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Managing your Life the Agile Way in 2009

Posted by Sun, 28 Dec 2008 21:20:00 GMT

We’re just a few days away from 2009 and it’s that time when we all start looking back at the last year and set goals for the coming new year. I felt like sharing some of my thoughts on how I’m aiming to approach the new year.

Historically, I’ve never been a huge fan of New Years Resolutions because my attempts were always too big to successfully measure. The goals themselves weren’t poorly thought-out, it’s just that it’s really easy to make a list of personal targets, without putting a lot of emphasis on how you’re going to achieve them. The biggest trouble that I’ve had with goals is allocating enough mental energy for implementation planning. (if only I had someone to and wireframe my life…)

Due to this, New Years Resolutions haven’t been a huge success for me. I’ve found it much too easy to pass the buck onto the usual suspects, which consist of: lack of time, energy, too much work, general life changes, health, etc.

So, for 2009… I’m going to try something different by focusing on a set of best practices that I can use on a daily-basis. I suppose that my main goal is to not place too much emphasis on any specific targets and instead place the responsibility on myself to follow these best-practices and see what good (or bad) comes of it.

By rephrasing my internal conversation from, “What did I achieve this last year?” to “Am I doing things the best that I can?” I am confident that the answer will usually be, “not likely.” I do believe that through this subtle change in context, I’ll be better apt to self-evaluate how (and why) I am doing the things that I do and refactor accordingly. If we’re not consistently Refactoring ourselves (as we do with our code), we’re going to retain a lot inefficiencies in our personal and work lives, which make it difficult for us to quickly respond to changes and opportunities.

Our life (personal and work) is just another project that we manage. Much of methodologies that we spend learning about and adopting can easily be translated to these other areas of our lives.

So as I brace myself for 2009, I find myself asking, How can I lead a more Agile life?

I’d love to hear how you’re adopting best-practices inspired by Agile methodologies in your life and I promise to share mine over the coming year.

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Information Anxiety and Solutions

Posted by Tue, 22 Aug 2006 18:15:00 GMT

1 comment Latest by brasten Tue, 22 Aug 2006 20:10:16 GMT

Last week, Allison brought me in a copy of a book that she owns by Richard Saul Wurman. In 1976, Wurman coined the phrase, information architect. (read more)

In his book, Information Anxiety 2, Wurman discusses how we’re overwhelmed by too much information… amongst other related topics.

Allison bookmarked a page for me that discusses the problem with developing solutions without a good understanding of the problem.

“Before any solutions to any undertaking can be developed, a movement must begin to discover its beginning. Understanding the vein of the problem is the course to solving it. The best way to accomplish any endeavor is to determine its essential purpose, its most basic mission. What is the endeavor supposed to accomplish? What is the reason for embarking upon it? This is where the solution lies.”

- Richard Saul Wurman, Information Anxiety 2

Wurman then goes on to suggest, “There are two parts to solving any problem: What you want to accomplish, and how you want to do it. Even the most creative people attach issues by leaping over what they want to do and going on to how they will do it. There are many how’s but only one what.”

There are many how’s but only one what

“You must always ask the question, “What is?” before you ask the question “How to?”“

When Brian and I began rethinking how we were extracting information from our clients, it was important to understand why we felt it was necessary. We’re convinced that the more we can enhance our patterns of dialogue with our clients, the more confidence we’ll have in our approach to building solutions that provide them with that they need, not just what they think they need (want).

Next time a client brings you a list of features for their product, please be sure to ask yourself and your client, “why” the product needs them. What are these hows providing their business and user goals?

class Goal; has_many :sub_goals; end

Posted by Wed, 16 Aug 2006 17:26:00 GMT

1 comment Latest by Jason Watkins Wed, 16 Aug 2006 23:30:04 GMT

I was up late last night reading, The New Utopians: A study of system design and social change and came across the following quote.

“Problem solving proceeds by erecting goals, detecting differences between present situation and goal, finding in memory or by search tools or processes that are relevant to reducing differences of these particular kinds, and applying these tools or processes. Each problem generates subproblems until we find a subproblem we can solve-for which we already have a program stored in memory. We proceed until, by successive solution of such problems, we eventually achieve our over-all goal-or give up.”[1]

This caught my attention because this presents a very systematic process for achieving goals, but doesn’t clarify how you erect these initial goals in the first place. Our team is putting a lot energy into rethinking how we are requesting information from our clients. Brian Ford has written an article titled, Ethical Software Needs Dialogue, which discusses some of our current approaches to outlining the project goals.

