Thursday, 24 July 2014
The scope of development in the software/IT field
While explaining Agile in a simple and straightforward manner, it can be best understood as a collection of project development methodologies and frameworks, of which any framework or methodology can be used in a successful manner to dynamically develop projects of almost any type and nature, including software development projects. The framework is based upon iterative and incremental development, in which self-organised and self-managing development teams understand, plan, and develop projects under the supervision of a project leader, and offer productivity in the form of short bursts of development cycles (iterative development) known as sprints. A unique feature of all Agile frameworks is that the development carried out by the team is “shippable” in nature i.e. the code developed during the product development cycle is independent, testable, verifiable, documentable, and ready for deployment after it is stringently checked for any “manufacturing” defects.
A second, highly important feature of Agile development is that individuals “owning” the project are closely linked with the approval of development carried out by the team. A particular “code” or “piece” of functionality is checked for regression after it is developed, and subsequently presented to the stakeholders and project owners. They ascertain the development carried out, and clear it as “OK” for future integration into the actual product. This leads to a successful development of software projects, since the management is always aware about what functionality is currently being developed by the team, and up to what extent it satisfies the project objectives. If the project owners feel the productivity offered by the team is not up-to-the-mark, or fails to satisfies them in terms of business value (how much important the code or functionality is from the market point of view, and how much it is worth from the financial point of view) offered by the functionality, they can reject the entire functionality and instruct the project manager to redevelop the particular script or code, based upon a new set of inputs and requirements recommended by them. This ensures that the software project always “maintains” its business value at all times, even while the product is being currently developed.
A third important feature of Agile framework is that all activities in the project are “time boxed”, and therefore, have to be completed within a predetermined time period. In an Agile project, each activity is time bound. All development related activities are “configured” to suit the unique project needs, and a duration “affixed” to them so they can be completed within a stipulated time. This ensures that the project does not “drag-on” and extend indefinitely. The development costs incurred while the project is being developed can be properly and “profitably” controlled, so that the project does not become “too” expensive and difficult to afford financially.
Agile framework differs drastically when compared to traditional linear or Waterfall methodology. In Agile, project development is carried out in short bursts of activities rather than in stages that have to be “completed” one after the other.
The main Agile features include:
· Cross-functional development teams consisting of developers, programmers, testers, QA personnel, technical writers, system analysts, etc. all work together as a single composite team through collaborative efforts, offer and share ideas, and help each other during the development process.
· Working in short, fast-paced development cycles, with focused objectives – Iterative development.
· Shippable productivity at the end of iterative development cycles – Incremental development. The functionality keeps on “growing” through development cycles until the entire application, system, or product is developed.
· Human communications and involvement takes precedence over management authority and delegation of work.
· Total transparency and visibility of the team progress to project owners, stakeholders, and end users.
· Feedback and suggestions help to self-correct and offer new ways and means to carry out quicker, more efficient, and reliable development.
An important feature of all Agile frameworks is that the frameworks are independent of the nature of project to be developed i.e. the framework is not dependent upon the platform or environment used to develop the particular software project. The architecture or design can vary, and could be anything. The important aspect is that an Agile framework has to be implemented in the project first, and its benefits availed subsequently. Please visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_software_development.
Scrum, briefly, is a “light weight” Agile framework, used extensively for developing and delivering “workable” software products, very often, and on a consistent basis. The software products can range from the development of new web processes and systems, gaming solutions, plugins, mobile apps, ecommerce websites, corporate portals, development of WordPress themes, RAD (Rapid Application Development) projects, OOPs (Object Oriented Programming) projects, CAD/CAM drafting solutions, port programming and configuration utilities, web development and platform interfacing solutions, etc. Scrum adheres to all Agile principles and features discussed above since the framework is “inherited” from Agile itself.
Scrum offers a new, and a better way of managing software projects. There are many technical reasons why Scrum is popular and why many Fortune 500 companies prefer to use the framework for their project development purposes. While being introduced to Agile Scrum, a question that inadvertently comes to one’s mind is why is Scrum so popular? Why is there so much “hype” about Scrum? Does Scrum offer a magic formula, which can work wonders for your project and software development? Why should an organisation that has been following a particular development methodology, and feels comfortable doing so, should change over to Scrum? There is a separate article which deals entirely with why you should opt for Scrum. The point is, this article focus upon explaining Scrum to individuals who are new to the topic, and have absolutely no idea what the framework is all about, and what it can “do” for you. Efforts have been made to explain that Agile Scrum is applicable to almost any kind of software development, and possesses certain features which make the framework very popular as well as “powerful”.
