Agile Australia 2011 Day 1 Review

Agile Australia 2011Agile Australia 2011 was held for its third year last week at the Hilton in Sydney. Once again I was honoured to be offered an opportunity to present, be an MC for speaker sessions on both days, moderate a panel discussion and run the end of conference retrospective. The conference attracted 675 attendees and the buzz over the two days indicated to me that the conference was a huge success.

For the second year, it was a great pleasure to be one of the conference advisors. As the conference was brought forward to June, there was only six months to prepare between conferences and lots of suggestions and improvements to implement from previous years. A lot of review, debate and discussion went into putting the program together and ensuing there was a good mix of speakers, variety of topics and sessions for different levels of expertise. More effort was also put into shepherding speakers. A huge thank you needs to go to Rachel Slattery and Zhien-U Teoh from Slattery IT for their commitment to the conference as well as my fellow conference advisors Phil Abernathy, Adam Boas, Keith Dodds, Martin Kearns, Dave Thomas and Nigel Dalton.

The following are my notes from the sessions I attended on the first day.

Keynote: On Beyond Agile – The New Face of Software Engineering

Alistair Cockburn delivered this keynote, the slides are available here.

From Agile Australia 2011
  • agile software development is for wimps
  • cooperative game – invention, communication and decision making
  • projects are in a position, look for strategies to move our position, no fixed formula for winning the game (competitors and the economy are some of the enemies), only three moves to invent, communicate and decide
  • communication – whiteboard discussion provides stickiness over time (can just point back to conversation) as well as proximity
  • need about 3 minutes of video to enhance the distributed conversation, becomes archived documentation to remember user point of view or architect design decisions
  • craft – a lot has changed, software development changes every 5-10 years and you need to keep up
  • people learn skills in 3 stages – shu, ha and ri
  • work in progress is decisions that have been made but have not been shipped and delivered
  • like lean we we want multiple deliveries per day – continuous integration has evolved to continuous delivery
  • in decision making, look for the bottlenecks, the person with the full inbox is the person limiting the work in progress of the whole organisation
  • knowledge acquisition – real moment of learning often happens at the end when the surprise factor occurs when we deliver work, suggest that at the beginning of a project deliver a knowledge curve ahead of the cost curve (a number of small experiments)
  • agile says deliver highest level of business value first but projects tend to always deal with the risks first – learn about your business risk (should we build it), social risk (do we have the right people), technical risk (API’s, performance, architecture), cost/schedule risk (gain knowledge about the solidity of the estimates) – you need to decide whether to deliver business values or knock off some of these risks
  • need to identify the tail to determine whether we deliver business value early or add more features later (Apple are good at this, for example shipping an iPad without 3G initially)
  • self awareness – the team is self aware when the team can talk about the team and where they are

Keynote – Is Business Ready for Agile

Rob Thomsett delivered this keynote, his slides are available here. He advised that he was going to run his talk in two sprints and check the heart beat halfway

From Agile Australia 2011
  • agile is a church of all people – the newbies through to the true believers and a few drooling old people
  • agile is not new – been going for 40 years
  • is business ready for agile? – yes and no – every company in the world is ready for agile, they just don’t know it – how do we develop agile into a broader organisational paradigm
  • we work on a set of models that were developed when the world was relatively stable
  • the average window of stability for an organisation is about 3 months, change is normal and everything changes
  • old business techniques have reached their use by date (Gary Hamel – Management 2.0)
  • 100% of C-level executives believe that project management is too bureaucratic, projects take too long, business cases are poorly developed, transparency is adequate, they expect to be ambushed, steering committees are a waste of time, reports are not accurate
  • in 1968/69 NATO held a conference to address a perceived crisis in software engineering – sound familiar?
  • software is not engineering, wrong paradigm, it is a craft
  • the closest to what we do is not making buildings but making movies
  • summary: we took the wrong model, flogged it to death so let’s throw it out
  • agile is a cultural and disruptive journey – first question to ask is are you up for the cultural challenge, for every company that says no there is one that says yes
  • business approach needs to pass the simple and transparent test – most powerful test to clean up broken processes
  • go back to work and annoy people by asking people if we can make it simpler
  • cultural values are openness, honesty, courage, trust and money
  • the people at the top are the easiest folks to get on board with agile
  • most people link budgeting to estimating – agile demands we move money around more quickly
  • sponsors must get dirty – they must be part of the process because they own it
  • PMO should exist for resourcing, not reporting

Panel – The Changing Role of the CIO

Beverley Head moderated this panel with Jeff Smith from Suncorp, Steve Coles from Allianz, Daniel Oertli from REA Group and John Sullivan from Jetstar.

