A Marketer’s Guide to Agile Development – Hello Cleveland! If You Can’t See Them, Is It Still Agile?

The scrum or stand-up meeting is a major part of Agile methodology.  Ideally, everyone works in the same area (called co-location), and talking in person is considered the most effective way to work.  In fact, face-to-face communication is considered so important to the effectiveness of the methodology, it has its own line in the Agile Manifesto: The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

But there’s a wrinkle – it’s estimated that over 25% of American workers now telecommute, and that’s increasing.  Others work in offices located states or even oceans away from their co-workers.   How does this new state of affairs affect the future of Agile methodology?

Well, the simple answer is that it makes it harder and potentially less effective.   The line actually refers to communication between the developers themselves, but business owners, SME’s, and other key players in a project are affected as well.  What are some ways around that?  

CONFERENCE CALLS –  If the scrum is truly 10-15 minutes long like it’s supposed to be, it isn’t so awful if it’s a conference call.   But the problem with conference calls is that they take sometimes take 10-15 minutes to start.   The conference bridge has a glitch that makes everyone sound like they’re speaking from the Field of Dreams cornfield (oddly, sometimes with the same dialogue).  The scrum master says “Who just joined?” eight times after eight beeps because we all know only rubes say their name when the Webex robo-facilitator asks you to.    You all wait a few minutes for the lead developer who it turns out is taking a personal day.  Her boss would have told you that, if he hadn’t overslept the 8am EST call because it’s 5am in Seattle and he got home from the Muse concert at 2:30.  Then you have to ask Monty the mouth-breather to put it on mute, IM Jerry to quit answering emails because his keyboard tapping is making the microphone cut out the first two words of everyone’s sentences, ask Sandy to mute as well because you just heard the last call for two US Airways flights as well as her Starbucks order….that’s the bad news.  The good news is that on a conference call, you can’t see the developers’ eye-rolling when the business people speak.

VIDEO-CONFERENCING

Ha!   Teleconferencing is a cruel hoax.   Remember how disappointed you felt when you were 15 and found out Bill Gates wouldn’t really send you $149 for forwarding that Microsoft email?   I feel that way every time someone suggests a teleconference.  People say it’s real, but no one you know has ever had it pay off.    Some still try.  This usually requires plugging, unplugging, replugging, stabbing the f8 key repeatedly, giving up and locating one of the two people in the whole company who know how to set up teleconference, the guy comes in and performs the A/V equivalent of alchemy and then tells them they just had to hit f8.  By that time, the office you’re trying to remote with has dispersed and the next meeting group is knocking on the window because they need the conference room.

Here are links to a couple of decent articles about the effect on Agile process when teams can’t be in the same place at the same time.  The consensus is that Agile can be done when co-workers aren’t together, but it’s just not quite as good as when they can smell each other’s coffee.  Or Red Bull.

http://www.smartagile.com/2007/11/agile-tips-when-co-location-is-not.html

http://news.oreilly.com/2008/08/is-telework-the-face-of-the-ag.html

A Marketer’s Guide to Agile Development – The Balance of Power Part 3

In Part 1, we had a marketer seemingly off his meds mistaking the development team for short order cooks.  In Part 2, we had a developer drunk on cowboy code, smugly delivering what marketing would have asked for if only they had his superior vision.

There could have been a third scenario where the hyperactive marketer and the arrogant developer were in the same scene, but that would be too divisive.   Here goes:

Marketer (played by Bette Midler):   Yo, Poindexter – this is not what we talked about.   This landing page looks like my ferret sicked up.  What the hell is this?

Harried Business Analyst (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman):  Okay guys….   Wait – you know what?  This is not going to end well.  Maybe I don’t want to be in this scene.  In fact,  I’m calling in sick from this scene. (exits)

Developer (played by Shia Lebeouf):   Your RHN was a little light on details, so it was necessary to iterate some continuous improvement on that bad boy.  

Marketer:   My RHN?

Developer:  Requirements on Hooter’s Napkin.

Marketer:   That napkin was so freakin’ agile, my friend  – and more documentation than I’ve ever seen come out of your shop.  But this call to action makes it look like we want them to renew their truck registration at the DMV.  THIS ISN’T WHAT I ORDERED – er, I mean wanted.  

Developer:  What you wanted didn’t match my vision of deep cool.   You said they had to be able to submit a webform on the page, and they can.   And preview all the products.  And personalize them with virtual logos they design on the fly. 

