Sunday, September 09, 2012

Splitting User Stories vs. Rally's "split" feature (that has nothing to do with it!)


I recently came across a "split" feature in the popular Agile tool Rally that they recommend to handle unfinished work.
Below are my observations on the "Split" feature in Rally (following by a few excellent articles on Splitting User Stories):

This has numerous problems:

1. Nothing to do with Splitting User Stories
It has nothing to do with "Splitting a User Story" which is an advanced but fairly well-understood field in Agile, and a tool for Product Managers to use in one of the two scenarios:
  • The Product Manager does it before an Iteration commences (i.e. during backlog creation or release planning) to create User Stories by business value that are right-sized, i.e. they can be comfortably implemented inside an iteration;
  • The Product Manager does it in Iteration Planning or in the middle of an Iteration to reduce scope by removing/simplifying acceptance criteria, in response to the actual progress of the team or other factors (including external factors).
2. A clumsy accounting gimmick
The "Split" feature in Rally is a misnomer that has nothing to do with the elegant and valuable technique of Splitting User Stories Agile teams use to deliver valuable product functionality iteratively. The Rally "Split" is a clumsy "accounting" tool (and a bad one at that), meant to attach value artificially to completed tasks and incomplete User Stories! It has nothing to do with splitting a user story intelligently by a Product Manager for business value.

3. Not doing User Stories anymore 
Even if the goal is to do this so called "split" merely for accounting reasons, there are several problems with it:
  • You could be double counting the points! Some teams gets double the credit for a User Story when it doesn't finish it in an Iteration.
  • You're not doing User Stories any more. You just have two shells that wrap two groups of related tasks.
  • It establishes a bad precedent, incentivizes bad behavior and does not challenge a team to get better:  
4. Why bother with: 
  • Spending time & effort thinking your User Stories through
  • making them follow the INVEST principle
  • keeping them small enough so that they can be DONE within an iteration
  • pushing the envelope on how far you can take your "Definition of DONE" (from Dev complete to Live in Production - and beyond)
  • responding intelligently to change in business or realities of a team's velocity
- when you can simply chop a story at the end of the iteration with one button click AND get credit for tasks completed (waterfall anyone?) that don't deliver any business value AND get double points for the User Story when it does get completed!

NOW, here are some really good articles and sources for good ways to Split User Stories:

1.       How you'll probably learn to split features
http://www.jbrains.ca/permalink/how-youll-probably-learn-to-split-features

2.       Ways to split User Stories - the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
http://lassekoskela.com/thoughts/7/ways-to-split-user-stories/

3.       Patterns for Splitting User Stories
http://www.richardlawrence.info/2009/10/28/patterns-for-splitting-user-stories

Agile Project/Engineering/Product/Organization

I just came across a very good article on achieving Agile proficiency.

True Agile proficiency requires a radically different way of managing Projects, Engineering, Products, & Organizations.

Agile methods sometimes get a bad rap ironically because of the huge growth in their popularity and adoption. To meet the demand, a lot of organizations hire "Agile Coaches" and "certified" practitioners who are recycled Consultants & Project Managers from the world of waterfall and PMP and have merely re-branded themselves instead of truly reinventing themselves.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Lean Startup

The following are my initial thoughts on "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries - before I had read the book. I have read the book since then, and will post a detailed review later.

I'm the founder of Agile Entrepreneurs. I started Agile Entrepreneurs in 2006 to share my lessons -failures more than successes, but also successes built upon those failures - with my fellow bootstrapping entrepreneurs. We had a few initial hiccups, we really got going in 2007, and over the next several years, nearly every Friday evening I sat in a room with a variety of entrepreneurs with only one thing in common - they were all bootstrapping founders of hi-tech startups building products. None of them had anything more than a polite interest in each others' companies, but they were all bound by empathy for each other - they were bound by our motto: "Make Your Own Mistakes, Learn From Mine". I had - and have - plenty of lessons to share, the two most fundamental of them being: (a) Go talk to your customer before you build anything (a.k.a. don't waste time raising and spending money); and (b) apply Agile principles for Product Management, Engineering & Project Management.

A few years later when people started talking about the "Lean Startup" movement, "Minimum Viable Product", "Customer Development", and "Demo Day", and "Bootstrapping" became sexy again, I sensed that entrepreneurship had gone mainstream. In fact, it has proven to be worse (or better, depending on how you view it), it has become a fad, it has itself become the "product" of this new "dotcom" era ... where money is cheap and engineers are expensive and launching a startup is easier than getting a job.

