Elevating Agility: Things I learned at Mile High Agile 2015

I learned a lot at Mile High Agile last Friday. Here are some notes from sessions I attended. I never heard the for-sure count of attendees, for sure it was well over 700 people. The fun part was running into people I worked with 15, 20 or more years ago, I think pretty much the whole tech population of the Front Range was there.

Mike Cohn, keynote, “Let Go of Knowing: How holding on to your views may hold you back”.

I expected magnificence from Mike and I wasn’t disappointed! (I worked for Mike back in 2003-4 and have learned so much from him over the years. Plus, the books I’ve co-written with Janet Gregory are part of Mike’s Signature Series of books with Addison Wesley.)

It’s hard to sum Mike’s talk up briefly. One theme was “intellectual humility“, being able to say, “I think this is the best way to do X, but I could be wrong”. He talked about the Dunning-Kruger effect – the less we know, the less we think there is to know.” Lots of interesting studies around that which are worth looking up.

Mike pointed out that process != a list of rules, and encouraged everyone to avoid “brand loyalty”. Don’t go only for one “brand” of agile – Mike pointed out that though Scrum is his bread and butter, he is known for user stories and estimates, which both came from XP. Question assumptions, lose your grip on certainty. Too many of us aren’t as open-minded as we should be. When we’re willing to be wrong, we have a new path to growth.

Mike Clement, “The Quest for Continuous Delivery at PluralSight”

  • One of Mike’s main messages was that the whole project team needs to get involved in CD. Most of this wasn’t new to me: “you should be able to push a button and have confidence, get ideas to market quickly” – amen. “Source code control for ALL THE THINGS”.
  • Mike’s team strongly favors feature toggles over feature branches so that they’re integrating continually. They can conveniently toggle off in prod if there are problems, instead of rolling back.
  • They use TeamCity for CI and seem to like it.
  • They’ve ben using a homegrown deployment tool. Mike strongly advises against this. They’re switching to Octopus (they are a .Net shop).
  • They use alerts in New Relic. They’ve been able to get better monitoring and live testing with New Relic (my team does this too).
  • They embrace DevOps as a culture, not a role, tho their Ops team is separate from their Dev teams.
  • He likes saltstack for server management, they treat server management as code.
  • They use Cassandra database scheme to automate modifications.
  • Their staging environment is not enough like prod and they’re working on that.
  • The goal is immutable infrastructure and continuous deployment – they aren’t there yet but still working towards it.

Mike wrapped up with a picture of Picasso’s Don Quixote and quoted the lyrics of “the Impossible Dream” which seemed appropriate for our quest for CD! But hey, we just need donkeys, right?

Paul Rayner, “Lean UX: Want to get better at the Lean discipline of ‘Deliver Faster’?

Paul highly recommends Jeff Gothelf’s book and video course on LeanUX. Check out his review of the book.

  • agile + design thinking + Lean startup = Lean UX
  • “requirements don’t exist. What you really have are unvalidated assumptions”. Question what’s in your backlog. Ask why.
  • UX design is a call to action on the part of the user, for example, “next step”.
  • Use a MVP to validate learning. Five properties of MVP:
    • Clear and concise
    • Prioritize ruthlessly
    • Stay agile – if it’s not what you need, fix it. Inspect and adapt.
    • Measure behavior – a lot of people don’t do this.
    • Use a call-to-action. Just give user one thing to click on.

Chris Shinkle, “You Can’t Manage What You Can’t See”

Visuals let you communicate a lot of information quickly. Chris had pictures of how they manage all the jets and traffic on a huge aircraft carrier – on a big table with little models of all the planes and equipment that the person in charge moves around manually. It was pretty impressive. Here are some more points I noted:

  • Make sure everyone’s looking at the same information. Visuals lead to better decision making, shared understanding (he quoted Jeff Patton’s book that we just read in our book club).
  • Chris advocated simple, low overhead visuals, making progress visible to all, identifying impediments to progress.
  • His teams use a combination (physical) Kanban and Scrum board, it was pretty interesting. They don’t just have cards on the boards, also lots of pictures and drawings. They use little tricks such as a story card turned sideways to remind them to talk about it in the standup. He feels physical boards and other visuals help people feel connected.
  • Remote people have a “sticky buddy” in the office to move their cards/stickies for them. They try to get things out of computers and up on walls.
  • They do use electronic boards as well, for history and analytics. He said people grumble about keeping both a physical and online board up to date, but in truth it isn’t a big amount of time.
  • He recommended something by Arne Roock but I’m not sure if it was his book or what.

My own workshop, “Building Your Agile Testing Skill Sets”

I had a lot of people in my own workshop, “Build your agile testing skill sets“, and a good diversity of roles, about a third testers, a third developers, and the rest BAs, managers, ScrumMasters and the like.

I guess it was around 60 people. It was mostly group exercises, each group brainstorming about what skills testers need and teams need to succeed with testing, what specific skills their own teams are missing, and ideas for experiments to obtain the missing skills.

I was surprised that overall, the knowledge of testing was lower than I expected. There were some highly experienced expert practitioners, but many people seemed to be beginners at both testing and agile. A lot of people were in companies who have silo’ed “QA teams” and where testers were considered “second class citizens”.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the discussions and sharing of lots of interesting ideas. I hope they each got a couple of ideas to try for baby steps towards doing a better job of building quality in.

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