The actual Scrum process can prove to be difficult to understand, at first, for Scrum beginners. Even though Scrum implementation is not difficult, people need to understand and familiarize themselves about what is product increment, and how it actually occurs during the Scrum process. The second aspect is getting to know about Scrum events. The special meetings, known as “events” are important for monitoring the development activity, and analysing the reliability and effectiveness of the functionality developed by the team. They also help to solicit feedback from the team members as well as the project owners so that the business value of the project is not affected, and maintained at all times – even while the product is being developed. It is worthwhile to get an “overview” of the process first.
1. Project conception - An idea!
All projects, whether involving software development, or otherwise, start with an “idea”. Projects are developed out of needs. A project is planned to fulfil a particular requirement or achieve a certain objective. Moreover, each project results into “something” within a specific time frame – a project cannot extend indefinitely. It is important here to differentiate between a “project” and a “program”. Programs are generally long termed, and can even last for years, unlike projects which have a relatively short life span and last for a brief period, ranging from a couple of months to even a year.
Typically, a person, or a group of individuals realise it is worthwhile to put in efforts and resources, and develop “something” so that “another thing” can be easily fulfilled or availed. The “something” is the product, and the “another thing” is the solution that the project is supposed to provide. This stage of project development involves a lot of discussion and brain storming sessions, where the product is envisioned and “though over”.
Scrum does not figure during this stage. However, the vision seen by the project owners, can, or may, affect the manner in which Scrum is implemented in theproject, in the future. This is because the nature of product to be developed may require Scrum to be configured in a certain manner to obtain positive results from the project.
2. Project release – Getting started with the software project
Once the project is “thought about” the next logical step is to work out the nitty-gritty concerning the project dynamics – the objective of the project, the product definition, how the project should ideally deliver the product, in what manner, what should be the “strength” of the team, how many team members, etc.
Scrum development process does not come into the picture even during this stage. The documentation pertaining to the project is created and “everything” concerning the product to be developed is finalised – in black and white. Scrum does not advocate extensive documentation. You do not have to prepare detailed system flow diagrams and extensive design structures to get started with Scrum development. A basic idea will suffice, and you should only spend that much time and efforts which can get you “started” with the actual development activity. Just enough information and specifications to develop some of the most important product features.
The project release is attended by the “Product Owner” – the person who functions as a project manager in the Scrum project, the Scrum Master who overseas that Scrum is properly implemented and followed by the team while the project is being developed, and the stakeholders or project owners who actually sponsor the project.
3. Creating the product backlog (Product Features List) – Defining the product features and functionality
The Scrum development process starts with the creation of a master list containing all features and functionality required to create the product in totality. In simple terms, the entire product, currently existing on paper as “imagined” by the stakeholders and project owners, is “broken down” into its constituent parts, consisting of individual features and functionality. The product is thoughtfully, and systematically, broken down such that each individual component can be individually developed, tested, and eventually integrated with other software components or functionality developed by the team over the days. Individually developed features and functionality can eventually “give birth” to a working product when integrated or assembled later on.
Each individual feature or list item is known as a “Product Backlog Item” or a “user story” in simple language. Therefore, the product backlog or the master list is fundamentally composed of product backlog items or user stories. The user story represents a product feature, and is individually developed by the team members during the development process – the daily sprints. Each story can be minutely defined. The description, acceptance criteria (Points which need to be “fulfilled” or satisfied before which the story can be considered as successfully developed), its importance in the project, and the manner in which it is supposed to be integrated into the final product, etc. are mentioned for each user story.
Once the feature list is created, it is arranged depending upon the importance of each user story in the product backlog. Important user stories are arranged in the “top” portion of the list, lesser important stories in the middle, and the least important features and functionality in the bottom portion.
4. Sprint planning meeting – Planning how to develop the product features
The product backlog functions as the main “backbone” of all development related activities in Scrum. Once it is “developed” by the product owner and the stakeholders, the actual development activity can start. A special meeting known as a “Sprint Planning” meeting is held to initiate the development activity. The meeting is attended by the entire development team, in addition to the product owner “PO” and the scrum master “SM”.
