A recent meetup for Agile Ottawa focused on short presentations in the form of lightning talks. We had a number of excellent talks including: five reasons to do agile projects, lining up your units to help you be successful, applying code refactoring to improve your life, the importance of craftsmanship, and how different testing looks in the hardware and software worlds. I am a big proponent of big visible walls, so my lightning talk was a demonstration of how to build your wallboard using a roll of painter’s tape, a few stickies, and eight story cards.
Image via glowingembers.org
My time at Embotics has sadly come to an end. It was a decision that I wrestled with for a number of months before I could finally arrive at a decision that I was comfortable with. It was a classic example of a wicked problem: no experiments that can be run to help make the decision, no way to know afterwards that the decision is correct, no way to go back for a do-over.
At the end of the last release in December, we had our first FedEx Day with good results. One of the main pieces of feedback received was “Now what?”. Some of the things that people had worked on were very solid product ideas but needed more time to complete and integrate into the product.
Image by Yogendra174 via Flickr
For our 4.0 release, we experimented with shortening our iteration length and got some mixed interim results. At the retrospective to discuss our what we wanted to do with these observations for the next release, we talked about the positives, negatives, and related ideas about our ideal iteration length. The results were actually somewhat surprising.
Sometimes in a startup environment, the pressure to constantly deliver new features to support existing customers and potential leads can fill your entire working day and then some. However, when the team is fully utilized and committed to feature development, the lack of time can introduce some significant challenges that can only be addressed by slowing down and introducing some slack.
For release 4.0 of V-Commander, the team voted to change our iteration length from 3 weeks to 2 weeks. There were a number of reasons for running this experiment, including:
- addressing the slight lull that we experience in week 2
- reducing the length of planning sessions and having the ability to plan in shorter time frames
- introducing a change to shake out any issues that are hidden by 3-week iterations
Since I started working at Embotics in 2007, we have always used an iteration length of 3 weeks. I don’t know why three weeks was chosen, though I suspect it provided a convenient trade-off between the amount of planning required to track the project and the amount of knowledge about where the project was going. As we increased our level of agility, we continued to use 3 weeks since it worked for us.
I’ve been talking with a number of others in our community and doing a lot of reading and it seems like we are an outlier here. Almost everyone else appears to be operating on 1 and 2 week iterations. The The Wisdom of Crowds indicates that we may be missing out on something here.
I recently wrote about some planning that went into our first FedEx day. Now that we have run this experiment, it is time to share the results.
The day started in a slightly chaotic manner as we were completing our move from our old offices. However, we were able to quickly sort out some minor issues like power and get started more or less on time.
Atlassian recently ran the Ultimate Wallboard competition where individuals and companies were invited to send in pictures or videos and descriptions of wallboards that they use to make their lives and jobs easier. Embotics submitted our Scrum wall to this contest and came away with an honourable mention in the Old School category.
The timing of the contest was a little unfortunate for us as we were nearing the end of a release and simultaneously preparing for a release. As a result, I was only able to provide a little colour to our entry but now have the opportunity to elaborate on what our big visible board contains and how it evolved to its current shape.
The idea of introducing free time to explore ideas and foster innovation at work has a lot of appeal to me. Evidence from 3M, Google, Atlassian, and others suggests that many new product features and workplace improvements can be discovered if people are given some slack time to explore.
Coming off a difficult and demanding release, Embotics will be spending some time next week on our first FedEx day. The timing is great: the release is out the door, we are moving into our new office space, and everyone has a to-do list of things they thought about during the release but didn’t have time to investigate.