Mar 132009

Automattic’s Prologue looks to be a nice solution to a team “war room” for distributed teams.

A frequently-underestimated benefit of the team “war room” is how it enables emergent knowledge. If I mumble to myself (as I frequently do) “now why is Apache redirecting us there…?” someone is likely to mumble back “checked the root htaccess lately?” and perhaps my problem is solved. Great fun. Great help. But hard to achieve on a distributed/virtual team.Scrumming in the Skype Room

I’ve enabled this sort of behavior in virtual teams via wiki, and also via Twitter (thanks to Chris Spagnuolo for the idea). But Twitter doesn’t have the concept of a “room,” so setting one up for everyone on your team — and keeping it private — is a bit of a pain. And Twitter’s one-username-per-email means some annoying collisions.

Campfire and IRC also have their uses, but cost and security respectively might be a blocker for you. Skype’s “conference” is nice, with the added benefit that you can start a voice call/conference whenever you want. But everyone’s updates live in the Skype app, not on a web page. So if someone new joins the team, they don’t get benefit of reading the team’s history.

I think Prologue is just what I’ve been looking for:

  • installable on your own server
  • your updates to your team are saved on a web page (you could even incorporate the RSS into your team wiki somewhere)
  • flexible permission controls
  • familiar blogging-style interface

Check out the live demo or have a download.

May 242007

A colleague writes:

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been digging into links, blogs, forums using this term (Post-Agile)… Have you seen this term? Followed it’s discussions? Any comments?

…Pliant Software is another term that seems to be associating itself with Post-Agile…

I think the software world is sort of like a customer who has an idea of what they want or need, but can’t put it into words. But, and after several iterations of “Requirements Gathering”, has come out of the room with more terms and an RD that is better than it was at the start — but not perfect, yet!

(italics mine)

Yes, I have comments!

  1. I agree that the newness of agile has worn off, and the immediate benefits from it have been tapped dry by many.
  2. I’m annoyed at the PliantAlliance site’s claim for “a new way of thinking about developing software” — pliant sounds like adaptive to me, and Scrum has been saying this for a while.
  3. While the immediate benefits of agile have been tapped, the deeper benefits that can be realized by changing the way we collaboratively build product — not just the way developers write code — have a long way to go. Before we decide that “agile didn’t work,” I’d like to see more organizations actually practicing basic agile behaviour, and I’d like to see actual practices in use catch up to the huge body of literature describing deeper agile practices.

Good Software is a craft, like smithing or theatre. There was never a school that turned out expert blacksmiths; novices had to progress from apprentice to journeyman to master. The “Fame” school doesn’t promise its graduates fame, they have to go out and earn it through experience.

Good Software is the result of human thought — not just human labor — and is highly resistant to being made into a detailed process/algorithm, or body of knowledge.

Good Software is the result of collaboration. Social Science and more enlightened ways of interacting can help, but trying to describe them is missing the point.

I understand that post-Agilists see themselves as giving a name to an existing movement, rather than trying to create a new movement. But it smacks of picking a new name for your club because one member of your club is acting silly, and people are now making fun of you: you fragment the group, you tacitly approve of the bad behavior by distancing yourself from it rather than correcting it, and you spend too much time and energy on labels rather than action.

My friend’s point is right on: the SD world is like a user with a poor Requirements Doc, who “knows what they want, they just can’t describe it yet.” Trying to describe it, trying to codify it, is ulitimately a losing game and a waste of time — just like writing big RDs is a waste of time.

Build successful, adaptive teams who can make good, useful software, point to them and say “THAT is what Agile is.”

Apr 162006

Facilitators, has this happened to you?

You have a nice four-hour block for your working requirements / product planning / process re-engineering / whatever meeting. You allot a “generous” 30-minute chunk near the beginning for the definition of terms. You put a few domain-specific words up on a flipchart to get ideas flowing, point to the first term, and prompt the team:

“So, everybody, what is the definition of _______ ?”

(Two hours later…)

DefinitionsOne phrase is detailed to a precision that would satisfy most German engineers, the total number of terms to define has tripled — but none of them have been defined — and you have had to break up three near fist-fights.

A common vocabulary is important, but does it have to be this hard? I recently had a delightful experience which suggests that it does not.
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Apr 092006

I just got back from CITCON and am boiling over with the many wonderful stories, ideas, and concepts that were either sparked in my head or crammed in there by other attendees. Some highlights to dig into later:

  • the spontaneous co-invention by Brian Marick, Jason Huggins, and myself of “the affinity definition game” as an alternative way to capture team vocabulary
  • the lunch-table conversation about dev team members, Maslow’s Hierarchy, and the dangers of labelling non-conformist developers as “cowboys”
  • Jeffery Fredrick’s talk about training and education in agile methods, and the dissatisfaction expressed both by recent university graduates and by hiring managers at the poor emphasis on agile techniques in the academic world
  • the whole OpenSpaces format, and how asking a question could turn into the opportunity for a talk of my own

The one thing about the conference that really stood out for me, though, was the amount of — well, not exactly surprise at — but interest in the social aspect of software teams. Or, as expressed by one participant at the final wrap-up session: “I never realized how much psychology is involved in making software.”

I was both dismayed and gratified to hear this. Dismayed because as we like to say at 3Back, “software is product and product is produced by people,” so it makes sense to us that hardest remaining problems in software are about people.

But such talk was pretty New-Agey less than five years ago, so I’m gratified to see these topics getting more attention these days.

Mar 042003

The subject of leadership came up on an online forum today. After reading a lively dialogue, I came upon this bit of wisdom:

“a leader has to have the courage to say ‘this far, no further’ and be willing to act when the cause is just and it is the right thing to do.”

Well, of course a leader has to have courage, of course a leader has to be willing to act. We can take that as a given. I think the point that’s missing here is the distinction between two meanings of “leader.” It’s an important distinction and the second meaning is usually forgotten.

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Oct 032002
  • Creativity and innovation always builds on the past.
  • The past always tries to control the creativity that builds upon it.
  • Free societies enable the future by limiting this power of the past.
  • Ours is less and less a free society.

— Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law and founder of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, in his speech on Free Culture.