SUNNYVALE, Calif., Oct. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Spansion Inc. (NYSE: CODE), a global leader in embedded systems, today added 96 new products to the Spansion® FM4 Family of flexible microcontrollers (MCUs). Based on the ARM® Cortex®-M4F core, the new MCUs boast a 200 MHz operating frequency and support a diverse set of on-chip peripherals for enhanced human machine interfaces (HMIs) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The rich set of periphera...
|By Jesse Randall Warden||
|April 15, 2009 01:00 PM EDT||
Five weeks ago, I started a project with Enablus, a firm that works with mainly startups to build products. I loathe service work, and love product work, so am really glad to be working with them. Even better, they are only 30 minutes from my house. I don’t really need to go more than 2 to 3 times a week, but I like how close they are when I do. One thing that struck me in the initial project discussions was that Enablus was really big on process and lingo. Darrell Ross, the project manager and partner I’m working with, although hard to read initially, still showed signs of uneasiness when I didn’t give him the answers he was wanting to hear in the initial discussions. For example:
“Do you utilize Continuous Integration?”
“Uh… what the hell is that?”
“You know, everyone on the team checking in code into a source control system every day, utilizing Test Driven Development practices, automating your builds, etc.”
We’d constantly go through this. He’d ask a serious question like, “Do you utilize OOP and an software framework(s)?” and I’d respond with some cynical response questioning the merits of when OOP and frameworks are applied, or what I did and did not like about a particular framework, and how I don’t always officially follow their implementations… never really answering his question and thus not giving him confidence. I was constantly amazed at how structured Darrell made things sound, and he probably wondering how the hell a positive impression of “Jesse Warden” was formed in his head in the first place based on the answers I was giving him.
In all instances, we’d discuss the details of my responses, and he seemed to get the details he needed, feel better, and move on. Too ease his stress, I opened up and said that I’ve never really worked in places that were above a Level 3, and even those I felt never followed the processes he was mentioning, specifically Waterfall or Agile development, to the letter. Later in my consulting and contracting career, I had moved to using some concepts of Agile such as iterative development, and having builds of the software regularly on a schedule (usually weekly) even if the client didn’t need one for weeks or months. It had nothing but positive ramifications in the long run, so I stuck with what worked and saw other successful people doing similar things. It’s really a simple process (my version): Have a build working by Friday, every Friday.
I’m not sure Darrell believed me that everywhere I’ve worked, whether full-time or consulting/contracting, did not use a standardize process such as Agile. Maybe it did and I just wasn’t privy to the details? Again, I never cared till this year. Either way, nothing sounded as strict and defined as Darrell made it sound as he described the Agile process to me. Hence the point of this series of posts.
I’ve never been interested software development processes. To me, it’s always been more important to be really good at the 3 main things that count: knowing your platform, knowing your tools, and knowing the language you code in. The better you know those 3 things, the more capable you’ll be at developing software, helping those on your team develop software, and thus ensure your team will be successful. As Dave Wolfe has said, it takes a village; a great team can ensure success. Whether the project actually succeeds isn’t really up to the software team at that point; hence the second rule to the “8 of 10 software projects fail” is “9 out of 10 are perceived as failures”. Even if you create an awesome piece of software, management, stakeholders, and/or clients can still perceive it as failing.
As I’ve found throughout my career, there have been more pressing issues than “process”, such as:
- getting the dang design comps
- making a workflow where fonts will compile on both machines (Mac and PC)
- coming to a consnsus with team members on how the framework you are using should be implemented
- finding out what the heck we are building really is
- finding out how the heck what we are building really works
- resolving source control issues
There are tons of other things, but each has the capacity to reach fire drill status, and thus become a major time sink and productivity killer. As you know, losing time is the LAST thing you want to have happen in software development.
It also depends on the type of work. Working with Design Agencies, there was no process. Not because Agencies are dumb, but rather because the project timelines Agencies have are typically significantly shorter than traditional software or product development. On average, 2 weeks vs. 4 months. While a deadline can stretch to 4 months, you only work 10 man days on it, and of those 10, 5 are done initially, and the other 5 are done over the course of 2 or 3 months on client changes. In short, if you have 5 days to complete a complicated coding project, you’re more focused on getting things done than you are worrying about encapsulation, continuous integration, and frameworks. Writing code on day 1, and wondering who in the heck has time for UML and test cases. Agencies are deadline driven, whereas in software development, nothing is ever on time.
