I recently got the priviledge to listen to Alistair Cockburn talk to a small group at the VersionOne offices. He told the story about Kent Beck and how the idea of how the user story on notecards was born (I’ve read about this before, but it was great hearing it from Alistair). He talked about how the card was just that — a card with a title that reminded the developer and the target customer/user what they were building, maybe there were a few notes jotted down on the card. The narrative about the story wasn’t captured on the card — the details were verbally communicated because the developer and customer were all in close proximity of one another — they did this crazy thing, they simply walked down the hallway and talked.
In addition to this story, Alistair spoke about his experiences with a team that had development in Singapore and the business folks and architecture worked in the states. The company was having challenges with the team in Singapore at getting things done efficiently and, in some cases, getting things done right. It seemed like there was an inordinate amount of time that had to be spent on discussing requirements and getting questions worked out. The company decided to send some of the business and architect team members to Singapore to work out some improvements. When they did — the quality and productivity went up. When they returned, it took just a couple weeks before productivity slipped and all gains were lost. The reason for these results seems obvious — timezones, communication barriers, and not being able to have impromptu conversations can have a great impact on how well teams understand the requirements especially since a lot of conversations capture the specifics.
Hearing these two stories triggered some ideas in my head, and I thought — why can’t there be a simple formula we can use to gauge the amount of detail (words) we capture in a story to make it work. Through some hard work — I’ve now have that formula.
Here are some factors that I think go into figuring this out:
- Complexity – just how well does the team understand the story and how hard the team thinks it will be, either from experience or flat out guessing. Usually captured as story points.
- Difference in Timezones – the number of hours that separate us greatly impacts how fast communications can happen, especially if the communications occur near the bookend points of the day.
- Auditing Requirements – audits are generally costly and require an additional amount of documentation overhead.
- Multiple Offices – when people are in different buildings, it raises the amount of details that have to be captured.
- Offices on Different Continents – although this somewhat relates to timezones, there is also the fact that people speak different languages. Even if they all agree to use english as the primary business language, there’s still slang, accents, and even cultural differences that impact communications.
How Long the Team has Worked Together – knowing each other is key, we figure out accents, we are able to exchange less verbal words, and we learn how to work with one another — what level of information is required to work effectively as a team.
So I reached out to some friends and the folks at Tagri Tech, and with their help — here’s the formula we came up with:
Amount of Words in Story = (Complexity * (1+ max absolute difference between timezones) * (1 + # of annual audits) * (Total # of locations * # of continents)) / (# of quarters the team has worked together)
And here’s the formula in action:
Multiple simulations have been ran and I found that the formula works in less than 0.01% of the situations. The people I’ve been working with at Tagri Tech’s statistics analysis department have ascertained that every team is different, and every product is different — this means that no matter how much documentation you have — the people involved in creating the documentation or the target consumer of the documentation really are not going to read it. They found that while some documentation like compliance reporting and end user documentation are necessary, much of the collaboration level docs are only consumed by the person that created it.
Ultimately, Teams will generally work together to figure out how much details are truly required to facilitate working effectively. If your teams are having challenges with how much documentation is required within Agile Software Development projects, then please come to Agile 2014 and check out my session on Friday at 9AM in the Sanibel room, we’ll talk about some ways teams can workout their own formula.
My dog Mocha has a great tail — her fur is fawn colored and her tail has a white tip. My wife and I call Mocha’s tail the Happiness Meter. You see, you can tell how Mocha feels based on what her tail is doing. She has multiple wagging patterns:
Every morning, when I wake up — Mocha is there with her tail going in the helicopter pattern. Yes, this means that she is extremely happy to simply be waking up to another day. She does this every day — to her every day is the BEST DAY EVER. The one thing to know about Mocha is that she’s getting older, she definitely has stiffness in her joints, she has a bum knee, and she suffers from bouts of mild pancreatitis. Even if Mocha went to bed not feeling well or wakes up stiff — her outlook is always, this is going to be the BEST DAY EVER.
We’ve all heard of the power of positive thinking — heck, there’s probably a couple hundred books on Amazon written about or referring to the power of positivity. But since we are humans, it’s difficult to squelch down the trials and tribulations of day. In the software development world, we talk about “the death march.” This is that project that drags on, is considered a failure before the first user even sees it, the one where the management tells folks to work on the weekend, the one where for every bug fixed someone finds two more. If you work in information technology, then you’ve been on one of these projects.
Now since you are reading an Agile blog, you are probably waiting for the Agile Punchline or to hear about the Agile Secret Sauce to help over come the challenges of these projects. Well, the reality is that Agile generally will expose problems earlier and maybe make you realize that this project is going to be painful and heading for certain doom. We hope that we course correct or try something different, but sometimes we are simply just in a bad place and cannot get out of the rut.
So while working on these projects, people come dragging in for another day of drudgery. Another day of running on the hamster wheel and not getting anywhere. Another day that the project is dragging us down — in fact, today just may end up as the worst day ever.
Remember, today didn’t start out as the worst day ever, it started as the BEST DAY EVER.
- Today is the day that no matter what happens we will find something positive and see how today is better than yesterday.
- Today we will find that our small failure is just that, a small failure — and we learn from it, and have a piece of knowledge that we didn’t have yesterday.
- Today is the day that we celebrate finding defects, because those are defects our customers did not find.
- Today is the day that we find joy in having to refactor some old crappy code, because we know that when the next developer visits that code — they’ll get to enjoy changing it, not dreading the fact that they are likely to break something.
- Today is the day that we move one day closer to getting the project out the door.
- Today is a great day to laugh with a coworker.
- Today we admire what has been accomplished versus what is remains.
- Today is going to be the BEST DAY EVER.
And if you don’t believe me, just ask Mocha.
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Agile teams can get totally fried in the wrong culture. So be sure you are not only addressing the practices around agile, but the people and culture are just as important. Read about Behavior and Cultural impacts on making good stuff, especially with Agile Teams.