February 15, 2011

Scrum Fundamental: Measures of Progress

In my user stories blog post last week I claimed that problems on Scrum teams are often due to lack of knowledge about a Scrum fundamental. Today I’ll tackle the next item in my short-list of common problem areas:
  • measures of progress,
  • delivering value,
  • demos,
  • getting feedback,
  • keeping it working,
  • continuous integration,
  • and testing.
Yeah, so, that’s more than one item, but one kind of leads to the next.

Requirements and Design

One way, the traditional way, to try to build trust and understanding between a development team and the business or client is to spend a lot of time on designs, analysis, and wirefames. The problem is that it’s difficult to predict the future with much accuracy. You will likely miss details and misunderstand how the app will be used in practice. Requirements and priorities will change.

The agile prescription, therefore, is to not spend much time figuring out details for some story that you may never implement or that may change drastically in the ensuing months. Understand the stories at a high level. Get into development and begin delivering working software as soon as possible. Get feedback sooner and begin reaping the benefits of the software sooner.

Defer any decision and any work that can be deferred. You’ll be smarter next month, you’ll understand the system and the requirements better. Let the design speak to you, refactoring as you go.

This would be a good place to say something about lean and systems thinking and Pillar Technology’s “Business value over working software” appendage to the Agile Manifesto and about not building software when it would be better to redesign the system, without IT, then automate what makes sense. But that’s another whole post.

One good thing about working software is that you can have demos.


Favor demos over status reports. After completing each small story, demo it at least internally. Get to where you can have frequent (weekly or bi-weekly) demos to your clients/users. That early feedback is very important. This also holds staff accountable for quality, for “keep it working”, and for getting to done.

The demo isn’t for the Product Owner. Your Product Owner should have been involved with the team while the story was being implemented. Your Product Owner should have seen the story before the demo. There was an interesting discussion on the Agilistas LinkedIn group about who should do the demo, and why.

Keep it Working

Employ the “keep it working” principle. Build a usable system early on and keep it working continuously. The source in the version control system must always be usable. Set up an automated build/test process using a tool like CruiseControl, Cruise, or Hudson. Have it inform everyone when the build breaks. You should have a demoable product at all times. At the end of each iteration you should have a shippable product.

This requires automated testing. Pick a level with which to start coding test cases. Most often this is at the lowest level, unit tests. I recommend the xUnit framework or RSpec, but there are other good choices. [Hmmm. I feel compelled to say something about cucumber or BDD, but I intend this to be a fundamentals post. BDD ought to be fundamental, but it isn't as fundamental as this other stuff, particularly if I'm talking about Scrum. Admittedly, this post has left Scrum and is off in generic agile-land. But I digress.]

Sometimes, however, your methods are too large and have too many dependencies to be tested well at this level without first doing much refactoring. In those cases, automate your tests at a higher layer, then refactor and employ unit testing as you go. I’ve used Selenium and Rational Functional Tester for UI-based testing, but there are other choices out there. Working Effectively With Legacy Code by Michael Feathers comes highly recommended.

If you do a good job here, you’ll reduce the amount of manual testing you have to do. You can limit that to usability, break-the-box, and exploratory testing rather than regression testing.

Just a short word about testers. QA professionals think differently and approach testing in ways that developers do not. I like getting QA involved with the developers, pairing. I like getting development involved with anything that QA is taking the lead on automating. And I really like getting QA involved with the Product Owner to help define good stories and good acceptance criteria.

Parting Note

I almost abandoned this series of posts. There’s really nothing new here. I’ve said nothing better than it has been said before. I’ve just said it differently. Sometimes ‘different’ resonates with someone who hadn’t understood the way it was put to them before. So, I’ll press on with these posts. Unless I change my mind.

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