Thursday, December 10, 2009

Kanban Presentation at Agile Yorkshire and NHS IC

The end of year event seemed to go well - it was good to be in a posh, well equipped venue where we didn't have to strain to hear the speaker. The food from Anands was great but my catering estimation technique leaves much to be desired. I thought about how much I usually eat and drink and then multiplied it by the number of expected attendees. Obvious to me now that I lie above the mean.

I was very impressed with David's Kanban Overview and Experience Report - a polished and compelling presentation. The combination of the two common sense ideas in Kanban; making the working state of a team clearly visible through the use of a Kanban board and reducing task switching by limiting the amount of work in process is very attractive to us. It was these two simple things coupled with the collection of simple metrics such as lead, development and engineering time across many tasks which has me hooked. The ability to use this data to quantify the effects, positive or negative, of any adjustments to the system (increased WIP limits, more team members). The ability to use these stats to the team's benefit is significant to me - the simplicity and volume of stats seems so relentless and very difficult to refute. In the past development teams have had gut feelings about whether process/environment changes are good or bad but this is difficult to sell to managers. A Kanban approach seems to give more bargaining power to the participants in the value stream by providing a ton of useful information without over-burdening them with meaningless time sheet style data collection. I've already sourced a mechanical date stamp (as found in libraries) to mark up the transition dates for tasks!

The following day David and Peter came to visit us at NHS Information Centre (NHS IC) where they participated in an introspective by the some of the development team. This was a useful exercise and revealed some interesting problems - none of which were particularly unusual for a development team. It was a good way to focus attention on the good and bad parts of our current process prior to Davids presentation to the NHS IT meeting later that day. The presentation was very well received across the board from senior managers to developers. By the following morning several teams had already made a start on creating a Kanban board and were questioning how their work was structured. Interestingly, they were keen to identify data to collect in order to generate statistics. This level of keenness for time-recording is not common for developers and hopefully reflects a desire for process improvement rather than sticks to beat others with!

Our team (an established team running along broadly xp/scum lines) very quickly had our kanban board up since we were using a scrum board in Mingle and the transition was relatively painless . What occurred next surprised me as it seems our iterations just vanished. The PM removed the current iteration and after a panicky moment we just shrugged and carried on with no fall as yet as we go with flow.

I have had an uneasy feeling about our sprints recently. For the last few as we had been operating in "release" mode where we had a list of stuff (mostly small "tweak" stories and defects) in priority order. Detailed story point estimation wasn't of much value, we were releasing to UAT very frequently (I'll try to blog about this separately). So when the iterations disappeared I felt like we had gained more than we had lost. Mostly we had a gained a more honest view of the way we were working in practice. We plan to release fortnightly but my guess is that this will converge to a release per feature - this is easier in a web environment.

Coincidentally, we also had a planning meeting on this day too. The planning around the Kanban board placed the focus on the only attendee from the team of 3 customer proxies. He clearly felt uncomfortable making decisions as to what should go into the input queue and the resulting prioritised queue may end up being adjusted after he has discussions with the others. Unlike our previous approach where we planned on a Monday for the following two weeks the flexibility inherent in the Kanban prioritisation process means that we have some leeway in the timing of planning. In some of the prioritisation discussions it became clear that for some features the discussion may need to involve more customers which raised the question as to who really owns the input queue. This is probably not the most shouty and may also change over time. Need to think more about this.

I was aware that there was no real estimation going on during the prioritisation process - specifically we didn't get to play planning poker. Kanban seems to encourage the use of T-Shirt sizing and the collection of data to give lead time values based on historical data values for those T-Shirt sizes. Story point estimation can be used but is often not felt to be of value. This is an area where we need to be clearer and will probably start with simple T-Shirt sizing.

This is as far as we have got will post further updates as we progress and refine.