From Agile Australia 2011
  • key is to turn decision making over to employees and leaders need to become coaches and create a great environment
  • The Corner Office by Adam Bryant gives advice for success – passionate curiosity, battle hardened confidence, team smarts, simplicity, fearlessness
  • role is to understand where the company is going and deliver things for them to succeed
  • relax the old techniques like governance that gave a veneer of confidence
  • need to understand and remove the barriers by becoming an active listener
  • fundamentals like attract and retain the best have not changed
  • learn the business in which you operate and realise the definition of leadership has changed (don’t be afraid to higher smarter people than you)
  • need clarity of purpose, avoid constraint of thought and don’t filter based on your experience
  • resistance at the frozen layer – middle managers are typically the blockers so need to change the communication structure (for example, using Yammer for communication to give everyone an equal voice)
  • distributed teams always need a local decision point like an iteration manager
  • leaders need to eliminate information handlers
  • offshoring value proposition – you need to decide if your assets are a strategic advantage, do not offshore things that are volatile or if the project is too big to handle yourself (which essentially means you can’t explain it to someone else), offshoring is good because it keeps us on our toes to be competitive and continuously improve
  • need to look at outsourcing from a productivity point of view and not just a cost point of view (we are not buying pencils)
  • life long learning for developers – people have to follow their own course, inject talent and different thinking, look back each year and think about what you added to your bag of tricks
  • most people are capable of learning new skills, that’s the beauty of human beings
  • what does quality mean – quality is something that is fit for purpose and testable and maintainable, quality is everything
  • pushing agile into the business – need to agree on one way of working, once you are successful people want to jump on the bandwagon

Agile Architecture & Design

I had the privilege to introduce Neal Ford for this presentation, and his slides are available here. As I had seen many parts of this presentation previously, I did not take many notes as they can be found across other posts on this blog.

From Agile Australia 2011
  • in the software world we deal with known unknowns
  • spikes are your friends, purely informational gathering
  • ckjm – tool for reporting complexity and coupling
  • don’t pay for technical debt that you may never justify

Key Metrics for an Agile Organisation

It was my pleasure to introduce Craig Langenfeld from Rally Software to deliver this presentation (originally scheduled to be presented by Mark Ortega). The slides are available here.

From Agile Australia 2011
  • cumulative flow – look at the top of the line to see what is the scope and how has it changed (total features), then ask if the team limits their work in progress by looking at the time between the boundary of in progress swim lanes, finally look at the lead times and how long it will take to deliver a feature
  • work in progress limits allow the team to move through work more effectively
  • lead and cycle time report – allows you to see where your bottlenecks are
  • stop focussing on the workers and focus on the work product – so rather than lines of code look at the the value delivered
  • productivity – understand your teams velocity, throughout mapping stories that were completed and carried over
  • earned value – useful to measure how much value we are delivering (the difference in agile is we are actually delivering the value)
  • predictability – answering the question of when we will be done – throughput chart can show you if a team is getting more predictable over time, burn up is used to show predictability of meeting scope, release burndown to show meeting a date and demonstrate additional scope being added
  • use cumulative flow to track the cone of uncertainty
  • quality – defect trends and counts, most code altered, number of changes, etc…
  • net promoter score for tracking customer satisfaction and if it is increasing
  • get customers to vote on what aspects of the product they like and don’t like
  • for cloud computing track the features that are actually used

Leading by Serving

Simon Bristow delivered this presentation, his slides are available here.

From Agile Australia 2011
  • a perfect team is one that can do anything, in control, do anything thrown at them
  • lots of teams act in an agile manner, the leader makes the difference
  • Robert Greenleaf – The Servant As Leader – others highest priority needs are being served first
  • bridge the gap – gaps when making a decision which is the unknowns, bridges the gap to the future by seeing the unseeable
  • one action at a time
  • forcing a decision on someone will engender resistance, some you must persuade – need to listen to connect at the grass roots level
  • withdraw and acceptance – step back from the team to allow them to look after themselves and accept that the team know best as they are the subject matter experts and will get the job done
  • facilitate community – need to build
  • lead using art not science – if you turn to science in agile you will turn to process

Soldering Irons, Consumer Devices and Hardware Manufacturing in the world of Agile Software

Dean Netherton and Neil Brydon for DiUS delivered this talk which was one of the highlights of the conference for me. The slides are available here.

