Author Archives: Sjors Meekels

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Quality == Speed

I like the sound of this brisk statement. In my recent experience and discussions with fellow Agile practitioners, I am more convinced than ever that this statement is true. It doesn’t matter what subject or profession, any neglect on quality will always come back to haunt you and your project. I will discuss a few recognizable examples we see every day, each sprint and all year round.

Aiming for quality or aiming on costs // quality in engineering skills
First, is it really necessary to mention that in order to create great software you need great – at least good – programmers and excellent tools to support them? Yes and no perhaps. Why is it that in our field of expertise we always have to defend our teams for the costs (wages) they carry? A greater and ability experience should be worth something. Research has shown good programmers can be more efficient by a factor 10 of than average programmers [2]. This is nothing new. However, it does seem paradoxical that even experienced managers are addicted to use “cheap labor” to staff new teams. Why? If you can afford a team of above average engineers, the speed of coding is most likely going to be well above average. These guys will have a profound understanding of quality code [3] and nothing will be holding back the team from becoming very, very efficient. This is why I am convinced that any investments made in enough above average programmers to set up a team, for arguments sake say 15 Euro more per hour than average pay, will be worth your money.

People over process, but still process // quality in communication processes
The following seems to happen quite often. At the start of an important project the project leader organizes a team kick off; somehow he fails to explain and discuss the communication lines you have with your client. This can be risky. Team members might be losing precious time in unstructured discussions about what is required. They contact the wrong people, or the right people with the wrong questions, or the right people and questions but at the wrong time. Delays and unclear requirements will pile up. In no time any team will feel the urge to improve on these processes and will hopefully do so. Yet, at a time where projects are getting smaller and customer expectations only bigger, the need for clear communication from the start is paramount. Yes even in Agile & Scrum you need to have this well organized. Quality in communication processes is often an underestimated factor in software engineering. Potentially it is one of the biggest drains and wastes of energy and time [4]. So take a little time to establish clear ground rules for interacting with your Product Owner and client.

Pipelines and usage // quality in deployments pipelines
In the not so distant past, 10 years ago, it was state of the art to have an automated build in place. By having these in place, your code would be compiled and unit tested every night. In the last few years the continuous-x-movement has provided us with numerous tools and platforms in which almost every step of the software process can be automated. There is no argument left to Not implement the smallest feedback cycle possible for programmers as described in chapter 5 of the CD Bible. But, better yet also for Product Owners and clients. Programmers can get their direct feedback on their code check in, based on coding guidelines, pre written acceptance tests. Enabled by the continuous deployment [5] on specific environments, Product Owners and clients can actually experience how new code – the newest version of the product – is working, and how the UX design looks and feels. If these benefits are so huge, why don’t all projects use them already? Well, setting up a build pipeline takes time and requires knowledge of infrastructure and a lot of tools. Large companies have dedicated teams to set up and maintain these pipelines, so development teams can focus on actual software. Smaller companies may well be helped by CD consultants helping them, and in doing so increasing the quality of their delivery process. But even for smaller projects it is still well advised to do so. Not convinced yet? Check out Jez Humble’s post and come back if you are still having second thoughts.

Conclusion

As you might have noticed, I am convinced about the enormous role a quality-in-everything approach can have in software projects. Quality on all levels but also the right level of quality for a specific project. The examples mentioned above will obviously not hold for some demo projects in which a only new design needs to be demonstrated. However, the moment you are starting a new project or team (or redefining existing ones), that is the time to think and design your strategy based on a good quality approach and implement as good as possible right from the start. Take a look at some of the points below and ask yourself if your project is sufficiently equipped:

• Team mission is clear and shared
• Enough talented engineers
• You (as manager), the team and your customer agree on a realistic planning
• Communication process is clear
• Team & customer are aligned on strategy
• Continuous delivery pipeline set up
• Releasing goes without stress
• Code quality is measured and good
• Delivery keeps a steady pace
• When finishing a project no skeletons are found

This list can go on and on of course. Remember nothing is set in stone, but a good start can provide a necessary jumpstart for a successful project.

Contributions & References

[1] Leading image: 3d-systems-project-ara-high-speed
[2] Origin of 10X: 10x Software Development – Origins of 10X
[3] Clean code: http://www.amazon.com/Clean-Code-Handbook-Software-Craftsmanship
[4] Communication in software projects: White paper Effective project communication:
[5] Differences Continuous X: Continuous-Delivery-vs-Continuous-Deployment-vs-Continuous-Integration

Filled Under: continuous delivery,scrum,software development Posted on: 2 April 2016

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Where is the fun in Agile IT Management?