So, I can't agree more with this review of "The Lean Startup" on Amazon. Because "Lean Startup" offers nothing new to those of us who have learned all this by experience and experienced this through common sense; yet it is great packaging and a useful vocabulary - if you want to sell these self-evident lessons to the enterprise which has lost touch with the ground realities of customers and users.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Keep Fear Alive! Or Restore Sanity!

As I became more and more familiar with the politics and rhetoric in the US - and its history, I'm beginning to realize that none of this is new. But that's part of the greatness of the system in the US. In spite of its flaws and ...the mean-spiritedness of various people and parties involved, this country keeps making progress overall, over a sufficiently long period - about 10 years.

The society and the political system has had the resilience and character to overcome any challenge it has faced. On the flip side, nostalgia can often be misleading- there is no such thing as the "good old days". Things were almost always worse in the past.

Here's one thing that absolutely symbolizes what I'm talking about:
http://www.RallyToRestoreSanity.com/
And of course, this:
http://www.KeepFearAlive.com/

Uniquely American responses to American problems!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

No Legal or Official Reason to Trust the Rating Agencies

I had posted this on my facebook wall some time ago, which is not easy to search through nor is it well-suited for blog-size posts. Hence reproducing here as the information is eye-opening.

“they’re winning because this is not a level playing field.”


The Ratings agencies (Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch):

1. have NO duty to be correct.
...'the companies didn’t owe ... a “duty” — a legal obligation that could form the basis of a negligence claim'

2. have NO shared responsibility.
'judges have rejected the idea that the rating agencies worked so closely with the investment banks that they were essentially co-underwriters'

3. are NOT experts
'a regulation exempts rating agencies from the definition of “experts” who can be sued'

4. have NO conflict of interest - because you already know about it!
'it has been around so long and is so widely known that it isn’t a cause of action'

5. are merely expressing OPINIONS
'their grades are just opinions about the future'

6. are protected by the First Amendment
"and therefore entitled to robust First Amendment protections, like those afforded journalists'

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Redistributing power to the people

Reporter: What do you think of western civilization?
Mahatma Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea.
What Gandhi once said tongue-in-cheek, you can say also about American Democracy today.
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."

-Louis D. Brandeis, US Supreme Court Justice from 1916 to 1939.
I agree - except I would substitute "power" for "wealth".
Balance of power is a desirable goal in itself. That's what Democracy is about. But concentration of wealth is not a problem in itself; it becomes a problem when it's part of a system that enriches a few who exploit the many to get rich, get elected, to get away with committing crimes (white collar or not).

In other words, it's about the power imbalance that comes with money - not money itself. An ideal democracy wouldn't have this problem.

I don't care how rich the richest get. I do care how the average people and the poor fare in the society. The solution though is to empower them to succeed *and* protect them from abuses by the rich & powerful - not to redistribute wealth.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mariage Insurance

I have often spoken with my friends about a business plan to sell "marriage insurance". It would make getting a divorce as automatic and simple as getting your car insurance company to handle a collision claim. It would also focus on making getting married at least as difficult as getting a driving license (indicative of knowing the rules & having the minimum qualification) and as much a responsibility to maintain in good standing as a car insurance policy (indicative of a good "record".)

In other words, we need to educate and counsel couples before they get married - and periodically during it - rather than what's common practice today, doing it when a marriage is already troubled and couples are more likely to fail at it and divorce rather than successfully work it out.

The idea is to give people who choose to marry the tools to increase the chances of making their marriages work, and likewise allow them the dignity of a quick & relatively painless divorce.

A recent New York Times article article quotes latest studies that effectively make the medical case for my "marriage insurance" - it gives some fascinating insights on how the physical health of people gets affected based on whether they remain single, if they get married whether they remain in a good or bad marriage, and whether they get divorced.

Here are some of the quotes I found most revealing:

troubled relationships ... can leave a person far less healthy than if he or she had never married at all.
single people who have never married have better health than those who married and then divorced.
women in unhappy relationships and the women who remained emotionally hung up on their ex-husbands had decidedly weaker immune responses than the women who were in happier relationships (or were happily out of them).
couples in troubled marriages appear to be more susceptible to illness than happier couples.
couples should first work to repair a troubled relationship and learn to fight without hostility and derision. But if staying married means living amid constant acrimony, from the point of view of your health, “you’re better off out of it”.
people who had divorced or been widowed had worse health problems than men and women who had been single their entire lives.
women ... who were at highest risk for signs of heart disease were those whose marital battles lacked any signs of warmth;  men were at risk, however, when their marital spats turned into battles for control
Some suggestions for a "healthy" marriage from the couple whose studies produced most of the above results- and who themselves have a successful 30 year marriage:

taking time off together and making sure their disagreements don’t degenerate into personal attacks
use those moments of stress as an opportunity to repair the relationship rather than to damage it

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sehwag going down the Ganguly way

I wish I had written this 3 weeks ago; actually I wish someone with influence over Virender Sehwag had.

