Thursday, May 25, 2006

Some unspoken tips on managing an Agile project

Want to have an easier time to manage an Agile project and avoid common pitfalls while have some fun? Read on...

Believe it or not, food is not a luxury item on an Agile project. Food is *essential*. Agile practices encourages as much open-air communication as quickly as possible, be it computer-to-human (through tests) or human-to-human (short iterative cycle). Yet sometimes it is hard to force down onto people to communicate more effectively from a Project Manager. By having good food/snacks, people who are not co-located are going to come to the room much more often than usual, and a casual "how are you guys doing" while shuffling popcorn into his/her mouth is usually a conversation starter on many things the development team needs. And food, of course, improves morale inmeasurably =)

Team co-location
This is key to being able to communicate more effectively, which is one of the tenets of a successful Agile project. By more effectively, I mean the project can execute in less time because people can make more informed decision based on an abundant amount of open-air information. For whatever reasons, people are generally good at filtering useless information but not good at carrying information to the appropriate people who need them. By bringing the team together in a relatively open area with maximum face-to-face communication, you are encouraging team members to make more informed decisions before they waste time to work on the wrong thing based on false assumptions on continually ongoing changes within the development team and the business.

CI build sound
If you use CruiseControl.NET, try putting a sound clip that reminds of some embarrassing moments of some development team members as the build success/failure cctray settings. This can get quite amusing some times. Another morale booster.

Quote sheet
During the course of development, there is bound to be someone who inadvertently said something hilarious about someone or something. Keep a list of them on a wiki on the build server where the team members have access to. This is a must as part of the team-building process. At ThoughtWorks's annual national gathering day, we collect great and funny quotes from ThoughtWorkers from projects everywhere, print them on T-shirts, then auction them out. The money collected goes to donation. Funny and meaningful.

My funny quote of my current project? Nah. You have to ask me personally for that =P

Second story wall for issues after 1.0 release
In a XP story wall, which represents the progress of stories planned for the current iteration, usually contains columns ("DEV Ready", "DEV In Progress", "QA Ready", "QA Complete") that mark the stages of a story from ready for development to QA complete. Now how does the wall change when your application goes 1.0 release?

Generally, after a 1.0 release, the team will create a new branch of the source code for urgent production defect fixing purpose. The problem is that when you have a large team of developers split across urgent production defect fixes and release 1.1 development, or there are many small and frequent 1.x releases coming after your initial release, or for some uncommon reason you have more than one branches of source code (after you have determined it is ultimately unavoidable). Then managing the merging of code from your release branch to your active development branch becomes tricky, because if developers forget to merge, your active development branch now has bugs.

How about at 1.0 release, create a new story/issue wall next to the original story wall, but it only contains columns "Issue Verified", "Issue In Progress", "Issue Resolved", and have the developers merge their source code before they can move any issue cards from "Issue Resolved" column of that wall to the other wall's "QA Ready"? This physical movement of an issue card from one wall to another always remind developers to merge their changes. If that doesn't help the busy and forgetful developers, have them move issue cards to a new column called "Issue Merged".

Stand-up token
A good stand-up meeting is not an avenue to identify "solutions" of problems participants face. It should be a quick meeting to identify individuals who need to hold face-to-face conversations after the stand-up and then move on. But people being people, sometimes conversations go out of hand during a stand-up. Have a stand-up token, like a football, in stand-up so that only the person who has the token can talk. When you see people exchange the token too many times in a conversation, perhaps it's time to ask them to offline it till after the stand-up.


Aidan Rogers said...

Regarding the token, we always called it "The Conch" (from William Golding's Lord of the Flies). This works even better if you have an actual conch :-)

Anonymous said...

I think a better token would be a 50 Kilo weight so even the person holding the token can't talk to long without wanting to put it down.