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The Art of Delivery, part 1

Posted by Wed, 31 May 2006 05:09:00 GMT

1 comment Latest by David Rosebaugh Wed, 31 May 2006 20:52:02 GMT

Over the next few weeks, I am going to interact with the readers of my blog in a segment that I call… The Art of Delivery.

As a professional developer, my experience with working in development environments has been fairly unique each time. Up until PLANET ARGON, I had very little say in how we structured the very process that I was expected to follow. Granted, there is is a benefit to having leaders who have some good experience to help guide a team throughout the life span of a project, but a leader should also posses a sense of humility and stay agile in their processes. You cannot succeed in an environment where an old dog can’t learn new tricks. This sort of thinking reminds me of managers who feel that their sole responsibility is to manage people. People manage themselves, a leaders helps facilitate self-management. I’ll be the first to admit that I have much to learn in both areas. :-)

Delivery!!!

Earlier this year, the PLANET ARGON Core Team met to outline new processes. One hot topic was project communication and delivery. One of the areas that we all insist that we excel at is building better estimates and managing project delivery more efficiently. Every one on our team has their own ideas of how best to coordinate projects and we wanted to find a way to invent our own pattern… but what we realized is that we were borrowing a lot of ideas from books we’ve read as well as the lessons learned in previous environments. One of the things that we realized is that while we weren’t horrible at building estimates for a six month project… it was that we knew that the requirements of (almost) any project would change scope within six months. How could we accommodate new ideas in a project without disrupting the budget and the agreed timeline? We wanted to rethink this process and push ourselves to follow an iterative approach.

Focus on the now and then the then

Since then we have begun to define and redefine what each stage of a project looks like. How do we communicate stages of a project with our clients in a meaningful and clear way?

I’m now about to give away how we do business at PLANET ARGON.

Project(s), Release(s), Iteration(s), Task(s)

It’s not rocket science… and it shouldn’t be!

  • A project has many releases
  • A release has many iterations
  • An iteration has many tasks

What we do is isolate an iteration by collecting a set of goals to be accomplished that the client and we agree on as being of high value to the success of the project at this point in time. Tasks are essentially the individual steps needed to achieve those goals and we don’t go out of our way to list each one of those during an estimate process as some tasks take less time than it takes to generate an estimate for them. We include our developers in our estimate and specification process as they often have many great questions to send to the client to get further clarification. Often, much of this clarification process happens during a first iteration, which some call Iteration Zero... as no code is developed during this iteration. Prototypes, estimates, mockups, and Q&A is what iteration 1/zero consists of. This is that important design phase that people talk so much about. :-)

Let’s get back to thinking about delivery… and we’ll make the assumption that you’ve already worked out your estimates and are now ready to work on your (next) iteration.

Open Question: As developers, project managers, and curious readers… how do you proceed?

...to be continued

The Daily Stand Up, part 2

Posted by Mon, 29 May 2006 16:11:00 GMT

4 comments Latest by Reagan Wed, 31 May 2006 04:29:40 GMT

In a previous post, I outlined how the PLANET ARGON team handles their communication of day-to-day work with the daily stand-up. Several people posted comments about similar processes and some suggestions were made to keep them from getting too stagnant. I wanted to highlight a few of those comments.

Aslak Hellesoy suggests, “Use a token – a rubber ball or something – for each person giving status. Only the person holding the token is allowed to talk.”
Florian Weber said, “Everybody standing up makes meetings go faster and more focus…”

However, not everybody is convinced…

Doug said, “I hate meetings, why on Earth would you punish your employees on a daily basis?”

Perhaps Doug has worked in environments that encourage too many bad meetings. A client recently said, “meetings are expensive” when we agreed to not have too many meetings throughout the project. Less meetings that are well-focused are much more valuable and productive. :-)

The one that caught my attention was the comment made by Aslak Hellesoy… he goes on to say, _“When a speaker is done, throw the token to a random person instead of just handing it to the left or right. This forces everyone to stay more alert, as noone knows who’s next.”

This got me thinking about how we had made it a ritual to stand in similar positions and I would start off the meeting. The team wasn’t too keen on throwing a ball around the room as we often hold coffee in our hand… so I came up with the following solution…. which reunites us with our little friends, the index cards!

Randomizing Daily Standup Meetings

Basically, all I did was take a stack of index cards and write a number on each one. Then at 9:15am PST, we all walk into the meeting room and take one. Whoever got #1 goes first and we work our way up from there. We’ve done this three times so far and most of the team seems cool with it. I’ll keep you posted as we solidify our approach to The Daily Stand-up.

...and of course… this comment also reaffirmed our decisions to do daily stand-ups…

Kevin Rutherford said, “Cool. And by “inventing” the idea yourselves, I guess you have much greater buy-in too?”

Related Posts

The Daily Stand Up

Posted by Tue, 23 May 2006 04:57:00 GMT

12 comments Latest by Scott Berkun Tue, 22 Aug 2006 03:17:19 GMT

I’ll admit it. I’ve never read a book that outlines that SCRUM process in detail but do have a copy of The Art of Project Management by Scott Berkun. In chapter ten, Berkun points out the purpose of having meetings as well as the annoyances that surround them. Over the past six months, we have toyed around with a few different approaches to holding meetings. There was a short period of time where we really weren’t sure what the best way to get company-wide information to everyone without boring them to death once a month or week.

A few months ago we tried something totally crazy… daily meetings! It caught on rather well.

There is one rule though, nobody can sit down. :-)

We hold a meeting every day at the same time and do not make any exceptions. Well, I will admit that we’ve missed two or three in the past several months but overall, we’re very good at keeping to the schedule.

So, how does this process work?

Each morning, I spend about 15 minutes preparing for a 10 minute meeting… which also is how I build my list for the day. This list appears on an index card as I keep it with me throughout the whole day. I also keep the previous and next days card with me so that I can make sure that things that didn’t get done yesterday get done today or tomorrow. Some of these tasks end up on BaseCamp or just get checked off as I complete the task.

Each morning at 9:15 AM PST (now you know where we are when we aren’t working or on IRC), we meet in our conference room and stand in something that looks similar to a circle. I wait until everybody finds their way into the conference room and then say, “Good morning!” I then do go over the following things (and use my index cards to keep me on topic)...

  • What did I do yesterday (or Friday/weekend)?
  • What will I do today?

Then the person who decided to stand next to me follows and we do this around the room… I think the order this morning was:

  • Robby
  • Jeremy
  • Brian
  • Jason
  • David
  • Allison

This is a good time to also bring up any thing that might be useful for everyone to hear… such as, “we got a new development contract signed yesterday!” or “client x will be on-site at 1:30 PM.” Along with this, we’re able to ask questions about other peoples work and act as a sanity check. Why the stand up? Nobody likes to just stand around for too long… when you stand up you avoid getting too comfortable and people are more likely to stay on topic and focused.

The meetings typically last 10-15 minutes and if you’re not doing something like this with your team… how do you cope on a daily basis?

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