Marketer:  Customers don’t want that.  What makes you think my customers want that?

Developer:   Because it’s cool.  Deeply so.   Customers want cool.  It’s not our fault you blow into work every morning 30 minutes after scrum ends.  Non-attendance means acceptance.  No feedback means acceptance.  So does arguing with any code that’s already through QA.

Marketer:   What are you guys, the Borg?

Developer:  Hell, no.  The Borg was too centralized to be Agile.

Marketer:  Screw it, I don’t need you.  I’ll just have the agency build it.

“Us vs. Them” mentality exists in every business.  But maintaining and nurturing the chasm just isn’t – well, Agile.  I love this quote attributed to Alistair Cockburn, an original Agile Manifesto signatory: “Always remember, there is only us.”

A Marketer’s Guide to Agile Development – The Balance of Power Part 2

Non-Collaborative Agile is really an oxymoron – but here goes:
“Non-Collaborative Agile –  the Motion Picture”

Wary Marketer (played by Gary Shandling):   “So I’ve reviewed the prototype, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s not really what I thought we talked about…”

Harried Business Analyst (played by Michael Cera):    “Well yes, it looks like a few enhancements were made along the way…”

Wary Marketer:  “Enhancements?  Come on now.  The call to action is in the footer, and what’s with all those navigation bars, and…

Hotshot Developer (played by Russell Brand):    Step away from the waterfall, Abe Vigoda.  This is 2010, babe.  You marketing types just don’t get it, do you?    Agile empowers us to take your vision and make it into an even better vision.    We felt users wouldn’t want to see a web form right in their face on prime real estate.  So we moved it – and that is some badass Ajax slideshow right there above the fold, am I right sir?

Harried Business Analyst:   “Look, guys, why don’t we talk this through…

Hotshot Developer:   Not unless you can prove to us the original way was better.  What we did was a vast improvement over the requirements we got.  If marketing isn’t willing to embrace our process, I’m not sure what else we can do.

Wary Marketer:  “Hold on right there – this is my page supporting my campaign.  The call to action is –

Hotshot Developer:   Oops.  Later, dudes.  I’m late for my team-building exercise.

Stay tuned for  – The Balance of Power Part 3

A Marketer’s Guide to Agile Development – The Balance of Power Part 1

An old boss of mine used to have a small wooden plaque on his desk.   It said “JDI” – “Just Do It”.   Not in the Nike “you go, girl”, self-empowerment sense.    More in the “just because I’ve finished talking doesn’t mean you get a turn now” sense.   Anything short of “right away!” and he would silently nudge the plaque in your direction.   Good times, good times.   Marrying up that imperious client attitude up with Agile development would probably be a big mistake.   But here goes: Agile –  The Motion Picture”

Hotshot Marketer  (played by Alec Baldwin):   What up dawg?  Ding dong ding dong, yo!

Harried Business Analyst (played by Ben Stiller):  Dude, nobody talks like that anymore.   And you’re from, like, Duluth, aren’t you?   Anyway, what are we building today?

Hotshot Marketer:   “So here’s the logo – it’s going to go here, and you’re gonna make it blink and jump out of the frame and turn into rocket fire and then Yoda from Star Wars.  Or maybe smoke then Harry Potter.  Or those Top Gear guys – anyway, we’re still hammering out the talent rights, I’ll get back to you on that.    And be sure to code it in Flash, just to stick it to Steve Jobs on that iPad thing – you gotta get it done, too, ‘cause I already bought the media – and…

Harried Business Analyst:    Well, that’s a risk, we sort of have to nail down who’s jumping out of the frame if we’re going to finish…

Helpful Developer (played by Paul Rudd):   Hey, I have a suggestion – if we change just a few things, move this over here, let us handle the coding, we could gain the flexibility of…

Hotshot Marketer:   “Yeah, thanks bro, I’m totally not hearing that.  I want what I want.   Whose page?   My page.  Who’s the customer?  I’m the customer, right?   Whoa – I’m late for the links.   I got your requirements right here on this napkin – ignore the Hooters logo, of course.  Just do it, babe.”

