they actually mean.

From the business side, the final principle is Managerial Finance. This is the basis of business management of its financial assets. The balance sheet is one place these are found. Since the future returns from the expenses of today and the “potential” expenses of the future are carried in that balance sheet, estimating is needed there as well for the financial well being of the firm.

These three principles Value at Risk, MicroEconomics of Decision Making, and Managerial Finance are ignored by the NE advocates when they start with the conjecture that “decisions can be made without estimates,” and continue on with “estimates are a waste of developers time, they should be coding not estimating.”

It’s the view of the world, that as a developer “it’s all about me.” Never looking at their paycheck and asking where did the money come from. That’s a common process and one I did when I started my career 35 years ago as a FORTRAN developer for Missile Defense radar systems and our boss had us take out our paychecks (a paper check in those days) and look at the upper left hand corner. “That money doesn’t come from the Bank of America, El Segundo Blvd, Redondo Beach, it comes from the US Air Force. You young pups need to stay on schedule and make this thing work as it says in our contract.”

In the end, the NE conversation can be about the issues in estimating and there are many - and Steve McConnell speaks to those. I work large federal acquisition programs –  IT and embedded systems. And many times the “over target baseline” root cause is from “bad estimating.” But the Root Cause of those bad estimates is not corrected by No Estimating as #Noestimates would have us believe.

As posted on this blog before and sourced from the Director of “Performance Assessment and Root Cause Analysis,” unanticipated growth in cost has 4 major sources:

1. Unrealistic performance expectations – that will cost more money.
2. Unrealistic cost and schedule estimates – the source of poor estimating.
3. Inadequate assessment of risk and unmitigated risk exposure.
4. Unanticipated technical issues.

Research where I work some times (www.ida.org) has shown these are core to problems of cost overruns in nearly every domain from ERP to embedded software intensive systems. It is unlikely those 4 root causes are not universal.

So what’s #NoEstimates trying to fix? They don’t say, just “exploring” new ways.” In what governance frameworks? They don’t say. They don’t actually say much of anything, just “estimates are waste, stop doing them and get back to coding.”

As my boss in 1978 reminded us newly minted Master’s degreed coders, “it ain’t your money it’s the USAF’s money, act accordingly – give me an estimate of this thing you’re building can be used to find SS-9’s coming our way?” Since then I’ve never forgotten his words, “business (in that case TRW) needs to know how much, when, and what, if it’s going to stay in business.”


Categories: Project Management

Baseball as Incremental and Iterative Development

Herding Cats - Glen Alleman - Sat, 07/09/2016 - 16:50


Sitting in our seats at last night's Rockie v. Phillies game and dawned on me the analogy between Moneyball strategy and good management of software development. In Moneyball, Billy Beane was faced with a limited budget for players.  He hired a statistics guy and they figured out the getting on base was just as important as hitting a homerun and a hell of alot cheaper.

Last night there were a few home runs. But most of the action were singles and a few doubles. If you do the simple minded math, when the rotation all get singles with batting averages of 0.303, then there'll be runs scored every inning. 4 singles equals a home run. Getting on base is the key to winning games.

Getting incrementally more software out the door - assuming it's the right software needed by the customer and that customer can put the software to work - then progress toward the win is being made.

So the Strawman of Waterfall and Big Bang is just that a Strawman. The Straw Man of No Projects is also nonsense, along with No estimates. The manager of the Rockies has a plan in the presence of uncertanty and emerging situations. That's why he's called the MANAGER because he manages in the presence of uncertainty. And in doing that job he makes estimates on the probability of success of the emerging play options. 

We can learn a lot from Baseball about managing projects. First get on base. You can't score unless you're on base. First, Second, Third, then Home. You can't count on hitting Home Runs to win the game. It doesn't work that way. Offense of good, but so is defense. Managing the risks is defense. Defense in baseball is more than just putting players on the field. It's how those players react when the ball is hit. Go for the out at first? Try for a double play? Hold the ball after a single bounce in the outfield?

While baseball is not a contact sport, it still requires teamwork. I played competitive Volleyball in College - the ultimate Team Sport, since you're only as strong as the weakest player. Much like the software development team. But all teams have a strategy, a game play that changes as the game emerges and most of all - as Peter Kretzman has lambasted some NE advocates who have not likely ever played baseball - all the players are making estimates all the time in order to catch the ball, keep control of the ball and the emerging situation of the game.

Categories: Project Management

Accounting for Software Development - Products or Projects

Herding Cats - Glen Alleman - Fri, 07/08/2016 - 15:33

There appears to be a resurgence in the No Projects conversation, similar to the No Estimates notion that has been around for awhile.

I’m going to suggest that most of the disconnects around ideas of software development ‒ from No Estimates to No Projects to whatever ‒ starts with Developers and the assumption It’s their money. It’s not their money. If it is they can do with it as they please, no one cares.

There are standard business accounting processes in any business that creates products or services -- including Software - for money. Unless the developers are Staff Aug (just labor) to another firm, the accounting processes are defined in several places. FASB 86, FASB 10, even GAAP for capitalization and expenses of the cost of developing that product for use internally and for sale externally.

Here's a start …

The separation of Products from Projects at the software development process level is understandable. I work a Program that has both. Both for good reasons for both. A Product Line enhancement is usually on continuing system – Version 9 of a legacy system is a Product Line extension of a system that as be in place for 11 years. A “new” product” Version 1.0 in the same domain is treated as a Project. The Project is to establish Version 1.0 which will then be extended over its life.

If the No Projects approach goes that same way as the No Estimates approach, those paying for the work will be intentionally excluded from the conversation. When I asked one of the originators of the #NoEstimates conjecture to go check your idea with the CFO, I got silence. 

Follow the Money is advice I received from my colleague – former NASA Cost Director

This is good advice for any anyone proposing an initiative that pretends to change the status quo, tilt at the windmill of supposed bad management, or any suggested evil as seen by those spending the money provided by someone else. Remember this when making suggestions...

It's not Your Money, act accordingly. Your opinion should be considered as appropriate, but it's not your money. Those whose money it is have a fiduciary responsibility to spend it in a manner compliant with the accounting principles of the firm, be that private or public.

Categories: Project Management

The Broad Range of Domains of Agile

Herding Cats - Glen Alleman - Thu, 07/07/2016 - 17:18

I work on Agile software development programs. Most everyone in Boulder Colorado works on Agile development programs. We meet once a month or so for coffee and talk about Agile. We have formal MeetUps hosted by local vendors - Rally, Scaled Agile, and other agile development shops.

The range of projects at our morning coffee clutch go from one man shows to multi-billion dollar space flight programs and back again. There are times when we get pissed off at each other for all the right reasons - this is the big ended littled ended argument of Gulliver's Travels that was actually an argument about the bit order in microprocessors when the 32 bit machines started with floating point calculations - Holy Wars and a Plea for Peace. When I was working on embedded systems and we had to choose a 32 bit machine for our new signal processing system, we got in huge fights about how the floating points software was going to be moved over to the floating point hardware.

So the question is what are the shared principles across a broad range of projects, business and technical domains. Here's some background on the domain I work and the application of Agile in that domain. I'm speaking at the Boulder Agile Meetup July 27th if anyone is interested in hearing about Agile in Government.

Here's some background on Agile in the domain I work

Typically these are also Software Intensive System of Systems. Here's some background on those

So when we hear something about exploring new approaches, ask first - in what domain have you tested that idea? By what Principles can that new idea be accepted into a domain outside your domain? Is there any evidence that your new idea can work outside your personal experience? How would I test your idea before spending my customer's money? What would be those test cases?

Categories: Project Management