So How’s the Big Agile Working So Far?

I’ve been working in this large agile setting (28 Scrum teams, 2 week sprints, 4 production releases per year) about 6 weeks now. It has confirmed my past experiences that success depends on having good people, and letting them do their best work.

In this short time, my 5-person team (3 programmers, 2 testers) has implemented a CI and build process in Hudson, which build our code as well as the full product, runs our automated unit and FitNesse/SWAT tests, deploys to our sandboxes, and reports results. We’ve finished several stories. We’ve had one sprint review, which went well. We’ve shaved a lot of yaks, which is to be expected for a new team and new employees (especially yours truly. The combination of telecommuting and lack of Windows and network expertise isn’t good). We work in pairs and trios, and stay in constant communication via Skype, chat, webcam and shared desktops.

Something new to me is having to depend on other teams for certain tasks. If we need something added to the database, we have to put a request into Jira and wait, though the turnaround is fairly quick. In order to get data changes into our own environments, we sometimes have to do a db refresh process that can take hours. We even had to wait a few days for another team to provide the new error message we needed. Before we can get final approval from our PO on a story, we have to request that the official company-wide build be deployed on one of our environments. I was frustrated by this, but we seem to be adjusting our rythym so that we fill in the delays with productive work.

To give you an idea what my job is like now, here’s a typical day in my work life:

Before 8:00 AM Mountain time – Get on group chat with rest of team. I’m the last one on – 3 are on Eastern time, and 1 is just faster at getting to work than I am.

8:00 AM – Attend Scrum of Scrums by conference call. This consists of general news that affects all teams, such a build problems, and polling each of 28 teams for impediments. It’s usually over in 10 minutes, amazingly.

8:15 – Join Skype call and webcam videos with rest of team. Pair with fellow tester (Chris McMahon) to write automated GUI/functional tests in FitNesse/Skype. We use VNC to share desktops.

9:30 – Standup meeting. We have an app that brings up a photo of “The Usual Suspects” with our heads on random bodies. I look good with a tattoo.

9:45 -10:00 – Watch the developers work on some unit tests, using LiveMeeting to see their desktop.

10:00 – 11:30 – Catch up on emails, maintenance tasks, and the like, and eat lunch.

11:30 – we’re all back on Skype, chat, webcam and desktop sharing.

11:30 – 12:00 One of the developers helps me with an issue I’m having with my local test environment, using VNC to take control of my desktop.

12:00 – 12:30 We discuss our acceptance tests with the PO. The other teams he works with put acceptance tests in spreadsheets and attach them to the story “card” in Jira. We are writing the acceptance tests together in sprint planning, in BDD style, directly onto the FitNesse wiki pages where we’ll also write the automated tests. Then Chris and I automate the tests. The PO is fine with our approach, he can easily understand the tests, and has found some test cases that we missed. However he’s concerned that we’re deviating from the “standard”. So far, nobody has objected to our writing tests in the FitNesse wiki, and it works so well for us, we’re going to continue.

12:30 – 1:30 Pair with Chris again to update the narrative acceptance tests for the stories based on the PO’s input, and write additional automated tests.

1:30 – 3:00  The database change needed for the story the developers finished yesterday is ready. Chris and I update our local databases, deploy the new code, run the FitNesse/SWAT tests, and do exploratory testing of the new functionality. Whenever we run across an issue, we show it to the developers using VNC desktop sharing.

3:00 – 5:00 Everyone else is done at 3:00, so I’m on my own. I update the wiki with notes about how to use the system that allows us to add test users. Then I do some additional exploratory testing on the story we worked on earlier. Next, I look into a problem we were having in a SWAT test. I had emailed the internal user group about it, and had some responses with suggestions to try. I’m able to get this working, and check the test in. I make sure our task board is up to date.

As time goes by, I spend less time on things like getting my environment working or solving network problems, and more time doing productive work. I’m also starting an internal company testing community, so we can all share ideas. My teammates and I are blogging internally about how we are writing and designing tests, and how we’ve implemented our CI and build process. We hope the ideas that work for us will spread to other teams, and we’re also looking at what other teams to and adopting their good ideas.

So far, so good!

4 comments on “So How’s the Big Agile Working So Far?

  1. Sorry, yes, PO = Product Owner.

    Shaving yaks, I confess, it’s a term I keep seeing on twitter that I take to mean, doing drudge work that just has to get done so you can do the interesting stuff. Such as – setting up your tools, test environments, networks and the like.

  2. So when do you eat lunch, and do you using VNC for that too?

    Where can I find an app that rotates heads? Sounds like a way to make stand ups more fun.

    A lot teams, wow. Can’t imagine what that is like. How long has the company been using distributed teams? Are they all distributed? Need any distributed SMs? 😉

  3. lol, we take a break from VNC/Skype/IM for lunch.

    Will send you the pgm to do the Usual Suspects.

    There are a few distributed teams. One consists of all remote people. One guy (I think he might be the SM) lives in Mexico and comes once a month. They’ve been doing this a long time – one SM has worked remotely for 13 years, long before they started doing Scrum!

    Each team chooses its own SM, so the SM is someone already on the team, a developer or tester. I’m not wild about that, I think a SM can be more effective if she doesn’t have a stake in the outcome of any conflicts or religious discussions. But I guess it has its efficiencies. I’m not a very good SM, I must say!

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