A Marketer’s Guide to Agile Development – We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Meeting Minutes

I once read a blog post that said there shouldn’t be any meeting minutes in the world of Agile because:
1) the absence of minutes will force people to attend meetings
2) every moment a developer is forced to document is a lost opportunity to write code.
3) meeting minutes will undermine collaboration by – you guessed it – enabling people to miss meetings.

So if it weren’t for those pesky meeting notes, developers and business owners would go to the meetings instead of watching their kindergardener’s holiday plays, attending funerals, taking a sick day, going to the dentist, or waiting for AAA to fix the flat tire?
So, following that logic, you take them away, and folks willl straighten up and haul their sorry kid-applauding, condolence-spewing, virus-harboring, floss-neglecting, side-of-the-road-loafing asses to the scrum meeting where they belong. Assuming they don’t trip on the hubris on the way to the meeting room.

Come on now. Lighten up. People miss meetings. Eliminating meeting documentation doesn’t make it happen less often. It just magnifies the loss in productivity when it does happen.

But no one really reads them. Really? I just read some today because I had to – uh – miss a meeting. Plus, I wrote some meeting notes last week. That act prevented needing another meeting when a colleague was asked to present insights from that meeting to his boss. Would writing them on his hand be more Agile than having a brief, cohesive synopsis of what we discovered? There are wikis, Sharepoint, MeetingSense – it need not take more than a few minutes to document.

Scrums are supposed to be progress meetings, but they’re frequently more than that. Opinions are sought. Decisions are made. Commitments are pledged. They deserve to be quickly recorded. Don’t want to take the extra few minutes? How long is a “we need to get Brad up to speed” verbal briefing take out of a 15-minute scrum? How long does a call-and-response chorus of “but you said…”, “no, I believe I said” take to resolve?

Write it down already.

A Marketer’s Guide to Agile Development – “Welcome Changing Requirements?” Who Does That?

Yeah….maybe “welcome” is a strong word. Then what’s the right word? Tolerate? Humor? Laugh and point? If welcoming changing requirements, even late in development, is a key tenet of the Agile Manifesto, why does the marketing team feel about as welcome as Keith Olbermann at a Tea Party rally when they try to get changes done?
Here’s the thing. Say you’ve got a six-week release schedule. The backlog priority meeting was three weeks ago, and Release 5 is scheduled 3 weeks from now. You’re getting mucho static when you try to convince the development team that your new McGuyver Social Media functionality absolutely has to be part of Release 5. You say there’s three more weeks – plenty of time to squeeze the change into the schedule. They say they’ll get it into a future release. “So much for welcoming changing requirements!” you say.

But here’s their view. They’ve got to get Release 5 out, and the deadline for completed code is next Friday. And another tenet of Agile is to “deliver working software frequently”. So they keep working toward the sprint instead of implementing your change so they can make the delivery. That’s what their boss is grading them on. If your enhancement is important enough, it will get into the next sprint, right? So they’re not saying “no”, they’re just saying “yes, but later’. Right?

No. This ain’t your first time in the rodeo. You know that “we’ll include it in a future release” is the IT equivalent of “the check’s in the mail”, “I’ll fight for you in Washington” or “Facebook values your privacy”. You know that once the original version is coded, there will be zero interest in plucking the enhancement out of Backlog Purgatory. “Iron Man VII – Recycle or Die” will be in theatres before you see it implemented.

The problem isn’t one of process but of trust. Both Marketing and IT need to trust the standard of requirements and appropriate use of backlog.

Requirements are a funny thing in Agile. Some requirements, even in an Agile environment, still go “thump” when printed. Extreme Programming proponents say that a requirement should fit on an index card. Others have questioned the very nature and necessity of requirements. Consider this quote from Scott W. Ambler: “Is something really a requirement if it evolves over time? Is something really a requirement if it gets deprioritized and as a result never gets implemented? Is something really a requirement if it gets reorganized into smaller pieces and then only a subset of the pieces is implemented?”

Marketing and IT have to align their expectations. Whether requirements in your shop can fit into a single tweet, or they’re wav files in a database, or they’re printed, bound and given a Library of Congress number, figure out what’s method is right for the business and set realistic protocols on how change should happen within that method. If you don’t, this conflict will happen in every sprint. As for the backlog, its effect on the perception of requirements change will depend on its reputation. When a requirement goes there, is it considered bound for the bullpen or the showers? Fix the way the backlog is perceived and you’ll fix a lot of this conflict between marketers and developers.

Marketing Meets IT