From Agile Australia 2011
  • DiUS working on a fire danger smart meter and technology for charging electric cars
  • how do you demonstrate value when haven’t built the device?
  • had to work around the vendor for the smart meter because they had a traditional process for building the device – aligned project plans around hardware drops and had to simulate the hardware in many cases
  • used wireframes to drive design but had to spend longer on design to ensure it was right – for example, can’t add a bigger battery later
  • first drop was an off the shelf component board to kick start the software
  • second drop was a bare board that was the basic board without the LCD
  • third drop was the plastics without the screen as the component had not arrived so replaced with paper
  • challenge on how to articulate stories – had to break stories own technically
  • used Cucumber to test as there was an embedded USB port on the board – helped embedded engineers assist the Ruby engineers understand how the device worked
  • did continuous integration by plugging a device into the build server, had an issue about flashing the device when the code changes
  • hardware engineers slightly change the design with each revision which had affects on software design as well as having hardware for continuous integration
  • built own hardware prototypes and used local suppliers to cut down lead times (China cheaper but added 6-7 weeks to the lead time)
  • used mocking to show users the idea ahead of hardware being available
  • planned for multiple hardware revisions to allow for late decisions
  • these days you can send a 3D model to a design house and they can pop out a prototype, design exercise ensures that screws line up, etc
  • no excuses for automated testing, in the past it was not embraced in hardware, can test the integration layer without the need for hardware
  • no benefit in running tests for the hardware design as you only get a handful of drops
  • use automated test to ensure buttons and light work, good when you get new hardware and good for checking faults on the production line
  • had to learn about the hardware stack early on which challenged whether value was being added
  • firmware development not integrated onto the story wall
  • technical tasks are OK but really understand what done is
  • luckily the stakeholders were quite technical

Putting It All Together – Agile Transformation and Development Tooling

Philip Chan from IBM delivered this presentation, his slides are available here. I failed to see a lot of agile in this talk personally.

  • established teams – communication difficult across timezones but tools make it easy, different tools used in different teams,
  • IBM agile process – 2 week iterations, 2 day inter sprint break every 4 weeks, develop for first 6 days followed by 2.5 days for bug fixing, do acceptance testing for first 6 days and 2.5 days of exploratory testing, showcase on day 9
  • test management very waterfall for audit purposes
  • using automated tests and continuous integration to assist global team optimise processes

Panel – Continuous Delivery

Evan Bottcher, Neal Ford and Martin Fowler from ThoughtWorks were on this panel.

From Agile Australia 2011
  • continuous integration – everyone in the team integrates with the mainline at least once a day
  • continuous delivery is taking the same approach as continuous integration and apply it to the last mile – decision to deploy should be business only with no technical barriers
  • continuous deployment is continually delivering on a regular basis – continuous delivery enables this if you want it
  • rare to find a company that is pulling in the same direction, so you need to automate in pockets and add manual checkpoints and then you can look for ways to automate them
  • risks – need to bring pain forward, which was the tenet of XP, not doing it is much more risky, there is pain and effort to setup, you need to look for a leverage point in your production systems to justify
  • if you do something rarely you don’t get practice, by doing it more often you improve which actually results in a process that is more auditable and gives you more confidence
  • is a good approach to shorten feedback loops, also allows you to give confidence to the business on delivery timelines
  • packaged software makes continuous delivery hard, important to look at the automation of the configuration as well as automated tests, looking for fast feedback to give confidence in delivery
  • need to push software vendors to make things more deliverable (this was a rant by Martin Fowler, that I tend to agree with)
  • make database changes with the same fundamentals – break them down into small changes and combine schema changes with the data migration and string them together into a package, tools have got more specific like dbdeploy and Liquibase support this and Ruby on Rails just supports this out of the box
  • DBA’s are the final frontier because they like to fiddle with scripts, need to bring them in or deal with smaller changes
  • testers tied to manual processing – need to separate the low and high value testing work, fear that they will be replaced by a small shell script, will make their job vastly easier, need to get buy in by demonstration
  • difficulty is always the human element – testers are moved from the backend to the front end of the process, specification by example at the front now, need to look at incentives and make them common between developers and testers
  • key is a business decision of when to delay so you can deal with business change, training, etc…
  • people are now used to the fact that websites or apps on their phones are continuously changing
  • gives the option to deploy to different types of users when they need it
  • Go was built with continuous delivery in mind, version control systems are critical because everything needs to be in there, automated testing tools are also critical, continuous integration servers can help if they have an extra build pipelines
  • Puppet and Chef both allow you to script your environments
  • need to place people in teams who believe things are possible

Other Stuff

At the end of a very long day, it was good to network with attendees at the ThoughtWorks open office.

Also, I have to send congratulations to my colleague Adrian Smith from Ennova on his talk Agile for Startups which I hear was very well received (I have attended previous incarnations of this talk).

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