You might wonder what this ancient machine has to do with Agile IT Management. Well for me this is where it started. In 1986 when my parents got me and my brother an old second hand Commodore Vic 20 [2], I was more than happy when we plugged everything in. We did not have a computer before, nor did I have any clue what to do with it. So with a few instructions from my cousin we were on our way to play some rudimentary games – for hours. From the scrap books on Commodore Basic included in the package, I marveled at the English instruction sets and the various effects they had when I tried them. At that point my enthusiasm for computer science and programming was awakened.

More IT……
However, it wasn’t until University that I learned to code properly, using languages like C, C++ and Java. Really challenging were the assignments (often using functional programming languages like Clean [4]) where algorithms were implemented to solve complex problems [3]. This connected well with my love for puzzles and strategy games. I never lost interest in programming and new languages features from that period onward. The transformation from properly coding to professional software development happened in my first years doing projects at Info Support. Quality standards were, and are, high and the peer reviews were strict and opened my eyes.

Management
In software projects, just as in the real world, you have to work closely together with people. All kinds of stakeholders, managers, users or colleagues are interested in the project and have a say in it. For some wonderful nerds & technical experts that is a necessary evil to support their daily portion of coding. In my case it is quite the opposite, I actually like interacting with people and I enjoy accomplishing something together, more than just working on my own. My personal drive is to get the best out of a working group of people (a team). It is very interesting to see how a team develops in time if they can indeed become a high peforming team (HPT). Despite the love I have for programming I have come to realize I can contribute more to projects and teams in a leading general role than as a programmer. This does mean that I no longer regularly code, but I still understand and relate to the daily struggles and problems in my teams. I still want to contribute visibly to the results of the team, project or department.

Agile
The rewarding feeling about puzzles and problems is the moment you have solved a part of it and you can show it proudly to your clients and peers (or twenty years ago to your parents). This also applies to the Agile way of working. Every sprint (or iteration) we have solved some problems and are able to demonstrate our newly built deliverables to the product owner and other stakeholders. In this way we all see the actual result. Who doesn’t like to see regularly actual outcomes after hard work? From showing working software the discussions starts to furter sharpen the vision on the product and how to proceed next. In the Agile way of working this is fully incorporated, even more so when the results are delivered continuously in production or acceptance environments. The same holds true for improved personal running times or karate exercises, as long as my efforts are being rewarded it just feels good.

Combined
So where is the actual fun I promised in Agile IT Management? Well, for me all three parts of the term come together in the daily routines concerning software projects. We are trying to provide IT solutions for complex problems. The Agile methods we are using enable us to organize ourselves and show our deliverables to our clients. And most of all, working with people or coaching people to become a better team or better professionals is for me personally rewarding. So, if you are a little nerdy, like to deliver result and love to work and guide people, what is not to like about Agile IT Management? I enjoy the progress made by my teams just as much as the teams themselves. For me it does not matter if you are actually in a team or managing one. And of course the real boost comes when our newly made software is released on production environments and is used by customers.

Contributions & References

[1] Heading image: by Evan-Amos (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons.
[2] The illustrious Vic20: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_VIC-20.
[3] Nice collection of programming assignments: https://www.reddit.com/r/programmingbydoing.
[4] Information about Clean: http://clean.cs.ru.nl/Clean

Filled Under: agile projectmanagement,personal,scrum,software development Posted on: 14 March 2016

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Start Agitma

Welkom op het nieuwe Agile ‘blog-platform’ van Agitma! Op 1 maart 2016 is Agitma daadwerkelijk gestart. Voorbereidingen en communicatie zullen in eerste instantie vanuit Sydney worden uitgevoerd. Met een ander perspectief, vanuit Down Under, naar Agile kijken gaat vast tot nieuwe inzichten leiden.

Om alle ideeën en ervaringen met de community te kunnen delen, zullen er regelmatig nieuwe berichten via het Blog worden gedeeld. Natuurlijk is het Nederlands een prachtige taal, maar om het grootste deel van de Agile community niet buiten te sluiten zullen deze en de hierop volgende Blogs in het Engels zijn geschreven. So we continue in English….

Please feel welcome and absolutely free to contact me if you have any questions, remarks or just want to discuss topics on Agile & Scrum.

Regards,

Sjors

Filled Under: personal Posted on: 1 March 2016

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