I'll also post on Peters excellent "Why Do Coders Code" exercise separately.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Extreme Tuesday Club

Last night I attended my first ever Extreme Tuesday Club (XTC) event. XTC was one of the influences behind the setting up of AgileYorkshire for some of the original founders at Erudine. I was down in London for sys admin course so it was good to be able to go along and see XTC first hand. They have a good setup (although they are having to up sticks and find a new venue). The evening was combined with a presentation by David Anderson on Kanban which, for me, was fascinating. In my current job (Lead Dev) I am trying to direct things along in a traditional agile direction. As a team we already practice TDD and CI with some pair programming. I am trying to get us focused on iterations and the ability to deliver potentially releasable product (all agile buzzword bingo terms!) at the end of an iteration. The presentation made me feel a little uneasy. I am aware, at a high level, of the ideas behind Kanban and Work In Progress (WIP) limits but felt if we could get our iterations going smoothly then we would have a bit of a breather and then we could start moving towards a process based on WIP rather iterations once I understood Lean.

David seemed to be suggesting that implementing WIP is the first thing you should do. I need to read and discuss this a little more. I didn't manage to copy down the points but the essence of it was improve your existing process - don't bring in new processes wholesale. By simply implementing WIP and giving visibility through a physical Kanban board (augmented by an online system for reporting and organisational visibility) you will get process improvement which will lead to more organisational maturity which in turn will make it more likely for bigger process changes to be successful. The decoupling of the planning, development and release schedules seemed to be really important (they are all tightly coupled with agile iterations) as it is a dependancy which, if it existed between software components, would be removed during refactoring and which is something I need to think about.

Davids assertion was that if you implement simple changes to existing systems then you will get benefit earlier with minimal resistance and that given time the people you interact with will be asking you for ways that they can change too! It felt strange hearing the terms Software Engineering, IEEE, CMMI being mentioned in a positive way at an agile evening. I can guess that stuff like this might rub some in the agile community up the wrong way.

Other than the presentation I managed to talk to Steve Freeman who is a (?the) founder of XTC which was great and hopefully we can start talking to him about his experiences, some ideas and joint publicity. Also played a Kanban game to show the effects of batching work in a pipeline ( which was great fun and would go down well at AgileYorkshire. I might have persuaded a few people to make the trip up to t'frozen north to present/participate in AgileYorkshire but it might of just been Beer Bravado :)

All in all a great evening and, as usual, came away with more questions than answers but with some insights into Kanban and the feeling that I need to do more reading/talking and, if I do, it should move me forward (especially if beer fueled).

Friday, July 31, 2009

How to test for dialog boxes using watin

Note need to add a using for (?) watin.core.dialoghandlers

public void Default_PressEnterWithoutSearchTerm_NoDialogDisplayed()
using (var browser = new IE())
var dialogHandler = new AlertAndConfirmDialogHandler();


Assert.AreEqual(0, dialogHandler.Count);

This asserts for no dialog box (a bad negative test) but could be changed to assert >1 dialogs or even on the dialog message.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Notes From OpenSource .Net Exchange III