The meeting is held in two parts. In the first part, the product owner selects some of the most important user stories or product features from the top of the product backlog, and transfers them to a temporary list known as a “Sprint Backlog” for development purpose. During the meeting, the product owner takes the opportunity to explain each user story in details to the team members – how user stories should be ideally developed, and what activities the team should carry out so that each story can be marked as successfully completed.
During the second half of the meeting, the development team analyses the sprint backlog and distributes each story to individual team members. In practise, the team members unanimously decide as to who should take up which story depending upon their development skills and experience levels. Simple and easily developable items are given to less experienced or “fresher” while difficult, or more complex stories are taken up for development by more experienced and senior programmers or developers.
5. The daily sprints – Developing the product features
This is the main area of activity in Scrum. The entire product is developed in “bits” and “pieces” through the daily sprint cycles. A sprint cycle is nothing but a collection of working or “development” days during which the team members actually sit in front of a PC and develop the functionality or product features. The sprint cycle is time boxed and should not extend its deadline.
Each item included in the sprint backlog during the sprint planning meeting should be developed while the sprint is currently underway. A brief meeting known as a “Daily Scrum Meeting” is held for a maximum of 15 minutes each day before the team members start with their work. The purpose of the meeting is to get an idea regarding how much work has been completed by each member the day before, and what each member proposes to do “today”. If a team member is facing any issues or problems, it can be mentioned during the meeting, and the scrum master will ensure that the issue is quickly resolved.
In Scrum, the daily sprints can typically last from 2 weeks up to a maximum of one month. The duration of the sprint is decided during the second stage - the project release - and it should not be extended under any circumstances - even if any of the user stories in the sprint backlog have not been developed, or whose development is incomplete.
6. Sprint review – Checking and verifying productivity (Is the development OK?)
Scrum emphasises upon the development of “shippable” functionality at the end of daily sprint cycle. Each user story developed during the daily sprint is checked by the product owner and verified for its reliability, acceptance levels, and whether it is “bug free”. In Scrum, it is very important to deliver error free features – each user story should be properly tested for any regression, and whether it satisfies the acceptance criteria linked with its development.
Just after the daily sprint cycle ends, a meeting is immediately held to review the development carried out by the team. It is important to differentiate between the daily sprints and the sprint cycle. The daily sprint is the development activity carried out by the entire team on one particular working day. Many such “daily sprints” combine to form the “Daily Sprint Cycle”, also known as the “product incremental cycle” in Agile. The meeting is held at the end of the product incremental cycle – the daily sprint cycle. It is primarily attended by the product owner, the scrum master, and the team members. It is not mandatory for the stakeholders to attend this meeting. They can chose to attend it if they so desire.
The main objective of this event, or rather the meeting, is to check whether the features have been developed by the team as per the production plan, and if the functionality has any “manufacturing” defects. Each feature should be fully tested for any flaws by the team before presenting it in this meeting. The product owner verifies if the feature is error free and checks if it satisfies the acceptance criteria linked with it. It is a kind of “final” check carried out before presenting the development to the stakeholders and the project owners in the subsequent sprint retrospective meeting. During the meeting, the product owner instructs the team how it can improve its working and offer even better productivity by employing more efficient programming practices and standards.
7. Sprint retrospective – Finalising product functionality and contemplating about further improvement
Agile Scrum advocates client participation. The client is a very important entity in Scrum, and has the final say as far as the development of product features is concerned. The Agile manifesto primarily stresses upon client participation and delivery of time bound product increments because these two aspects are very important for developing successful projects. A “satisfied” client often “comes back” to develop more projects since successful projects help the client to earn higher profit margins.
The retrospective provides an opportunity for the entire team to demonstrate its productivity in front of the stakeholders and clients. In addition to the product owner, scrum master, the development team, the meeting may also be attended by end users, technical staff personnel, vendors, distributors, and even other employees since the main purpose of the meeting is to avail feedback from individuals and entities closely linked with the market, and who have sound knowledge regarding what product features are likely to “score” in the market once the product is launched, and what can aid the product in “selling”.
The retrospective also offers a chance for the entire team as well as the client to reflect upon the development process, and discover what more could be done to make the product better. Discussions are carried out to ascertain the rate at which user stories are currently being developed by the team, and what new processes or methods need to be introduced to quicken the process.
