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Agile 2010 Session Roundup

August 12, 2010 Comments off

So far my experience at Agile 2010 in Orlando has been great.  Great location, great conference center, great people, and great information.  It’s been a very busy and exhausting week so far, although i’m sad to think that i’ll be flying out around this time tomorrow and it’s all coming to an end. 

My first session monday morning was titled “The Incentives Trap”.  It was a session exploring what motivates people, primarily focusing on intrinsic vs extrinsic motivators with some exercises to prove out how the different types of motivators affect the work ethic and productivity of teams.  I was on the “square” team which was divided in to developers and testers.  My role on the team was a tester.  I got paid $1 for testing a story and $1 for finding a bug.  The developers got $1 for developing a story and $2 for fixing a bug.  Only the project manager got paid for delivering value.  Can you see who got screwed over in this scenario?  Lets just say the project manager probably didn’t eat that night.  It turns out that generally the team which is allowed to self organize, and is working for a charity for “NO PAY” is the most productive team that delivers the most value.  Why?  Because they are passionate about what they are working for, they are working for a charity because they believe in the cause and want to make a difference.  That’s why it’s important for your development teams to understand and believe in the work they’re doing, it’s the only way for them to be intrinsically motivated to be productive.

This is lining up to be a long post, since that was only the first session I attended, and i’ve attended 2 – 5 per day…. 

My next session was titled “Beyond Scope, Schedule, and Cost: Optimizing Value”.  It was a reasonably good session in which I primarily just came back with some interesting statistics and a couple of ideas.

  • doubling the number of people working on a project typically quadruples the number of defects.
  • 65% of features do not deliver their expected/planned value
  • what is a more successful project?
    • estimated to get 5 value points done in a week and achieved 5.
    • estimated to get 8 points done in a week and got 6

Tuesday morning was the keynote by “Dave Thomas”.  It was a lot of what you would expect to hear at an agile conference keynote.  There were a couple of things that surprised me though, like when he exclaimed “you know we’ve made it now because the tool vendors are here, but let me tell you, if you can’t do it with paper cards, no tool will help you”.  I don’t disagree with him, but the tool vendors are the major sponsors of the conference, so I found it a little ironic that he was denouncing their usefulness to all of the conference attendees.

In the afternoon I got to see a session by Johanna Rothman which I was quite excited about as i’ve been reading her blog for quite some time now.  Her session was titled “Agile Managers: The Essence of Leadership”.  The purpose was to talk about what role managers and leaders play in an agile organization, as many managers often feel lost.  There weren’t really any surprises here for me as we’ve got it fairly well figured out at Point2 (we can definitely improve on execution of it as a management team, but we have our place figured out at least).  The session was a nice indication for me of how well we’re doing, and it was great to see that Johanna is just as good of a speaker as she is a writer on her blog.

Wednesday started out with quite likely my favorite session of the conference so far “Scrum Metrics for Hyperproductive Teams: How they fly like Fighter Aircraft”.  It was given by Jeff Sutherland and Scott Downey, Scott had the title of head agile coach at MySpace and now holds the same title at Napster which I thought was pretty cool.  They had a lot of good information which I couldn’t possible discuss in it’s entirety in one paragraph, so i’ll just stick to a couple of points that stuck out for me which we’ll need to try.  The first is we need a “keystone” story, probably estimated at 3 points, which because the reference point for all estimation done by the team for the rest of eternity.  Why do we need this?  Because as the team gets better they will naturally migrate their estimates along with their increased productivity which makes it hard to track improvements over time.  It also makes it hard to have consistent estimates across sprints when you don’t have a never moving reference point to estimate against.  Another thing I want to try focusing on is getting as many people as possible working on getting the top priority store from in progress to done.  We typically have a pair sign up and work on a story until it’s complete.  If 3 pairs can all work on the same story to get it done faster, we should do that.  A sprint that ends with the top half of the stories finished is better than a sprint that ends with all of the stories 75% done.  The other big area that I want to try some changes is in the team standup meetings.  For now i’ll just say that the scrum masters are doing do much of the driving at the meetings.  Their role in the standup should essentially end with making sure everybody on the team has shown up.  More about that when I get back 🙂

I had another great session on Wednesday morning called “Coaching Agile Teams: Using Silent Work Techniques to Get to Astonishing Results”.  It was a very interactive session with a lot of activities.  I learned a number of techniques in this session on how to get a greater quantity of ideas out of brainstorming sessions about projects/products, as well as some ways to get much more innovative ideas.  Jesse and I are planning to run at least 2 workshops once we’re back based on the exercises I learned in this session.  I think it’s going to be very valuable for having the entire team feeling more involved in providing ideas that can help shape our roadmap and product decisions.  Jesse and I are both really excited about it.