Really enjoyed the meeting - there was a good buzz about it. Nice venue and the beer and pizzas were a good touch. Something to consider for AgileYorkshire. Gojko has posted a good overview here so I wont repeat that but other things which I made a note of were:
  • Check out the universal test runner Gallio which was mentioned during the presentation on Concordion. This would be useful if we started to run several types of tests (Unit, Integration, Acceptance, etc) during CI or just developers.
  • Check out the new tools from MS - "Web Platform Installer" and "Web Deployment Tool". Seems like it might be a useful as a way of getting a replica of the live environment. One comment was that it has a steep learning curve but was very powerful once mastered. There are several OSS applications (e.g. wikis) available in an "application store" which might be useful. Also seems to be the way you should get and install ASP.MVC
  • I was also interested enough in OpenRasta to want to do a bit more digging. It seemed really powerful and that it might be possible to start using it in an existing ASP.NET app so that it is inherently more testable and with no requirement to restructure folders etc.
  • During the presentation on MPI found myself wondering if this is a way of making the processing of vehicle geolocation data (velocity, events, distance etc) in a more scalable way but suspect that this would be using a sledgehammer to crack a nut - there are probably better ways based on message queues and services. Interested that it will run on Mono which opens up cheap linux servers to be used for processing but in an MS environment.
  • Spoke to Wendy from SkillsMatter about potential collaberation with regard to sponsorship, speakers and technical help. I need to get in touch with them with some concrete proposals.
  • [Added later] Had a conversation in the pub afterwards with a guy who had raised the question in the meeting about the view engines regarding what the reaction of designers was when given a view to develop. I'd always assumed that you could give a designer a view and a collection of view data and they would be happy to use this data (with iterations, conditionals and other programming structures). Turns out this may be very far from the case and many designers would baulk at this. He felt that it was better to get the designers to mock something up and for the developers to add the view data later preferably as a paired task with a designer. There does seem to be an impedance mismatch between the designer and developer parts of generating a view which I had not appreciated.
Written on the train on my way home (posted the following day). Notes on the BBC visit to follow.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Visit to

Just back from an interesting morning with the development team at moveme. Paired with James, their lead developer, and over the morning discussed their approach to agile mixed in with the TTD coding. First thing I noticed was that the tool set was different. They use Tortoise and subversion (no surprise there) but they use xUnit coupled with xUnit is new to me and they felt it encouraged better practices and was more extensible. It was also strange with where you get pass/fail text rather than reds and greens but I could get used to it. They also seemed to be (vehemently) opposed to resharper but I didn't get chance to ask why. James favoured CC.NET over TeamCity as he felt it gave him more control. More food for thought. Might ask them to comment on this.

The interesting stuff was the management buyin of agile (their CEO is a scrum advocate) and the fact that the dev team want to move to more lean/kanban way of working based on there need to respond very rapidly to changing business requirements. These changes come from monitoring the web stats and looking to monitize behaviour. They gave a great example of where they had been able to spot an opportunity to to add a referal link to generate click through money and acted upon it during a sprint after discussing the cost/benefits of doing such a thing. I can see how the whole kanban pull model might work. I'd never been convinced that dev teams needed to respond in days rather than weeks but this example convinced me.

Other things of note are that they felt that they worked better without a tester. That might be because they had had an old school QA tester who found it difficult to work in an agile environment but they didn't think this was the case. Note sure how this approach will scale as the dev team grows again (there was 4 of them). As always in successful teams they had an excellent onsite customer proxy who understood the domain and was vision, rather than sales, focused.

They used the concept of Golden Hours which seemed to be a useful practice and worth trying.

I need to check out which is a project of Alans as I'm not sure what it gives. Some swotting for the return train trip perhaps.

All in all a worthwhile visit.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Clipboard and RDP problems

Finally found out how to solve that annoying problem whereby the clipboard gives up the ghost when using RDP/rdesktop - I always imagined it was down to the linux side of the equation but managed to get it back by killing rdpclip.exe on the windows side. I can now cut and paste within the RDP session but not between linux and windows which means I can't cut and paste the link which suggested killing rdpclip.exe (ho hum). I'll leave that part of the problem to another day.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Unit Testing Google App Engine Applications - Blogs at Near Infinity

Lots of stuff out there on unit testing and mocking GAE:
Unit Testing Google App Engine Applications - Blogs at Near Infinity

Got this working locally:

App Engine Recipe - App Engine Test Runner

Doing TDD with Googles App Engine -

App Engine Recipe - App Engine Test Runner

Rake and .NET: The Story Continues

So many new tools to help there is no time to code!

Sounds like Rake, NDepend and NCover in particular will be useful. I'd like to see what NDepend makes of our legacy code base.

Tobin Harris blogs about this and other things here - Rake and .NET: The Story Continues

Friday, May 15, 2009

Welcome to Shelfari! Read, Share, Explore! - Shelfari

This could be a good way of building up a recommended reading list for Agile Yorkshire as GoodReads doesn't seem to do what we want.

