Sunday, January 15, 2017

Paying Technical Debt

The metaphor of technical debt in code and design can be defined as follows: You start at an optimal level of code. In the next release, you are adding a new feature. This would take an effort E. This of course assuming that estimations are somewhere near reality.

If the level of code was less than optimal, the effort will be E + T. Where T is the technical debt. Writing bad code is like going further into debt. You take the loan now, and you repay the debt later. The bigger the mess, the larger the delay in the next release.

The term “technical debt” was first introduced by Ward Cunningham. It was in the early 90s, when the disconnects between development and business was growing bigger and bigger. The business people would urge developers do release untested, ugly code in order to get their product or new features faster. The developers tried to explain why this was a bad mistake. Some things will never change...

Most products and projects are still released much earlier than the developers have wanted. Assuming that developers are not just being stubborn (I know, maybe an ever bigger assumption as decent estimations), you would think that we didn’t manage to get the message across to the business. We have done an awesome job explaining what technical debt is and what the results are going to be. The business people understand it. But they are just willing to take the loan now. Can you blame them? Business want something out there, in the field, that will sell now.

Let’s assume that there is a discussion at one point before a release. It’s about delaying the release and making the code better or releasing now. My experience is that most times the decision will be in favor of an early release at the cost of less quality. There are a number of reasons for this:

- The business would rather have something now, and take the debt, because they have something new to sell.

- Besides the business decision there are politics involved. People loose face with delayed releases because they promised their management that magic will happen.

- CapEx are payed from the project budget, but OpEx from a different budget. Meaning a lot of technical debt will not be payed by the project but a different department.

An example. On a recent project I was involved there were two very big debt creators.

1) Handling of a dependency on another System B. The team working on that system was completely overloaded. And instead of fixing the problems with that team, my team was forced by management to rebuild functionality that was already in place at System B. This was an architectural f*ç& up and caused many headaches later on.

2) The other one was not spending any time on test automation. Each regression test was done manually. This way we could never deliver each sprint something of good quality, nor could we deliver in fast cycles, cause after development manual testing started for multiple days.

Yes we released some features earlier as we should, but o boy, did the company payed for that later.

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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Agile Project Management Workshops Q1 2017

Data Solutions offers public workshops on various topics around Agile Project Management. Come and find the right workshop for you or contact us for an individual training recommendation.

We have currently fixed the following public workshop dates:

Workshop Date Location Price
Agile Budgets and Contracts February 24, 2017 Zurich CHF 990
Scaling Scrum in an Enterprise Environment March 17, 2017 Zurich CHF 990
Agile Budgets and Contracts March 31, 2017 Zurich CHF 990
Agile Estimation, Planning and Budgeting On request Zurich CHF 990

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Essential rules for scaling agile

Based on my experiences with scaling agile in different contexts I am the opinion that the following guiding rules serve me well.

1. Do not scale, in most cases it is not necessary. Create well defined product boundaries with interfaces and most scaling efforts are futile.

2. Do not multi site. It makes simple things complex, and hard things even harder.

3. You cannot scale what you do not have, i.e. when you have no well functioning Scrum teams in your organization you should not talk about scaling Scrum.

4. Think products, not projects. This shift in thinking will help organizations a lot in making better decisions.

5. Continuous improvement. Never stop learning, and do not be afraid to stop what is not working.

6. Technical excellence is important for agile teams, but for scaling it is essential.

7. Take a modular approach, there is no one size fits all framework.

8. You need top down support, i.e. management wants to change there own way of working too.

9. Change the system, then culture and people's behavior will follow.

10. Tackle one product(group) at a time.

11. Feature teams, not component teams.

12. Empower your Product Owner (or similar role) to take the decisions he/she needs to be taking in that role.

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Friday, December 02, 2016

Outsourcing technical competence?

I have written about technical competence before in the context of Agile Engineering Practices and Three must have Technical Competencies for Scrum Teams. This article will shed some light on a different aspect of technical competency. Outsourcing it.

A number of companies I have worked for have started a large project based on a technology they are not competent in, or even completely unfamiliar with. This fits very nicely in the outsourcing strategy most of them have regarding IT. But does this makes sense?

In my opinion having technical competence (and excellence) in your organization has never been as crucial as it is today. Creating a technology strategy that allows you to not only deal with, but take advantage of the increasingly rapid pace of change separates the successful organizations from the obsolete ones.

Some observations I have made when your organization is not competent in a technology that is used for a big initiative:

- Your IT architecture team is dependent on external consultants for creating an architecture. You can have luck with your external consultants (honest, competent, independent), but I have seen the opposite more often (not competent, driven by sales, vendor lockin). Unfortunately when you have no competence in your organization you have no way of judging before it is to late.