In the afternoon I went to a couple sessions that didn’t produce too much worth writing about with one notable quote “There’s a big difference between half-assed and half done” referring to people’s natural tendency to prefer delivering something half done with a high level of detail over delivering something finished to a lower level of detail.

Today, thursday, is a bit slower.  It’s the last day of real sessions so everybody is starting to look burnt out (everybody at the conference including presenters).  I went to a session about Design Complexity this morning that was quite interesting.  I had a short debate with the speaker about building what you need instead of what you think you need, as she was advocating spending effort up front designing your implementation to be extensible in the way you think it will need to be extended at the time.  We agreed that if you know it’s going to be extended immediately after this isn’t necessarily bad to do, but we disagreed on if you only “think” it will be extended in that way, but had no plans to do so.

I later went to a session titled “Confessions of a Flow Junky” focused on helping create an environment where people can get in their “flow” to become really productive.  The speaker asked how many people have tried pairing and astonishingly half the room raised their hand, the speaker was pretty impressed.  Then he asked how many do it regularly, and only about half a dozen people put up their hand.  When he asked who know how pairing helps flow, I was the only person in the room with my hand up, so he asked how.  I told him “you feel obligated to the person beside you not to screw around” which had the desired result of everybody laughing, and the presenter agreeing, saying it’s one of the littlest known benefits of pairing.  I enjoyed the session, in particular because after the previous comment I had made, people were asking me questions at the end of the session about how we do things at Point2 and how I thought they could make improvements to what they do.

Networking at the conference so far has been great.  I’ve met a lot of cool people from all over the world.  I’ve met a few people from Ireland, a guy from Finland, a couple from France,  many from the US of course, and a surprising number of Canadians.  I actually happened to run in to a girl that I went to school with at Kelsey in Saskatoon that I haven’t seen since we graduated in 2000!  What are the odds?  I also happened to run in to one of the presenters that I met at PrairieDevCon in Regina this year and it sounds like I might get an opportunity to present at a conference in Winnipeg this October so i’m looking forward to finding out more about that. 

I wanted to post some pictures but uploading them over the hotel wireless hasn’t been working so that will have to wait for later. 

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Presenting at the Prairie Developer Conference June 2nd and 3rd

February 4, 2010 Comments off

The Prairie Developer Conference is the first of it’s kind in Saskatchewan, a 2 day event covering a wide range of topics including things such as cloud technologies, agile development practices, database performance tuning, etc. 

I submitted three proposals for sessions to the conference and two of them were accepted!

  • Agile Development Practices, brief introduction and how they help your business
  • Iterative Development, How it works, Why it works, Who it helps.

I’m very excited to get the chance to present on these topics to a reasonably large group of people from around my own area, as well as raising the profile of Point2 in Regina.

By: Chris D

Point2 Speaks at CIPS Luncheon

January 22, 2010 2 comments

Last Wednesday Point2 had the opportunity to speak at a CIPS (Canadian Information Processing Society) Saskatchewan luncheon hosted at the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan tower in Saskatoon. The topic that Joel Loewen, Melanie Cey, and I presented at their request was IT Recruitment Issues Unique to the Saskatoon Area.

Join Melanie, Joel and Hemant as they discuss their particular challenges and success factors. Hear how their shop differs from a typical IT support organization and what they are looking for when they hire IT professionals at Point2, and other HR challenges.

Once we arrived at PCS we had a chance to mingle with the thirty or so guests that were in attendance. It didn’t take long to realize we would be speaking to quite an eclectic bunch ranging from students to development managers to HR recruiters. After lunch was served it was time to get down to business.

Joel started it off with introductions and then handed it over to Melanie who gave a brief summary of Point2, discussing the evolution of the company over the last fourteen years. She gave an overview of the two major product lines in regards to heavy equipment and real estate, and the steady pace at which the company continues to grow.

I was next on the agenda and spoke about the unique development shop we have put together in Saskatoon. I briefly discussed how we used to develop software and why it had to change if we wanted to continue to be a progressive company. I got into the meat of my talk when I illustrated our move to Agile development practices including Scrum and XP, how we were starting to look at software development as a craft, our open work environment, and the culture of learning we have created by embracing professional development.

Joel followed up with a detailed look into the IT department. He spoke about the challenges we face as our business and data needs grow, and the complexities that we have to overcome by hosting our systems on-site. His explanation of our move to virtualization was eloquent and illustrated the level of expertise in our systems department.

The idea was to lay down the the unique technology environment that has emerged at Point2 before getting into the challenges it creates regarding hiring. This opened up about a forty-five minute question period around our recruitment process, our technology stack, and the Agile development practices that we have adopted.

All-in-all the presentation was well received and it was great to have a chance to highlight all of the great things that are happening at Point2. On behalf of Joel, Melanie and myself I would like to thank CIPS for inviting us to present at their luncheon. It was an honour to be involved in important discussions regarding the challenges that Saskatchewan based technology companies are facing.

By Hemant J. Naidu