SEMAT

Alpha State Cards in Practice: Experiences from an Agile Trainer

Having had the opportunity to incorporate the Alpha State Cards within some recent training classes I have been delighted to see the enthusiastic reaction they receive. The cards are great at bringing what can sometimes be complex and difficult concepts to life and making them of real practical value to people.

In each Agile training class I deliver now, I use the cards to support an exercise that challenges the groups to determine the current status of a sample software development project. In the discussions afterwards, the groups have consistently reported:

  • They were really impressed on how the cards enabled more effective team communication and collaboration
  • The cards demonstrated in both a tangible and visual way that significant progress was being made, as the Alpha State Cards made it quick and easy to cut through the “noise” to the heart of what mattered
  • The whole experience showed how quick it was to come to a useful conclusion and each group found it an enjoyable way to work

When asked how the cards might support other team activities the feedback included the following:

  • The cards offer a great set of objectives to assist with task identification, task planning and  prioritization activities
  • The states on the card provide a basis for simplifying governance objectives and evaluation criteria, as well as making the whole process leaner
  • Revisiting the card abacus during iteration reviews to demonstrate iteration progress from a state perspective
  • They recognize the ability for the cards to advance and retreat along the abacus, to reflect significant change impacting one or more Alphas

I get a lot of satisfaction from using the cards in these courses as they really act to break down the barriers early in the course by helping the attendees to relax and to build their confidence working collaboratively together. They also gain a sense of experiencing something not only new, but highly effective too, and something they can easily apply back on their own projects to add value and improve ways of working.

For me as a trainer and coach, the cards significantly contribute towards an enhanced learning experience, and in so doing, increase the knowledge retention for the key learning points. The bottom line is it’s best to use the cards in a group situation to truly appreciate their value.

The Alpha State Cards, games and further guidance is available here if you want to try them yourself.

Also there is now a Alpha State Card LinkedIn group which is a great place to share ideas & ask questions about using the cards.

Balancing Agility with Governance

Balancing Agility with GovernanceIt’s not often that I get the opportunity to help facilitate at an agile conference, but yesterday I did just that. I had the pleasure of helping Ian Spence deliver his session at RallyON 2013 in London. The theme of the session was about balancing the goals of agility with the need for governance, compliance and standards.

Most of us by now are familiar with the agile manifesto, and how it states “while we value the things on the right, we value the things on the left more” i.e. individuals and interactions are more valuable than processes and tools, but there is still some value in the latter. The point of the session was that we need to achieve a balance between agility and other things like governance, compliance and standards – things which are very often thought of as conflicting with agile and therefore “the enemy”! This is especially true in large organisations. But people whose job is to implement governance regimes, ensure compliance, and that standards are followed, are also people – people that agile development teams need to interact with.

Anyway, theory over, it was time to play some games – card games to be precise. Ian introduced Alpha State Cards, a simple tool for understanding project health and progress, by focusing on underlying performance indicators – indicators that are essential to all software endeavors regardless of method, process, life-cycle or practices being followed.

We only played a couple of these games: the first was using the cards to understand the state of an example project, the second to determine the required state of key project indicators before a team would be ready to start sprinting. But it was enough to see that a simple lightweight card-based approach could be a useful addition to one's agile toolkit, and help facilitate conversations between different stakeholders in an entirely method-neutral manner.

Ian then showed us how, using the cards to create checkpoints, a lean and lightweight governance model can be quickly constructed: one that is based on objective outcomes, rather than documentation.

The games, and the cards, are both available here if you want to try them out.

Making the Next Wave in the Agile World – Finding the Kernel of Software Engineering

The 6th annual Agile China was held in Beijing from September 1 – 3, 2011. Agile China is a summit of agile world enthusiasts gathering in China. For the past five years, it’s attracted world-class agile experts, such as Martin Fowler, Kent Beck, Dave Thomas, James Grenning, and Mary Poppendieck et al, and tens of  thousands of attendees across China and overseas. It represents the highest level of development and adoption of agile development in China.