- The cost of implementing new features (your business requirements) are determined by external consultants and/or vendors, and you have no way of judging if these are reasonable or not.

- The decision if certain new features are possible or not are made by external consultants and/or vendors, and you have no way of knowing if these decisions are justified or not.

- You have no healthy team atmosphere during the project. Internal employees always have to ask external ones for their opinion and input. This gives a very strange team dynamic where externals are making all the decisions one way or another (direct or indirect).

- You are not able to support the implemented solution after go-live without help from external consultants and/or vendors. This makes you very dependent, even after the project is finished

- It makes it very hard to switch vendor or implementation partner, because all of the knowledge of the solution is with them, so when you want to switch because you are not happy you have to work a while in parallel with two different companies. Besides the costs, this will give an even worse team dynamic.

- Your best external people can leave the project on a whimp because you have no influence on keeping them there. Supplier priorities may not be you, or they just leave your supplier.

In general I am the opinion that when a company is deciding on a certain technology for a big initiative the first thing they should do is hire two or three of the best people they can get, make them internal employees and give them key positions in your project setup (architect, QA, technical project lead). Leverage their experience by not making beginner mistakes, get second opinions on cost and feasibility estimations and get a judgement of skills of external consultants. This will put your organization in the driver seat instead of being driven by others.

Yes, your headcount goes up, and yes they do not work for free, but trust me on this one, this is money well invested and far much cheaper as not doing it.

PS: Although this was written based on a new technology decision, all the above is true for starting an agile project with a technology you know. When your internal employees are not familiar with Unit Testing, Test Automation and Continuous Integration, get people on board that do. You will never make a lasting change in your organization by outsourcing these.

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Friday, September 30, 2016

Swisscom CX Day: Agile. One day. Four sprints.

So next month (October 27) I am speaking at the Swisscom Customer eXperience Day. I am really looking forward to this event. Katja Leu and Christina Taylor have put together a fresh and interesting format on the topic "Agile".

"Agile" has long been the buzz word in software development for a new people-centred and efficient innovation culture that cuts across all methods. In four sprints we highlight "agile" insights as they relate to organisation, leadership and culture, environment and collaboration, and measuring success. We will discover together how an agile corporate culture can contribute to lasting success. 

The event is invite only, but you will find the presentations from previous CY Day events in their archive. There are some really interesting talks lined up for this event.

"Work? Question. Think. Learn." by Bastiaan van Roden, Founder @ Nothing Interactive

The way we think about work is stuck in the age of the industrial revolution. Linear, recurring routines have become less suited to producing adequate answers to the challenges of today when we need them. Bastiaan prefers open, authentic participation when it comes to people creating meaningful experiences for other people. It's not about work any more; it's about curiosity: only constantly asking questions, providing new answers and learning from them will ensure success.

Culture has a stronger impact than strategy." by Franziska Stebler and Rudolf Gysi, Agile Coaches @ SBB

The people in a company shape its culture. The culture is the shadow of the system and carries more influence than any strategy. For a company to change, it needs to start with the people. So the Agile Coaches train SBB IT employees in agile practices, empowering entire teams to develop new solutions faster. Using the "Iteration Zero" example, Franziska and Rudolf show how they boost the groundwork for product development with their people-centred approach.

"Goodbye boss. Hello trainer." by Heinz Herren, Head of IT, Network & Innovation @ Swisscom

You can see the full force of the butterfly effect in the networked world. When something happens in one corner of the world it is transmitted in the shortest of times to other areas and can trigger huge movements. Agile, people-centred collaboration is the answer to the shortcomings of hierarchical organisations in reacting quickly, flexibly, and diversely to changes. When it comes to management that means moving from rigid control to vibrant, learning organisations. Top and bottom was yesterday. Today it's about being a trainer and making others successful.

"The setting is crucial." by Thomas Bickel (Head of Sport) and Uli Forte (Manager) @ FC Zürich

What do agile forms of collaboration and top football have in common? What is the secret of a top-performing team that works in perfect harmony? What can influence a team positively and negatively in terms of its success? We find out from the perspective of the Head of Sport and the Manager of FC Zürich how important environment and communication are for perfect teamwork.

"Getting a little better every day." by me

Delivery is more important than all processes, frameworks, methods and tools. But it's not more important than the people involved in the project. Only the team knows what really works. So the team determines the success, not a book, a consultant or a manager. For every race, the team decides which activities from the backlog bring the greatest added value if they are pursued further. Too much guidance restricts any eagerness to experiment and stops you making mistakes, reducing your ability to learn. Quality is important from the first iteration. But it's not possible without technical excellence. Agility means small steps: getting a little better every day.

