Monday, January 17, 2011

Presentation sponsored by Thoughtworks and Agile Austin

I am shifting gears a bit here, but I had the absolute pleasure of listening to Jim Highsmith speak here in Austin Texas.  Last Wednesday Thoughtworks and Agile Austin sponsored a talk by Mr. Highsmith on the topic of Agile Leadership.

I could never articulate all of the great content presented by Mr. Highsmith, so I will toss out some key concepts I managed to snag.  I am hoping Thoughtworks will distribute the slide deck so I can remember even more.

Focusing on Organizational Agility I recall one fundamental distinction.  Is your business focus based on Responsiveness or Efficiency?  If it is Responsiveness then it is probably important to learn Agile Management skills.

The core tenants according to Mr. Highsmith were Do less, Quality, Speed to Value, and Engage & Inspire. 

Do less is definitely applicable to my recent experiences with kanban. 

Of course Quality is important to me.  Quality really does matter to management and it is a proven fact that reducing defects reduces cost.

I am not so enthusiastic about increasing speed, but speed to value is a key to success.   We really do not want to be focusing on things that add little value.  In my opinion, we need to find a sustainable pace.

Now Engage and Inspire is a prime theme for me these days.  After attending the STP Conference in the fall of 2010, I certainly became inspired.  I am seeking the opportunity to engage with other testers and be inspired.  Hopefully I can inspire too.

Mr. Highsmith recommended several books.  You can find those recommendations on his blog.  I recall two suggestions: Drive by Dan Pink and Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis.

Software companies should have a focus on value and delivering features.  Wow!  That certainly makes sense to me. An interesting point was that companies should not permit product owners to do all of the prioritization.  If you let product determine the priority, then there is no room to work on technical debt, defects, or useful tools.  His point was many companies suffer from technical debt.

The talk inspired me to do my best to participate more in the Agile community in Austin.  I was speaking with Matt, the president of Agile Austin and I found out there is a group of testers that meet monthly over lunch.   I definitely want to get plugged in to that group.

My final point is if you get a chance to go hear these great speakers, please do so!  There are bits of goodness for everyone to take home.

Happy Testing!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Build Blocked at the end of Week 1

The team implemented their new process and this was the first week in action.  They started off with a large bottleneck in the acceptance test column.  The team quickly moved through the bottleneck.

As an outside observer the testers seemed to be happier.  They were actively involved at the start of the process rather than at the end.  Developers were completing acceptance test quickly and what appeared to be efficiently.  Blocked stories were obviously labeled on the board.  There definitely was a buzz in the air.

I did over hear a couple of developers wondering why the hell are we doing this, "Seems like we are reinventing the wheel!"  There were a couple of developers who were blocked.  So there was more time for foosball.

The teams goal was to have a branched release candidate by the close of business on Thursday.  Unfortunately at the close of business on Friday testers had found enough defects that a clean build did not exist.  The release is due out Tuesday.

It will be very interesting to see how things go on Monday.  Will the testers be able to adjust their regression testing pattern in order to get out a solid release.

As an outside observer I really enjoy collaborating with the test and development leads.  I shared two observations with respect to their kanban board.  Looking at the board there were numerous stories that were marked as blocked.  To me it was not clear from the board who owned the action item to unblock the story.  The other suggestion that I made was that they also need some sort of issue board or list, so everyone on the team knows what things are impeding the process flow.

The new 9 foot magnetic board is in.  The team has created some magnetic buttons with their personal avatars.  Lets just say some of the avatars are quite interesting, but I think it adds a bit of fun to the process.  They also created the yuck face buttons, which they can apply to blocked stories.  I am looking forward to seeing this board in action.

Oh one more very positive observation was that the team was able to move a few more defects through the process than were original scheduled.  I liked the buzz of the new process and testers know what to test.

Several of the team members were able to collaborate over an 18 page Power Point document and condense the material down into a handful of cukes.  Cukes are executable requirements from the open source tool, Cucumber.  Soon we will implement the strategy to automate the cukes.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Diving into the Abyss

We had a couple more brain storming sessions on moving a team onto the kanban train.

The biggest concern during these two sessions focused on our build process and software control systems.  We currently use Subversion.  Much of the discussion was around the complexities of checking in and backing out code.  How can our cadence flow in order to give testers builds of high quality and builds of trust.  I believe the final solution discussed was that we need to move from Subversion to GIT.

The development team believes GIT is a more friendly change control system for moving software around.  We shall see, but we do not have GIT today and we are about to jump into the abyss.

From my perspective, there are two potential issues when the team arrives for work on Tuesday.  One concern is that not all of the stakeholders were present during our brainstorming sessions.  I believe some team members will be surprised on Tuesday, but most will jump into the kanban abyss with both feet.  The other concern is that the WIP is already way over the estimated capacity.

Despite the WIP we decided to make the leap.  I stopped by the office on Friday and the Development Lead had a carefully crafted kanban board drawn across a couple of white boards.  He has a 9 foot magnetized board on order, but it has not arrived.  "See the team is already adjusting."  The large portion of the WIP is currently in the completed state and ready for acceptance testing.  The entire team (developers and testers) is going to start with this phase, write acceptance tests when they are not available, actuate the code, and test the pending features.  Viewing the kanban board I also noticed several key stories and defects have been placed in the ready state.

I am looking forward as an observer/consultant to see the giant green start button get pushed on Tuesday and the new process will begin to flow.  During our brain storming sessions to other key concepts were often mentioned.  During daily stand up meetings we have the ability to make minor adjustments.  Communication will be important.  The second concept was the big RED button.  The big RED button is "stop the presses" button.  I am hoping that for the first one week release cycle the red button is not used.

Unfortunately there is a high volume of risk with this release as the team jumps into the abyss.  If the team does a good job conducting thorough code reviews, acceptance tests and the test team stays on top of their game, then we may have the parachutes to float gently to the bottom of the abyss.  If we happen to land hard then we have the retrospective and make the first adjustments to the process.

The team is leaping and I believe 2011 is going to be a great year!