Being a huge Sehwag fan and of Gambhir to a lesser extent, I cannot understand what possessed Delhi/Gambhir to break up Sehwag-Gambhir opening pair that won them so many matches in IPL, leave alone the small matter that it's the best opening combination in the world today and in the history of Indian cricket in all three forms of the game.

They deserved to lose today for not acknowledging & addressing this problem in time - they have had enough failures at the top to know.

That said, Sehwag has to take personal responsibility and grow up. It is great that he has all this talent, mental strength & unselfish attitude, but he has to understand that it's all about winning - not just about not believing "in wasting balls" as he said recently. 

Also, asked about his tendency to get out playing risky shots, he correctly pointed out that a risky shot for someone else may be less risky for him- and vice-versa (and also that a defensive stroke may sometimes be more risky than an attacking shot). Yet even granting him all that, he still has a responsibility - in the interest of helping his team win - to curb "risky shots" by his own definition of a "risky" shot.

And he most definitely can do that - he has a role model in MS Dhoni who has done precisely that. Dhoni is an equally aggressive & mentally strong player with lesser talent, but has come through more often when his team has needed him by showing greater maturity & willingness to calibrate his batting style to the match situation.

That last bit about match situation and personal contribution should be ringing alarm bells for Sehwag, his well-wishers, and all of us who know how his contribution can change the outcome of almost any game.  Sehwag seems to have lost his desire to contribute to wins through his own batting, especially in the limited-overs formats - shades of what brought his mentor, Saurav Ganguly down.

It's about time for Sehwag to chuck Ganguly to the dustbin of history and instead look to the man who replaced him for inspiration- MS Dhoni. Otherwise, he may find himself going down the same path of ignominious ending to his T20 & ODI careers.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Agile Entrepreneurs do it by Osmosis

Entrepreneurs learn best by Osmosis

We need role models we can emulate.
Entrepreneurs we can relate to in Scale, Time, and Context.

Scale

We need people who have succeeded at what we're attempting, but not to such an extent that there's a daunting chasm between us.

It's easier to see how we can emulate the success of a peer than that of Steve Jobs.

Time

The success has to be recent for it to be relevant. - because everything changes: technology, market, consumers, investors, the economy.

Many of my advisors who were successful entrepreneurs over a decade ago are now relearning these lessons themselves, - the hard way, while pursuing their next startups.

Context

If the success is derived from a context foreign to us, it's hard to see how we can emulate that.

Factors contributing to success are often either downplayed or exaggerated, for effect. You need to know the story behind the story.

Don't get me wrong- I'm sure some of you will figure out the right lessons to learn at the right time, and eventually succeed.

But for many of us, it's really about the hard grind - day to day, week to week, month after month, for years together. Before you know, it's been 2 years since you started - with not much to show for it.

Persistence is good, but it means nothing if you're not making reasonable progress. I speak from the experience of spending a decade amongst bootstrapping entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley:

And that's why Agile Entrepreneurs was created - to help entrepreneurs learn from each other. Osmosis formalizes & facilitates this learning process in a structured way.

Each week
  1. We pick a Topic that's narrowly scoped
  2. Invite a Role Model (AE member or outside entrepreneur) to speak
  3. Entrepreneur shares their experience
  4. We discuss the relevance of their experience to our situation
This last part is what makes Osmosis - and Agile Entrepreneurs - really stand out as an effective tool to minimize the risk of failure and increase the probability of your success.

Sample Topics:
  • Selling your company
  • Getting a Co-Founder
  • Product Management - Going from Requirements to Launch
  • User Acquisition
  • User Growth
  • Monetizing your users
  • Getting your first reference customer
  • Getting money out of closing your first major customer deal
  • Managing cash flow - staying positive
  • Marketing - SEO
  • .. the list is endless

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Do Something

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing" -Edmund Burke

"Well then, do something, don't just complain about it" - You

Obama did something - he ran against evil, against history - and triumphed!
He gave everyone all over the world *HOPE* - and he delivered.
By winning. By "doing something about it".

People on the side of "the evil" should be eating crow. All others - including the silent majority - can "do something". Rejoice in the "triumph of good".

And Peace.
.

Is the world upside down?

Is the world upside down?
It's a topsy-turvy world out there!