In consulting, you’re typically working within the constraints of your client’s company. It can go down two different ways. Either you get treated like a service shop, and requirements are thrown over the wall, and you complete how you see fit. Otherwise, you integrate with an existing team, and work within their processes, trying to improve them where you can. Contracting is usually the same way, although, you usually have little to no say in the process.
Even including regular work (W2 at a software shop), all instances can significantly have their chances of success improved through skill. If you’re skillful in the aforementioned 3 areas (platform, tools, language), it doesn’t matter how screwed up things are; you can always depend on skill to make or break a project.
…or so I thought. Going back to the 2nd rule of software development, “9 out of 10 software projects are perceived as failures”, I started to have more of the second rule happening vs. the first. In those projects, more of my time would be spent doing non-software things, like pitching a tent in the project manager’s office, discussing details with stakeholders, drilling sales on what they were really trying to accomplish, etc. In the end, trying to define success to ensure my team and I weren’t setup to fail from the beginning. Being setup to fail, yet having a team with mad skill, results in you months later outside the office smiling on your umpteenth beer regaling all in the pimp architecture you created that never did, nor will, see the light of day. Creating awesomeness with no result is extremely more frustrating than flat out failing. The positive to failing is you can learn from it. Failing, even though technically you succeeded, is just straight ridiculous, and it was at those points I started to become more interested in the software development process. I realized I needed to find a team who knew all these processes I’d read about on the internet blogs.
Enablus is one of those teams. They clearly know Agile, as far as I know it 5 weeks in.
I got Darrell to explain how Agile, specifically the Scrum part, works. This is my paraphrased, and re-interpreted version of our discussions, and my working with the process for a few weeks. If you have a good idea, do market research to ensure it’ll sell, then you just need a good team to execute it. The execution on the software side for product development utilizes an Agile approach.
The Agile approach, for the engineer, starts by defining “User Stories”. User stories are a set of sentences that describe what the user experiences while using the software. These can be derived from the wireframes; design comps aren’t a requirement. A user story can be expressed like so:
Login: User inputs Username and Password and clicks “Start Application”. Login is validated. For all other login instances, the Dashboard is displayed.
Notice there is no implied technology or design construction details. The user story merely describes what the user see’s, what interactions the do, and what the results of those interactions are. That same user story could apply to Flash, Silverlight, AJAX, PHP, etc. It’s technology agnostic; the point here is to document a user experience to ensure we’ve captured it well enough to be understood, and thus executed upon. The same goes for design. It doesn’t say “2 text input fields for username and password, with bold headings to the left, aligned center”. It’s left up to the interpretation of the designer to execute that user story, and hopefully provide direction for the GUI programmer through design comps assuming the user stories were derived from the wireframes, and not the design comps.
Notice also, it’s not a “feature”. It doesn’t say, “The user can login”. That leaves things massively open to interpretation, and solves no business value even if the feature is “completed”. As we all know, not all logins are the same. Documenting features, and executing them is one of the number one ways to be setup to fail, and is also one the main reasons Waterfall doesn’t work. If a software spec says, “The user must be able to log into the system”, but doesn’t describe registration, single sign-on, error scenarios, and how it’s supposed to look, you’ll end up with software that the client doesn’t like.
Some user stories are extremely high level. These are sometimes called meta-stories because they actually encompass a wide array of smaller user stories. Describing a login scenario can have a multitude of smaller user stories within it such as “user is presented with an error dialogue stating that they must first activate their account via the confirmation email before gaining access to the entire application’s feature set”. The level of detail only matters in so much as to make sense to the designer and engineer executing it. If a user story encompasses weeks of coding, it’s probably a meta-story and should be broken down into more manageable user stories that are easily defined, and more easily tackled in a reasonable time frame. What’s reasonable and doable is different for each team.
You create user stories for your entire application. What does, rather what SHOULD, the user be able to see, do, and experience?
These user stories go into a “Backlog”. This backlog is a list of all the user stories, say 50… or a hundred. How many user stories you have are irrelevant. What’s important is that they are all documented in one place called the Backlog. You need to ensure all of the user stories are valid with the stake holders. It also helps to go over them with your entire team to ensure they make sense to everyone involved.
