Handling live support in a Scrum team

supportWe’ve all been there. You just about think you’ve got your team in a nice rhythm and your burn-downs are starting to look a bit less painful to slide down but, objectively speaking, your team capacity is pants.

You look at drag and it’s bad and getting worse.

The first thing I’d take a look at for a team in that scenario is, who’s doing live support? Continue reading →

Thomas – my new best mate…

ShrinkSo I’m now a licensed by Thomas International to deliver, read, interpret and generally use to my advantage their Personal Profile Analysis reports. I’ve finished the training, searched my soul and bared my flaws and frustrations in front of a “support group” (read:class) of like minded HR professionals…

Oh, hang on a minute, I’m not an HR professional, I don’t even like HR professionals so what was I doing there?

Simple really, learning about a great tool that’ll help with recruitment decisions in the future and has changed the way I think about job adverts entirely.

If you look at a selection of ads for technical staff on the likes of CWJobs, you’ll find they read very much like the spec for a PC:

1 x Intel Xeon Quad Core knowledge of the .Net Framework
8GB SQL
160GB ASP.NET (with an 800MB css/ajax cache)
Dual HD eyes
102 key driving licence (UK) and mouse must be included

I’m afraid that ads like this are completely missing the point. When was the last time you found yourself saying “Dave’s a brilliant team-worker, it’s down to his great C# I think” or “Andy’s a good motivatior, he can use the WITH PIVOT function in SQL Server 2005 without even looking on Google”. My guess is, you never have. Continue reading →

Who’s looking after your scrum team whilst you’re away?

I’m off on leave for two weeks on Tuesday. I’ve done all the usual preparations, eaten most of my frogs and sent the usual “who’s doing what” email around to various people in the office so that everyone’s clear about my areas of responsibility whilst I’m off.

Probably the biggest responsibility I’ve got is for product development. We’ve got a decent sized team and we’ve got a new starter joining that team whilst I’m off. They’re starting a new, very exciting project and we’ve got to deliver, fast. It’s more important that this team delivers right now than anything else. In previous lives I would have been picking up the phone several times during my break to a temporary project manager I’d have had to put in place and there’s every chance that I’d have had to dish out a fair few complaints to the team for under-performance on my return.

Not this time. We run scrum. I’ve asked one of the team to be scrum master whilst I’m away. I know she’ll do a good job and the team are so motivated and producing such a volume of good quality work, there is very little that can get in their way.

I guess I’ll have to find something else to worry about whilst I’m off…

Testers are not a “nice to have”

One of the things I will always have with me on my first day in any job is a USB memory stick with Joel’s list on it. A colleague and friend brought it to my attention a while ago now and it’s a great point of reference for any software team. Sitting at number 10 on the list is “Do you have testers?”.

I’ve had at least a dozen discussions with people who don’t believe that dedicated testers are necessary. Many of them sit in the “the developers should be testing their own work” court. Spolsky says that teams should have dedicated testers so that you don’t have a $100/hour programmers doing work that could be done by $30/hour testers. I don’t agree entirely with either of these positions. Continue reading →

Outsourcing doesn’t work unless you “sit on them” – Rubbish!

By virtue of what can only have been a “few spare chairs”, I found myself at the inaugural IT Leaders Forum a couple of weeks ago at the Imperial War Museum and spent a part of my afternoon chewing the fat in the company of many of the C-level execs from the IT departments of a veritable “who’s who” of  blue-chip globals. I enjoyed the event a great deal but at one point during the afternoon I got a little irate. Continue reading →

Why does Scrum REALLY work?

Type “Scrum” into Google and you’ll get a plethora of articles about Artefacts, Roles and Ceremonies and all that good stuff. You’ll also get plenty of information about “Business Value”, “Adapting to a changing environment”, “Work tracking”, “Process improvement” etc, etc, etc. All that stuff is great. The former makes users of Scrum feel like it’s a “proper” methodology/process (whatever the hell you want to call it – interesting, if slightly pedantic article about this discussion can be found here), the latter helps execs who should know better buy in to something they don’t really “get”. It’s all got some value but it’s not what this article is about. This is about how adopting Scrum can turn an unproductive, stalling, unmotivated, disjointed team into a killer software development team with a real product focus in a matter of days.
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Guess what? Scrum developers should be cutting code, period!

A square peg in a round holeI got into a mini debate on Twitter last week and it got me thinking about my views on a few things Scrum. I’m not going to chew over the specifics of the to and fro as it’s very difficult to have a reasoned debate with only 140 characters per point but I thought I’d explore some of the issues arising from it.

The thrust of the argument was “We don’t need you, managers. We’re developers using scrum and can do anything you can do”. The answer to that is, of course, “Yes, you can”.

According to the Scrum Guides you can get from http://www.scrum.org/scrumguides/ your Product Owner and your Scrum Master can both be members of the team (but never the same person). So, leave “the Team” alone and they’ll produce top-drawer results, end of discussion, right? ‘Fraid not.

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Scrum training – getting the balance right.

Earlier in the week I had to deliver a training session to one of our most recent additions to the technical team. He’s been there 3 months and, arguably, I should have provided this training already but I wanted to try something different.   

A “good” employer tends to pride themselves on the fact that they deliver hours, sometimes days, of training before a new pin can actually get on with some work. Invariably the Health and Safety Stasi and someone with a week long ”Post-Educational Higher National Secondary Certificated Diploma in HR” get in on the act and the bright, enthusiastic new team member has the will to live sucked out of him/her over a matter of a few days whilst they answer pop-quizzes about correct lifting techniques and the location of fire exits.  

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Sprintboard – a Google Wave gadget for distributed scrum teams

A few years ago, I worked in a large software team where all of the tie-wearing developers were in the office for 9am. We had bags of office space and whiteboards EVERYWHERE. One of the things I saw done particularly well in that company was the way in which they used whiteboards to track the progress of the sprint against the sprint tasks (sprint backlog) and draw up the burn-down.

At a glance, these “information radiators” as the Head of Web used to call them, anyone in the office could see how each sprint was going and, scratching the surface a little, they could see which tasks were proving problematic.

This works beautifully in an office based team where everyone could attend scrum on a daily basis and update their hours against each task on the sprint backlog. Where it doesn’t work quite so well is in a distributed team where the team members may be in different offices, homes or even countries. In my current company we’re putting together just such a distributed team and I want to try and make sure we don’t lose the effect that these whiteboards have on the visibility of the progress of the team.

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Hello world!

Ok, so it’s cliche but, in the world of the developer, it’s obligatory, we’ve all done it. Just so you have an idea, I’ve done it with VB5, VB6, VBA, VBScript, VB.Net and now C# (I’ve also done it in tcl but who the hell’s heard of that!). And I’ve used it in Macros, Win Forms apps, ASP 3.0, ASP.NET, Silverlight, Web Services. I’ve done it a LOT in SQL (various flavours) and even in SSIS and SSRS (2000 & 2005). I even did it once in php (but I don’t tell many people about that!), notice the theme here? Pretty much all of it’s built on the Microsoft stack and I’m not ashamed to say it.

And now…I’ve done it in WordPress!