Monthly Archives: October 2008

Livin’ the 20/40 Rule

Telescope

Who is looking at whom?

It never fails. As soon as I explain the 20-40 rule (teams can only really process and work 20-40 items at a time — whether those items are user stories, business rules, domain classes, whatever) I get the same question.

“But what if my team has a lot to do? Surely every team can’t work just with a list of 20-40 items. That’s crazy. How about building the Space Shuttle? Or fixing all the bugs in Windows Vista? This 20-40 rule once-and-for-all shows that you’re just talking academically and not practically.”

So let’s take it a step at a time. How can the team control the amount of stories/domain classes/supplemental items to an arbitrary limit of 40 or so?

First I’m going to explain how, then I’m going to change the way you think. (Hopefully)

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Puppy #2 Identified

The bunnies-for-puppies saga continues, as Puppy #2 has been positively identified.

Puppy

Somehow this puppy looks like trouble

Meanwhile the family voting system has chosen “Ginger” for the Irish Setter puppy we got a couple of weeks ago — much against my wishes. I offered many other suggestions, such as “Gypsy”, “Cooter”, “Bob”, “Rock Head”, and “Killer”

I’m thinking that logically, this pup’s name should be “Fred”. For Fred and Ginger, right? Either that or FuzzBall.

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Agile Warrior: Breaking up is Hard to do

The projector painted a screen from Microsoft Access on the wall as the team voices all droned into a low hum. It was Showcase and Retrospective time, and I was visiting a team to try to figure out why one of my star teams had lost 80% of their velocity this past iteration.

“How about story 174,” the project facilitator asked, “what’s the status on that?”

“Let’s see,” a voice from the back of the room said, “This is ‘research Groovy’”

“Well?”

“Well, I finished researching Groovy. It’s great.”

“So the story is done?”

The Product Owner speaks up.

“Not exactly. There should be ‘install Groovy in the dev environment.’ on that story too.”

The facilitator starts adding to the story.

She looks up – “Well how many hours are left to do that?”

The developer shrugs. “I don’t know. Say around 20?”

“Okay then. We’ll carry that over to the next iteration. How many points were there?”

“It was a 21-point story.”

“So you think you did about 7 points worth this time?”

“Beats me. Sure. All I did was spend some time Googling. Is Google around 1 point?”

“We’ll call it seven points. So you have 14 points remaining for the next iteration.”

The developer shrugged. “Sure”

Somewhere deep in the back of my mind a silent scream called out, and then was silenced. It was as if a million coaches rose up their voices in fear and anger and were suddenly quieted.

There was a major disturbance in the force.

At the end of the meeting, the team’s velocity had improved – they delivered about 80% of what they had planned – if you counted points. If you counted stories, they completed 3 stories out of 12.

Just from the back of the napkin, around seventy percent of agile projects end up with severe velocity problems during their timeline. This phase can be transitory, or it can be fatal to the project, depending on how it is handled.

I asked the Product Owner after the meeting how he thought the iteration was going.

“It’s going fine,” he said, “we have a good team.”

Does the decreasing velocity bother you?

“What’s a velocity?”

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Understanding Backlogs

I’ve never seen people get as wrapped around the axle as people who are new to agile and are creating and managing a backlog.

I’m not a famous author. Nor do I play one on TV. I’m just a coach helping teams get agile and get fast in their delivery of value back to the business. So if you’re a fanboy or a hero-worshipper there’s lots of better places to go. All I’ve done is make this work a few dozens times with all kinds of obstacles and problems along the way.

It’s been interesting to read about backlogs, however, and I’ve seen a lot of folks who are over-educated really screw the pooch. (an unfortunate phrase from my Marine past considering my previous post!) In backlogs, in particular, it seems folks are either too theoretical and not practical enough, or “practical” to the point of following a recipe and perfectly fine with filling out forms. If you’re in this boat, here’s a hint for how your project is going to work out: slow and tedious.

So what’s a backlog? How does it fit into a big organization? What’s the difference between a user story and a use case? How can teams get chartered effectively without delivering top-down “shall” requirements? How can the organization (not the product owner) make sure teams are doing what they are being paid for without controlling every fine detail? What’s a good backlog look like and what’s a bad backlog look like?

As usual, let’s go to the bullet points. If you have any questions, please comment and I’ll be glad to explain.

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The Puppies Cometh

I promised my daughter if she got rid of her bunnies I would get the family a couple of puppies.

Katrina loves her bunnies. She loves all of her animals. Sometimes I think she is trying to turn our house into a zoo.

So I never thought she would actually get rid of the bunnies. But lo and behold, she found some kind of Happy Bunny Petting Farm or some such and the bunnies were on their way.

So the first puppy arrived last weekend.

I’m in the airport on the way home this morning — I have yet to meet this new puppy of ours. But I can tell from the pictures that she’s going to be trouble! She looks shifty and of an uncertain moral character.

I just hope it’s the kind of trouble that lasts a while.

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