As you move through your project, you may find you’ll need more user stories to account for things you didn’t think about, or for additions/modifications to existing user stories. You then just add them to the back log. It’s normal for a backlog to grow during a project life cycle. However, you do not have to complete the entire backlog to complete the project. A lot of times, the stakeholders will make a business decision that 40 of the 60 user stories is enough to have a great product, and say “ship it”. That’s one of the key benefits to Agile is that you have working software throughout the project, and at anytime can make the determination of when it’s “done”… or is just a version 1.
Once your done with your backlog, you then have your team go through and assign points to each user story. To do that, you need a Point System. A point system is defining a metric for “how challenging something is”. In simple terms, a 1 is easy and a 5 is hard. It doesn’t have to be 1 through 5; it could be 1 through 10 or whatever. It’s best if they are numeric values because you use the points to measure a variety of statistics about your project. Additionally, each team may have their own definitions of what is challenging. While it’s best to use the same 1-whatever metric for the client and server team, the server team will most likely think creating a new server-side method a “1-easy” whereas a client developer a “5-hard”.
Once you’ve defined your point system and gained consensus amongst the team, you then go and assign a point value to each user story. This in essense gives each user story a “value”; how many points a user story worth. If you have multiple team members working on different parts of the system, say server-side and client side, you then have a point value added to each, such as “2 - mostly easy” for the server-side portion and “3 - doable” for the client side portion. The combined value gives the value of the user story, in this case 5.
From these point values, the project manager can then go back to the client, and ask, “With 20 points, what features do you wish to have completed in the first Sprint?”
The client can “purchase” user stories using those 20 points. A Sprint, which I elaborate on below, is an uninteruppted time period in which your team works on completing their assigned user stories. You make a guess in Sprint #1 on how many points your team can complete per Sprint. As time goes on, you start to see a pattern emerge of how many points per Sprint is the team completing. The client and managers can use this metric for planning and resource purposes. You can forecast, somewhat, how many Sprints you have to do to complete 60 points worth of features, and when you’ll have them completed. The chosen user stories that the client purchased are what your team is working on in Sprint #1.
Assigning points is a very important step for the engineering team. You typically don’t change point values mid-project, only assinging points to modified user stories or new user stories.
As I mentioned, Sprints are a period of time that your team works on their assigned user stories. A sprint is however long your team decides it should be to get a working build with the user stories assigned. This could be one week, two, or a month. My current team is using 2 week cycles. It’s important to note the “uniteruppted” part. The client and project manager won’t interject user stories mid-sprint, nor modify your work load. Basically, they don’t bother you. This allows your team to focus on the task at hand, prevent fire drills, and stay productive.
In the examples provided, your team has 2 weeks to complete 20 points worth of user stories. Now, a sprint isn’t just, say 10 days of straight working. You usually have 3 special days. The first day is the kick off. You determine the user stories you and your team members will tackle. A couple days before the last is your “merge day”. It’s when everyone merges the code together from their different branches (or you just make sure trunk works if not using branches, more on that later) to get an idea of where the build is at, and where your team is at with their user stories. This is a final checkpoint before…. the UAT. UAT stands for user acceptance testing and in this case, it’s going over the final working build. Your team collectively goes over each user story, and identify if the build satisfies the user story or not.
As I said, our sprints are 2 weeks in length. The first Monday is spent confirming what user stories are in the current sprint and who’s working on them. We try to work in our own personal branches so the 2nd Wednesday is “Merge Day”, where I take any branches I and my teammate have, merge into trunk, and work out the kinks. We make a mad dash the rest of Wednesday and all of Thursday to finish our remaining user stories, or fix issues with existing ones, or just the build in general. Again, over the course of a sprint, you can start to get a group average of how many points your team is capable of doing in a sprint.
We’ve been using a shared Google Spreadsheet with each Sprint’s user stories in its own tab. We collaboratively use this all the time for reference.
We have a call everyday at 1 pm EST / 10 am PST. Our server-side time + client is out west in Cali, and our Flex team + UX + designer + project manager + rest of the team for other areas is east in Atlanta. We each go around talking about what we completed yesterday, this morning, and what we plan on going the rest of the day. We also cite any roadblocks or issues, and if that involves another team member, we just schedule a separate call, or time to talk over IM, with that specific person. This results in our calls usually lasting 5 minutes each day. I’ve heard of other projects at Enablus having their daily standup lasting longer than 5 minutes, but our team is pretty focused; we know what we need to do.