Monday, 21 July 2014
What Should The Perfect And Ideal Daily Stand-Up Scrum Meeting Consist Of As Per The Official Scrum Guide?
The daily stand-up scrum meetings play a vital role in ascertaining that the development activity is carried out in a sustained manner. The meetings are usually time boxed to 5–15 minutes and are held standing up to remind people to keep the meeting short and to-the-point. Stand-up scrum meetings also help to find potential pitfalls experienced during ongoing sprints. It is important to know how the daily meetings are carried out, and what they should ideally consist of. On the basis of official scrum guide specified by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, the originators of scrum methodology, the article tries to explain in details about the daily scrum meetings.
· Who should attend the meeting?
Everyone associated with the scrum project should attend the meeting. It is important for the scrum master and the team members to remain present, while the product owner and stakeholders too can remain present if they desire to do so.
· What should be discussed during the meeting?
It is very important to remain focused and only discus about those topics which are directly related and associated with the sprint activity. The attendees should try not to wander off the main topic and discus about other trivia which are not pertaining to the scrum activity. In fact, the guide is specific about discussing topics which are directly connected to the sprint to be carried out during the particular day, even other topics dealing with the project, or project related issues should be avoided during the stand-up meetings. There are special provisions like the sprint retrospective meeting to discuss about such issues.The main topics to be included during the meeting should consist of:
- What tasks were accomplished during the sprint carried out the day before?
- Which tasks are to be developed today?
- Did the particular team member face any problems or impediments during the sprint implementation? If so, what were they?
· In what order should the discussions be carried out?
There is a lot of flexibility while deciding about the order in which the discussions can be carried out during the meeting. Team members can take turns in discussing about what they have achieved, and what they plan to do on the particular day. Alternatively, the scrum master may decide who should speak first and which team member should follow the discussion. A popular method is to take up discussions regarding important tasks first, followed by the order of priority. The order of discussion can vary from project to project, and from need to need.
· Where and when should the meetings be held?
The stand up meetings should be ideally held at the place of work, and in front of the task board. While they can be conducted almost everywhere, including conference rooms, holding the meetings in the actual place of work can help the team members to remain more focused and target oriented. The meetings should be held before the daily sprint is initiated.
· How to sustain the energy levels during the meetings?
The stand up meetings are also commonly referred to as “huddles” by many people, simply because each team member stands very close to the next one during the meeting. The scene is much similar to the scrum used in rugby. The proximity often encourages the team members to become proactively involved in the discussion. The energy levels start rising up as each team member briefly, and professionally, discusses and outlines his or her activity for that particular day. The meeting is to be held in such a manner that the “atmosphere” becomes charged up with anticipation, and each member focuses upon the goals he or she plans to achieve during the sprint carried out that day.
Monday, 14 July 2014
The primary objective of a sprint planningmeeting is to discuss and plan about what the development team intends to build or develop in the upcoming sprint, and how the individual members of the team are prepared to go about with their development activity. Though most experts refer it to as a “single” meeting, it is in fact segregated into two unique parts. The first part concentrates upon what the team is actually asked to build or develop, and is attended by the team members as well as the product owner. The second part of the meeting focuses upon how the team members will proceed with the actual development work. The team members are to mandatorily attend both the parts of the meeting, while the product owner is committed to attending the first part only. He or she can however attend the second part if he or she wishes to do so.
The first part of the sprint planning meeting
During the initial part of the meeting, the product owner has an opportunity to explain in depth about the set of user stories to be developed during the sprint. It is a rapid-fire type of discussion in which the product owner initially explains the user stories, and subsequently the team members start asking questions regarding the points they are not clear about. The product owner has many responsibilities and roles to play. The person represents the client’s interests, explains how the stories are to be linked up in the future, and keep tabs during the entire development activity carried out by the team members. The objective of the meeting is to provide enough information, or brief the team members regarding the development activity required so that each member can carry out his or her part without any confusions or problems.
The questions typically asked during this stage of the meeting are:
· What is the acceptance or “passing” criteria of all the stories?
· What kind of data sources need to be used? Where will the data originate from, and where will it go?
· How should the developed component look like once it is fully developed?
