Why do we need Agile coaches at all?

Today I was asked a really interesting question by a client: “Agile is very simple, why do you need Agile coaches?”.
That is a pretty fundamental question to ask of any Agile coach and after my initial shock we did come up with some good answers.

But the question (and the initial answers) kept nagging at me all day. And while I sat down with a glass of good whisky in the evening I got back to the question. Here is what I came up with:

  • Agile is simple, not easy
  • Experience bootstraps learning
  • Organizational gravity

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Agile Portfolio Game – The Big Payoff

At the Boston Agile Game Conference Alex Boutin and myself attended the ‘How to design your own game’ workshop given Don McGreal (@donmcgreal) and Michael McCullough (@mccm68) of Tastycupcake.org fame.

The game is designed to let people experience the how to plan with stable teams and let them experience the advantages of planning with agile projects. It does this by giving a group a somewhat simplified portfolio wall and challenge them to optimize the value generated by the teams.
After they have made the perfect 3 year plan, we of course hit them with random events to mess up that plan.
The explanation of the game is up at tastycupcakes.org

Getting started with Node.js, npm, Coffeescript, Express, Jade and Redis

To celebrate my move to the Agile Consulting and Training division of Xebia I thought it would be very appropriate to start playing with some hip new technologies.

From their homepages:

Node.js: Evented I/O for V8 JavaScript. (A framework for building completely non-blocking servers in Javascript)
NPM: A package manager for node.
CoffeeScript: A little language that compiles into JavaScript
Express: High performance, high class web development for Node.js
Jade: Node Template Engine
Redis: An open source, advanced key-value store

In this guide I will take very small steps so that you can verify that you are check whether you are still on track.
The result is an extremely performant, scalable and lightweight alternative for web development.

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What I learned about stories on my holiday

This year I spend New Year’s Eve at the beach near the small village of Marsa Alam in Egypt. The point of the holiday was to go scuba diving for a week on some of the best reefs in the world in the Red Sea. I’d already taken all the appurtenances I needed for scuba diving from a local shop but only after having them reviewed at www.globosurfer.com.

What I learned during this week is just how powerful stories are. And that they do not need to be big or elaborate. Let me explain.
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What World of Warcraft and Scrum have in common

Why a good Scrum is like World of Warcraft

Today I saw a brilliant TED talk by Tom Chatfield called “7 ways games engage the brain”. While watching the presentation and going through these 7 ways, I realized that while I have seen these playing games, I have also seen these happen in a good Scrum.

The 7 ways are:

  1. Experience bars measuring progress
  2. Multiple long and short-term aims
  3. Rewards for effort
  4. Rapid, frequent and clear feedback
  5. An element of Uncertainty
  6. Windows of enhanced attention
  7. Other people

I will go through each of the points comparing World of Warcraft to a Scrum.
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Do NOT do it right the first time

I was triggered recently by a status update from someone that mentioned that we will have to get ‘this’ right the first time around in the future.
This particular case was about a test, very late in the project cycle, where lots of things needed to get together perfectly to make it work. Any delays would not only delay the current project, but all other projects that rely on the shared resources being used. This huge cost if things go wrong is why it is so imperative that we do get it right the first time around.
The problem is that this involves tens of people across multiple companies and departments, who have written thousands of lines of code.

Now I do not know what they are going to do to make things right in the future, but if we go by past experience most people will want to enforce even stricter entrance criteria.
There are a couple of problems with this approach:
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Skiing as an agile vs waterfall metaphor

I was asked by one of my clients to give a short introduction into Agile. As we did not have an appropriate presentation for this kind of audience and knowledge level I decided to create a new presentation. And while I was thinking of a good metaphor to compare traditional waterfall against agile methodologies the pictures of my recent snowboarding trip caught my eye and it hit me; Skiing (or snowboarding) is a very good metaphor to compare both methodologies.

It has the same characteristics as a project in that once you get started it just keeps on going; There are other projects (or skiers) in your way, environments change and conditions might not be what you expected them to be.

Let’s see how it works out:
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Is debugging a skill?

Recently someone asked me how I came to be so good in debugging things. I was a bit startled by the question as I was not aware of it being something you could be good at. But some people are better at finding problems then others, so I guess it must be true. This is my attempt at trying to figure out what debugging is and how you can get better at it.
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The worst thing about Waterfall

Last week, after one of our bi-weekly Xebia Knowledge Exchange meetings when we should have been having a beer chatting about cars and sport, a few fellow Xebians and I were having a beer chatting about agile vs waterfall. The conversation quickly turned to the question “what is the worst part about waterfall.”

In the end we settled on “Incentivizing (is that a word?) parts of the chain instead of the whole”.

Let me explain.
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Culture is the new Process

Over the years I have seen many attempts to increase software quality. Most of our clients try to increase software quality by introducing a quality process. It usually involves a combination of strict coding guidelines, code reviews, checklists, acceptance criteria based on things like PMD, Checkstyle and Findbugs and audits by external parties amongst others.
But what struck me a couple of weeks ago is that we, as Xebia, have little extensive formal quality process. That is, while we have do have a lot of best practices and we test and measure quality a lot, we never have to resort to ‘enforcing’ quality.
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