The majority of my road blocks involve a web service not working like expected suddenly, or questions for the designer on how a part of the design comp is supposed to work. Most of these I just solve on my own by calling the team member outside of the meeting time.
Pros & Cons
There you have it, what Agile is based on what I’ve been told and experienced so far. So how’s it working out so far? Here are the pro’s and con’s for this first entry in the series. I’ll elaborate in future articles, but here’s the quick rundown.
- I’ve never been this stressed in the first two weeks of a project before.
- coding with a “git-r-done” mentality; fast and furious. Not everything has to be uber-architected.
- each developer has their own branches; this makes checkins & merges a lot easier and less stressful
- It’s nice to have something real after just 2 weeks. Gives a great feeling of validation very quickly
- a lot of re-factoring
- creating new user stories later can break older ones
- merge day is stressful
- “need to see it working”; the desire to see working functionality before important functionality decisions can be made isn’t solved
In conclusion, I really like Agile methodology that we’re using so far as it allows me to code some things extremely fast and not have to worry about uber-architecting it. I just have to get it working which I’m good at doing quickly. For the things that matter, I can spend an allocated time which I feel good about doing because I can more easily see over time which areas deserve architecture and which ones do not. The merge day is extremely stressful, but overall I like having an allocated day for it and using separate branches which prevent daily SVN drama.
I’ve never been this stressed in the first two weeks of a project before. The typical scenario is you get excited, and can’t wait to dive in. It’s a happy feeling filled with anticipation. Then, as the deadline approaches, you steadily get stressed out and things become less fun, albeit extremely frustrating. This isn’t always the case, but I’ve continually expected fun in the beginning, stress at the end.
It’s been really nice to be stressed at the beginning; this has implied to me the project won’t be so traditionally bipolar. The same thing happened to my mood once I capped myself at 2 cups of coffee a day. Think of it, you have 2 weeks to create working software; ready, GO! That’s insane, and really cool at the same time. What could you do in 2 weeks? It’s really nice to know that even after just 2 weeks of work on a 4 month (ish) long project, even the first 2 weeks will produce something valid and working.
Stay tuned for #2 in the Agile Chronicles series where I elaborate on the re-factoring challenges.
Oct. 21, 2014 08:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,289
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, will discuss how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
Oct. 21, 2014 06:30 PM EDT Reads: 845
SYS-CON Events announced today that Aria Systems, the recurring revenue expert, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Aria Systems helps leading businesses connect their customers with the products and services they love. Industry leaders like Pitney Bowes, Experian, AAA NCNU, VMware, HootSuite and many others choose Aria to power their recurring revenue business and deliver exceptional experiences to their customers.
Oct. 21, 2014 06:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,066
Oct. 21, 2014 05:15 PM EDT Reads: 1,079
The Internet of Things (IoT) is making everything it touches smarter – smart devices, smart cars and smart cities. And lucky us, we’re just beginning to reap the benefits as we work toward a networked society. However, this technology-driven innovation is impacting more than just individuals. The IoT has an environmental impact as well, which brings us to the theme of this month’s #IoTuesday Twitter chat. The ability to remove inefficiencies through connected objects is driving change throughout every sector, including waste management. BigBelly Solar, located just outside of Boston, is trans...
Oct. 21, 2014 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,452
SYS-CON Events announced today that Matrix.org has been named “Silver Sponsor” of Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Matrix is an ambitious new open standard for open, distributed, real-time communication over IP. It defines a new approach for interoperable Instant Messaging and VoIP based on pragmatic HTTP APIs and WebRTC, and provides open source reference implementations to showcase and bootstrap the new standard. Our focus is on simplicity, security, and supporting the fullest feature set.
Oct. 20, 2014 11:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,208
Predicted by Gartner to add $1.9 trillion to the global economy by 2020, the Internet of Everything (IoE) is based on the idea that devices, systems and services will connect in simple, transparent ways, enabling seamless interactions among devices across brands and sectors. As this vision unfolds, it is clear that no single company can accomplish the level of interoperability required to support the horizontal aspects of the IoE. The AllSeen Alliance, announced in December 2013, was formed with the goal to advance IoE adoption and innovation in the connected home, healthcare, education, aut...