The second part of the sprint planning meeting
During the second part of the meeting, the team further analyses the user stories and focuses upon creating the sprint backlog which includes the user stories, or the set of requirements and functionality to be developed by the team members during the sprint. The team typically segregates the user stories into individual tasks, and links up, or associates each task with a certain time scale i.e. the duration in which the particular task is to be developed. Generally the tasks are planned to be completed on an hourly basis, however, the time period can be more depending upon the complexity and the levels of functionality to be incorporated into the given task. Another main objective of this part of the meeting is to accept the user stories as practical and “doable”, and to reject those stories which cannot be catered to, owning to various reasons.
The duration of the entire sprint planning meeting can range from two hours up to eight hours depending upon the number of user stories involved, and the levels of complexity. The rule of the thumb is to spend one hour of discussion for each week of sprint.
Thursday, 10 July 2014
User stories in scrum
A user story is the main functional unit in scrum methodology. When any project is taken up for development using scrum, the specific requirements for that particular project is stated by creating a set or development requirements, which are termed as user stories in scrum. Usually the product owner creates the product backlog – the list of requirements needed to develop the project. The product backlog items are referred to as user stories by scrum professionals. Once the product requirement list is created, a small set of the requirements (user stories) are transferred to the sprint backlog during the sprint planning meeting for development purposes. The stories are explained to the team members in the first half of the sprint planning meeting. During the second half, team members distribute the stories after breaking them down into development tasks. A sprint backlog is prepared in this way. Subsequently, the team starts developing the functionalities of the user stories during the daily sprint. In scrum, the entire project is governed on the basis of the user stories.
The official scrum guide does not attempt to provide a specific definition that can describe the “structure” of a particular user story. The guide actually explains what a user story is, and what part it is supposed to play in the project. It fails to provide a standard format which can explain as to how a user story should really look like. Maybe, the reason why the guide fails to provide a structural definition is because development requirements can vary from one particular project to another. So, it becomes difficult to standardize a specific format compatible to all types of projects. The guide, however, states that the user story should ideally be composed of three constituent parts, or include there main aspects:
1. A written description or a graphical representation of the entity which forms a part of the project
2. A detailed conversation, or an explanation which additionally describes the functionality in greater details
3. The acceptance criteria or “Done” meaning which specifies what the entity should include, how it should function, and the particular manner how it should migrate or integrate into the project
What should be considered while writing or creating user stories
While writing the user stories, certain points are important, and should be adhered to for the user stories to be effective and developmental:
· Stakeholders should create or write the user stories
The investors and the stakeholders are funding the project for financial gains. Each project has a financial value attached to it in terms of how much the project will be worth in the market. The stakeholders know which user stories are important, and which functionalities will increase the value of the project. Therefore, they are the ideal individuals to define and create the list of requirements or the user stories. The product owner carries out the work on their behalf, and represents their interests while the project is being implemented.
In the manual system, stories are written down on index or story cards specially designed for scrum. The scrum index cards are very convenient to work with, and are generally pinned on the scrum board while the sprint is underway. It is important to use a tool that is small in size, so it can be easily stored and pinned on the scrum board. It should be easily readable, simple to understand, and effective. The more simple and effective the tool is, the easier it would be for the team to understand and use it.
· Time to be allotted to the user story
Scrum advocates time bound activities. Each activity in scrum has a certain duration associated with it, and is “time boxed”. It is important not to exceed the time limit to get the most out of scrum. Each user story is allotted a certain duration within which its development should be completed. It is essential that each user story is completed in the time allotted to it since it has a certain importance value (story points) attached to it. The project turns out to be cost effective only when the right duration of time is allotted to each user story, and each story is completed in the time allotted to it. If the time limit is not allotted, the project becomes expensive and its ROI decreases.
· Describing and stating important non-functional aspects
Certain user stories need to be explained in further details so the team members can properly understand them. The user stories may be very important in terms of how they provide a solution for a particular end-user related requirement. They may or may not be technically complex, but it may be important for the team members to know what part the user stories are likely to play, and how much important they are as far as the overall project development is concerned. Such non-technical aspects of user stories should be explained properly so a better overview and understanding of the project related requirements is availed.
· Fixing the story priority
Each user story has a certain level of importance attached to it development. It is important to prioritize the user stories, so the correct time can be fixed for its development. Important user stories, or those which have more importance attached to their development, should be assigned a higher priority, and sufficient time should be allotted for completing them. On the other hand, less important stories ought to be assigned less time and priority because they do not carry much financial value with regards the functionality they offer. .