This year’s conference proved to be another successful event. The three-day event was packed by some 700 attendees. The conference was opened by Mr. Wang Jun, General Secretary of China System and Software Process Improvement Association, the host of the conference, and keynote by Linda Rising, the authour of “Fearless Change”, followed by parallel sessions on agile training camp, agile new trend, and agile testing and quality control. People gathered to share their experience and to explore new ideas and  trends. The conference atmosphere was full of energy and excitement. Particularly, I truly enjoyed the free style of discussions and presentations – in a real agile spirit. Read More

Semat – moving forward by Ivar Jacobson

Semat moving forward

During the last many months I have been very silent, but not inactive. I have been very active working with a dozen other people on moving Semat forward.  You will soon hear a lot more from us, but I would already now like to give you a quick update on the progress.

As you may recall, the Grand Vision of Semat was to re-found software engineering based on a widely agreed upon kernel representing the essence of software engineering.  The kernel would include elements covering societal and technical needs that support the concerns of industry, academia and practitioners.

The troika (Bertrand, Richard and I) were pleased, honored and gratified to find that in a short period of time, a dozen corporate and academic organizations, and some 3 dozen well-known individuals from the field of software engineering and computer science, became signatories to support the vision.  In addition, more than 1400 other supporters agreed to the call.

In November 2010, the troika agreed that we would move the work on the kernel to OMG (Object Management Group) to get the proper governance we needed.  Since then we have been working in three different but overlapping groups on three tasks:

Moving the development of the kernel to OMG.

In order to move the work to OMG, OMG first needed to submit a request for proposal (RFP).  A couple of people from Semat have worked together with a couple of OMG members to specify an RFP for what now is called 'A domain-specific language and a kernel of essentials for software engineering.’  Early December 2010, an early version of this RFP was presented to the Analysis and Design Task Force of OMG in Santa Clara. It was very well received.  Several other OMG members have now joined us to work on the RFP, which will be published within a few weeks.  March 21-24 the RFP will be discussed at an OMG meeting in Arlington/Washington DC.  We hope and expect it to be approved, and thus the work on proposals can start.  Anyone can submit a proposal, and so we will too.

Our proposal to a kernel

Semat itself will of course not give a proposal to the RFP, but key players are now working together to continue the work we started within Semat.  There is one team lead, Paul MacMahon, who along with 12-15 participants will now continue the work in a couple of tracks.  The idea of doing architectural spikes is continued.  The plan is still to be able to deliver something that can be used by the industry by April 1.  Personally, I think the work has slowed down because of the work with OMG and the continued work on Semat, which I will describe next.  However, we will deliver something of interest and also of value in a couple of months.

The kernel is just a first step in the Grand Vision of Semat.  However, much more work needs to be done.

Even if the development of the kernel now has been moved under the OMG’s umbrella, Semat still has a lot of work to do. We need for example to:

  • be a demanding “customer” of OMG, making sure that as a community, we get what we want,
  • support the community in its effort to get reusable practices,
  • move the work to the academic community to inspire the development of new curricula and useful research.

Thus, a vision for the next couple of years is needed.  A team of 8 people have been working for more than a month to develop a proposal for a Three Year Vision of Semat. This proposed vision should be published within a couple of weeks.  We will focus on what impact we expect to have on three key user groups: the practitioner, the industry and the academia.  The impact should be measurable and not just hand-waving.  How we will work to get the results specified in the vision will be discussed separately.  First we want to agree on where we want to go.

As I am sure you understand, working to ensure that the vision of Semat becomes reality is a challenging task to say the least.  However, it is one well worth the effort.  Please join us.

Model Storming by Ivar Jacobson

Model StormingLast week, I attended a workshop of a new initiative in software engineering (SEMAT see www.semat.org). This was the first real f2f meeting we've had. 28 people attended the workshop and one session with around 12 people were working on developing more detailed objectives of the entire initiative.

To develop the objectives we appointed a facilitator. He suggested that we make a usage model for the Semat initiative. But for this blog, what we modeled is not so important. It is the principles that are important. We built up the model on a large bulletin board using yellow, rectangular post-it stickers. A usage was like a use case or a user story.  Long side up for usages. Short side up for users outside the system. These were in essence all the instructions we got.

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