Welcome to Shelfari! Read, Share, Explore! - Shelfari

Friday, April 24, 2009

Visual Studio Remote Debugging Setup

Setting up remote debugging on our UAT environment turned out to be pretty straight forward after a false start.

The steps I followed were from here

In summary they were:

* Copy over msvsmon.exe fromMicrosoft Visual Studio 9.0\Common7\IDE\Remote Debugger\x86 on the development machine to the UAT box
* Ensure that you have a local account with the same name on both machines - we used the local administrator account which is created as a matter of course on all machines. (Note: I tried to avoid having to do this step by setting msvsmon to run in "No Authentication" mode but, although I could attach to processes, symbols were not loading from pdbs making debugging impossible - this is a known limitation when using No Authentication)
* Use "Run As" option to run VisualStudio as the local administrator account
* Use the qualifier field in Attach To Process dialog in Visual Studio to point at the remote machine. I needed to select only Native and Managed code types as T-SQL was reporting an error.
* It then just works - and very well too

Monday, April 20, 2009

InfoQ: Domain Driven Design Quickly

DDD was heavily referenced at in the north.

InfoQ: Domain Driven Design Quickly is a useful summary to DDD and a good read before launching at Eric Evans' Domain Driven Design

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Google Apps

Just trying to get my head around dns settings and google apps.

In order to get to be hosted at google apps and to use mittenview urls had to:

1) Add a CNAME value for www pointing at (trailing stop is important) in the DNS table at plusnet
2) Add a mapping from to
3) Make site publicly shared (Open site for editing then - Site settings > Share This Site > Check "Anyone in the world may view this site")


Friday, February 27, 2009

Community - UK Usergroups

Need to consider contacting these guys to put a link up to

Community - UK Usergroups

Friday, February 13, 2009

‘It was easy, it was cheap, go and do it! Anarchy in the UK music business: independent production in the early 1980s’

Nice follow on article - not read it all yet but first skim suggests it is worth a read ...

‘It was easy, it was cheap, go and do it! Anarchy in the UK music business: independent production in the early 1980s’

Main Page - GeekUpWiki

Just been looking at the geekup pages and am now coming around to the idea that Agile Yorkshire should have a site instead of just using the google groups page. Also, we need to get more collaberative with them - I like their idea of a CodeMashup day ( Main Page - GeekUpWiki) we could combine forces. Will try to work out some ideas this weekend!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Gabba Gabba Hey

Just watched a film about the Ramones and while watching it was struck by the similarity between the early DIY ethic in punk and the whole ALT.NET movement. I was always more into the DIY than the safety pins, bondage pants and no future - for me punk meant tearing down the things which stood in your way.

First there is the whole us and them, outsider, rebel feeling going on. We are forging communities and loose alliances. Lean, mean and punky [ASP MVC, NHibernate, jQuery, Agile] vs. the big bloat prog rock [ASP.NET, Entities, Prince2]

We are meeting in the back room of pubs with revolutionary zeal to spread the message of change , talking with passion about how we feel in our bones how software should be developed. Feelings which have grown out of observing and learning - where learning follows experience rather than checklists and process which fly in the face of our experiences. The corporates ain't going to persuade us to accept HowToDevelopSoftware dogma - we've got software development under investigation - prodding it, turning it over and inside out, figuring out what works and what is waste.

And the similarity with the Ramones?

Despite their simple tools and methods they were admired for their tight fast performances, 2 minute iterations, rapid audience feedback, simple, easily understood structures - a condensed symphony. In the beginning they knew nothing and realised that you make progress by picking up your instruments and using them with vision.

I'm a 3 chord coder, getting stuck in, doing what I can, learning from it and going round the loop again, no twiddly solo coding for me, I'm happiest in the gang of us, pusing against my limitations and exploring the possibilities

Hey Ho, Let's Go!