Brian writes, “One approach that we are trying is dialoguing with the client about goals without talking at all about the web site. In other words, for that exploration, the web site doesn’t even exist. Talk about thinking outside the tubes.”

If you have a few minutes… you might read his insightful article.

1 H.A. Simon, The New Science of Management Decision (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1960), p. 27.

Project Illuminatus, an introduction

Posted by Tue, 15 Aug 2006 00:52:00 GMT

4 comments Latest by Alain Tue, 15 Aug 2006 17:06:46 GMT

Due to an unfortunate event last week, this blog entry is a few days late.

Over the next few weeks and months, the PLANET ARGON team will be blogging about one of our big projects that recently started. We needed to get the client to sign off on the blogging project and got the a-okay from their management early last week.

First, some background.

We were contacted by this rather large (enterprise?) company around the time that we went to RailsConf. When we got back, I began talking with our primary point of contact about their project, which sounded like a fairly big challenge and the sales process took a few weeks to come to an agreement on the next steps. Once they were finished interviewing a few other potential firms, we got the go-ahead that we should proceed with an ITER-ZERO, which I outlined a few months ago in part one of, The Art of Delivery.

ITER-ZERO was essentially a two-day trip for Brian and I to Washington DC (pictures) to interview the client and some of their existing users (domain experts), establish the protocol and channels for communication between them (the client) and our team, and work on identifying the core goals of their product that we’ll be developing with them. They have an existing product that they’ve been selling to customers for over ten years and the product that we’ll be developing will be the next generation of this software. The new product is replacing a desktop application that is only runs on Windows. The application that we’re currently working has a technical requirement that is needs to run on any operating system with a modern web browser, including some of the newer phones that have Opera mini installed! As you can see, we have our work cut out for us… :-)

During our meetings, we agreed that while their final product name is going through their marketing process, that we should have a playful project name to refer to. Our primary contact at the firm suggested, Project Illuminatus[1]. He’s a bit of a conspiracy theory nut… and it sounded fun… so we agreed to that. :-)

If I recall, Brian and I stayed up past 2am (the time zone change does that to you…) working on structuring the project wiki (instiki) to document the dialogue that occurred on our first day in DC. This provided us with a solid plan for how we wanted to focus our attention to identifying the goals that we wanted to collaborate on with the client to build an innovative and simple to define solution. Simple solutions emerge from even complex goals when you can clarify them using simple and intelligible language.

In this great blog interview, Stiff asked several famous developers the following question, “What do you think makes some programmers 10 or 100 times more productive than others?”

David Heinemeir Hannsson responded with, “The ability to restate hard problems as easy ones.”

On day two, we showed their team the wiki and explained how they could collaborate with us there. If they had ideas and new goals identified, they had a place to store those. It’s vital that your attention is on the scope of the work that needs to be investigated. We try not to solve all of the problems too quickly… it’d be naive of us to think that we could. Products evolve and so must their requirements.

I’m not going to go into everything that went on here at the moment, perhaps Brian will fill us in on some of this.

When we got back to Portland, Brian and I began meeting with Allison Beckwith, our Creative Director, to outline one of the most complex pieces of the system. As a team, we decided that this is what we need to focus more of our immediate attention to. In the their previous application, there was approximately five different modules that did something very similar, but just slightly different enough for their original developers to just build separate interfaces, which were not consistent and difficult to use for someone new to the application. We want to consolidate this into one new solution that focuses on how the users will be using the system… not just the tasks that they are fulfilling. This is why we spend so much time thinking about the goals that the users have… not what they have to do.

Oh yeah… one of the non-functional requirements?

“The product shall be easy to use on the first attempt by a member of the general public without training.”[2]

About a week later, we agreed on what work would be performed during ITER-001 (iteration one), which included paper prototyping and a few rounds wireframe mockups for this one major component of the application. I’ll let Allison Beckwith (yes! she started a blog) fill you in on this when she gets some time to outline her process for doing this.

Stay tuned…

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illuminatus

2 copied directly from Mastering the Requirements Process, 2nd edition. It works.. and does it need to be reestated any simpler than that?