"Less is almost always more." by Head of Business Development @ Digitec Galaxus

Agility only works then the entire ecosystems works agilely together – not just some parts of the value chain. It's only when the entire system is operating agilely that its full power is released. It is important that everyone actively participates and can play their part. Focus is vital for this: it is only when we are prepared to give up some things willingly and leave them to the side that we can make everything faster and better. So less is almost always more.

CX-Day Panel 

How does agile collaboration change management? Is management even necessary in an agile environment? If so, what type of management? How is the new management role defined and what values is it based on? Moderator Carsten Roetz will put these and other questions to the following panel of experts.

Read more…

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Antifragile at the Global Scrum Gathering Munich 2016

October 17 till 19 I will be at the Global Scrum Gathering in Munich. The theme of this gathering is

Business Agility: How to Thrive in a Constantly Changing Environment 

Questions that will be addressed are:

- How can executives of large- and mid-sized organizations set up their businesses to adapt and react faster to technological changes and challenges?
- How can they not only enable their teams to build things the right way but, even more importantly, ensure that they build the right things?
- What kind of structures are needed to involve and enable “smart creatives” to develop innovative and valuable products?
- To what extent do classic organizational structures support or contradict business agility?

The idea is to explore the different perspectives on what’s needed by whom.

- What are the needs of the executives?
- What are the needs of middle management?
- What are the needs of those who build the products in the end?
- Where are the gaps and how to bridge them?

The gathering is divided in four different tracks:

1) Dealing with Uncertainty: How to Build “Anti-fragile” Businesses in a Constantly Changing World

2) Effectiveness over Efficiency: Focus on Building the Right Thing Rather than Building Things Right

3) Empowering People: The Right Organizational Structure to Nurture and Foster “Smart Creatives”

4) Amplify Learning: How Do We Create the Right Experiments to Get the Right Learning Experience in Order to Reach the Next Level of Maturity — as a Product, as a Team, as a Corporation?

I will give a talk at the gathering titled "Dealing with Uncertainty: From Agile to Antifragile". The purpose of my talk will be:

- Gain a better understanding of what uncertainty is
- Understand Black Swan theory
- Understand what antifragile means
- Gain insight in some strategies that can be applied to deal with uncertainty

I am really looking forward to the event. Many smart and experienced people, cool conversations and new ideas will be guaranteed. When you want to meet up at the gathering and have one of those amazing German beers just contact me.


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Friday, April 29, 2016

Scaling Agile at LEGO

I have written articles before about scaling Scrum and scaling Agile because this is a challenge I am confronted with a lot. One way of approaching scaling Agile is the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). To put it mildly, SAFe is controversial in the Agile community. At first glance SAFe looks a bit like a big scary heavy-weight top-down RUP-zombie. But what about in real life?

Based on what I know about SAFe so far, I am not convinced it is something I would advice in most situations. Personally I am more of a LeSS guy myself. But that does not prevent me from learning more about it. So I decided to spend some time reviewing use cases of SAFe. One of the best documented use cases of SAFe is the use of it at LEGO. Henrik Kniberg is working as a coach at LEGO and he and the LEGO team are presenting about their learnings frequently.

In 2014, LEGO Digital Solutions turned to SAFe to improve their collaboration model. Much like creating something from LEGO bricks, they built their transformation one piece at a time, starting with inviting 20 managers to a 2-day Leading SAFe class. From there, they began training the teams; first one, then another until they had 20 teams trained in SAFe.

They approached every step as a learning journey, allowing for creativity along the way. When something didn’t seem like a good fit, they weren’t afraid to experiment. Taking results from Inspect and Adapt, they tweaked SAFe to their needs with a simple guiding principle, “Keep the stuff that generates energy.” Currently they work with 150 people in 20 teams using Scrum, Kanban and XP to deliver.

It is a fascinating use case, and no matter what you think about SAFe, you can learn from it. Below you will find the material I have reviewed.


Learnings from SAFe @ LEGO – Mattias Skarin & Eik Thyrsted Brandsgård at LKCE15


Is SAFe Evil? - Lars Roost & Henrik Kniberg at GOTO Copenhagen 2015

The slides for the talk Agile @ LEGO at at Passion for Projects in Uppsala.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Agile Engineering Practices


Just finished reading the 10th State of Agile Report from VersionOne. I have written before about data from this report. See "Top six reasons for failure of Agile projects".
This time one question caught my attention. Respondents were asked to state which agile techniques they use. They were able to give multiple answers. Because of a project I am currently involved in I was very curious about the answers regarding used Agile Engineering Practices.