Oct. 20, 2014 11:15 PM EDT Reads: 1,656
SYS-CON Events announced today that Red Hat, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Red Hat is the world's leading provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Red Hat also offers award-winning support, training, and consulting services. As the connective hub in a global network of enterprises, partners, a...
Oct. 20, 2014 09:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,216
The only place to be June 9-11 is Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo 2015 East at the Javits Center in New York City. Join us there as delegates from all over the world come to listen to and engage with speakers & sponsors from the leading Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data companies. Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo are the leading events covering the booming market of Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data for the enterprise. Speakers from all over the world will be hand-picked for their ability to explore the economic strategies that utility/cloud computing provides. Whether public, private, or in a hybrid form, clo...
Oct. 20, 2014 07:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,937
Software AG helps organizations transform into Digital Enterprises, so they can differentiate from competitors and better engage customers, partners and employees. Using the Software AG Suite, companies can close the gap between business and IT to create digital systems of differentiation that drive front-line agility. We offer four on-ramps to the Digital Enterprise: alignment through collaborative process analysis; transformation through portfolio management; agility through process automation and integration; and visibility through intelligent business operations and big data.
Oct. 20, 2014 03:45 PM EDT Reads: 1,661
The Transparent Cloud-computing Consortium (abbreviation: T-Cloud Consortium) will conduct research activities into changes in the computing model as a result of collaboration between "device" and "cloud" and the creation of new value and markets through organic data processing High speed and high quality networks, and dramatic improvements in computer processing capabilities, have greatly changed the nature of applications and made the storing and processing of data on the network commonplace.
Oct. 20, 2014 02:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,651
Be Among the First 100 to Attend & Receive a Smart Beacon. The Physical Web is an open web project within the Chrome team at Google. Scott Jenson leads a team that is working to leverage the scalability and openness of the web to talk to smart devices. The Physical Web uses bluetooth low energy beacons to broadcast an URL wirelessly using an open protocol. Nearby devices can find all URLs in the room, rank them and let the user pick one from a list. Each device is, in effect, a gateway to a web page. This unlocks entirely new use cases so devices can offer tiny bits of information or simple i...
Oct. 20, 2014 02:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,765
Things are being built upon cloud foundations to transform organizations. This CEO Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Roger Strukhoff, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo conference chair, will address the big issues involving these technologies and, more important, the results they will achieve. How important are public, private, and hybrid cloud to the enterprise? How does one define Big Data? And how is the IoT tying all this together?
Oct. 20, 2014 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,643
Oct. 20, 2014 12:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,852
TechCrunch reported that "Berlin-based relayr, maker of the WunderBar, an Internet of Things (IoT) hardware dev kit which resembles a chunky chocolate bar, has closed a $2.3 million seed round, from unnamed U.S. and Switzerland-based investors. The startup had previously raised a €250,000 friend and family round, and had been on track to close a €500,000 seed earlier this year — but received a higher funding offer from a different set of investors, which is the $2.3M round it’s reporting."
Oct. 20, 2014 09:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,578
The Industrial Internet revolution is now underway, enabled by connected machines and billions of devices that communicate and collaborate. The massive amounts of Big Data requiring real-time analysis is flooding legacy IT systems and giving way to cloud environments that can handle the unpredictable workloads. Yet many barriers remain until we can fully realize the opportunities and benefits from the convergence of machines and devices with Big Data and the cloud, including interoperability, data security and privacy.
Oct. 19, 2014 10:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,535
All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. Over the summer Gartner released its much anticipated annual Hype Cycle report and the big news is that Internet of Things has now replaced Big Data as the most hyped technology. Indeed, we're hearing more and more about this fascinating new technological paradigm. Every other IT news item seems to be about IoT and its implications on the future of digital busines...
Oct. 19, 2014 09:00 PM EDT Reads: 1,800
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
Oct. 19, 2014 07:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,457
The Internet of Things needs an entirely new security model, or does it? Can we save some old and tested controls for the latest emerging and different technology environments? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, will review hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal privacy options and a new risk balance you might not expect.
Oct. 19, 2014 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,900
IoT is still a vague buzzword for many people. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, will discuss the business value of IoT that goes far beyond the general public's perception that IoT is all about wearables and home consumer services. The presentation will also discuss how IoT is perceived by investors and how venture capitalist access this space. Other topics to discuss are barriers to success, what is new, what is old, and what the future may hold.
Oct. 19, 2014 11:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,691