Response was as follows:

- Unit Testing (63%)
- Continuous Integration (50%)
- Single Team (integrated dev and testing) (45%)
- Refactoring (37%)
- Test Driven Development (33%)
- Automated Acceptance Testing (28%)
- Continuous Deployment (27%)
- Collective Code Ownership (25%)
- Pair Programming (24%)

What can I say... This is a sad state of affairs. Or looking from the positive side. There is a lot of potential for many agile development teams to step up their game and improve. Scrum is the most used agile process method according to the survey, and Scrum itself says nothing about Engineering Practices. Scrum is not limited to be used for software development only. But as soon as you use Scrum in software development, solid Agile Engineering Practices are essential to do Scrum right. I have written before on this in my article "Three must have Technical Competencies for Scrum Teams". Some additional thoughts...

Unit Testing
The purpose of unit testing is not for finding bugs. It is a specification for the expected behaviors of the code under test. The code under test is the implementation for those expected behaviors. So unit test and the code under test are used to check the correctness of each other, and protect each other. Later when someone changed the code under test, and it changed the behavior that is expected by the original author, the test will fail. If you code is covered by reasonable unit test, you can maintain the code without breaking the existing feature. That’s why Michael Feathers define legacy code in his book as code without unit tests. Without Unit Tests your refactoring efforts will be a major risk every time you do it.

Continuous Integration
Martin Fowler defines Continuous Integration (CI) in his key article as follows: "Continuous Integration is a software development practice where members of a team integrate their work frequently, usually each person integrates at least daily - leading to multiple integrations per day. Each integration is verified by an automated build (including test) to detect integration errors as quickly as possible. Many teams find that this approach leads to significantly reduced integration problems and allows a team to develop cohesive software more rapidly." You see, without Unit Tests and Test Automation it is impossible to do CI right. And only when you do CI right you might be able to succeed at Continuous Deployment.

Single Team (integrated development and testing)
It is hard to grasp that this is still not implemented by so many agile teams. In order to deliver high quality software every iteration, your development and testing should be done by a single team. Not just that, your team should be a Feature Team.

Refactoring
Code should be written to solve the known problem at the time. Often, teams become wiser about the problem they are solving, and continuously refactoring and changing code ensures the code base is forever meeting the most current needs of the business in the most efficient way. In order to guarantee that changes do not break existing functionality your regression tests should be automated. I.e. Unit tests are essential.

Test Driven Development
Test-driven development is a development style that drives the design by tests developed in short cycles of:

1. Write one test,
2. Implement just enough code to make it pass,
3. Refactor the code so it is clean.

Ward Cunningham argues that test-first coding is not testing. Test-first coding is not new. It is nearly as old as programming. It is an analysis technique. We decide what we are programming and what we are not programming, and we decide what answers we expect. Test-first is also a design technique.

Automated Acceptance Testing
Also known as Specification by Example. Specification by Example or Acceptance test-driven development (A-TDD) is a collaborative requirements discovery approach where examples and automatable tests are used for specifying requirements—creating executable specifications. These are created with the team, Product Owner, and other stakeholders in requirements workshops. I have written about a successful implementation of this technique within Actuarial Modeling.

Continuous Deployment
Continuous delivery is a series of practices designed to ensure that code can be rapidly and safely deployed to production by delivering every change to a production-like environment and ensuring business applications and services function as expected through rigorous automated testing. Since every change is delivered to a staging environment using complete automation, you can have confidence the application can be deployed to production with a push of a button when the business is ready. Continuous deployment is the next step of continuous delivery: Every change that passes the automated tests is deployed to production automatically. Continuous deployment should be the goal of most companies that are not constrained by regulatory or other requirements.

Collective Code Ownership
Collective Ownership encourages everyone to contribute new ideas to all segments of the project. Any developer can change any line of code to add functionality, fix bugs, improve designs or refactor. No one person becomes a bottle neck for changes. This is easy to do when you have all your code covered with unit tests and automated acceptance tests.

Pair Programming

Having 2 developers work on one piece of code, using one keyboard and one monitor. Pairing results in higher quality output because it greatly reduces wasted time and defects, and results in high collaboration. It is noting else as continuous code reviews. Hence, when implemented you do not need code reviews before merging your branches, hence continuous integration can be done faster.

Those who are familiar with Extreme Programming (XP) will notice that many of these techniques originate from it. Ron Jeffries in his (highly recommendable) book "The Nature of Software Development" goes even that far that he says that Scrum combined with Agile Engineering Practices is nothing else as XP. I see his point. It is about wording and labeling. The ideas and principles are the same.

I am a very strong believer that without successfully implementing Agile Engineering Practices it is impossible to be agile in software development.

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