Once again a capacity audience of software delivery professionals, drawn from across the disciplines, came together for the monthly Agile Yorkshire meetup.
The number of people arriving early for the great networking opportunity at the start of the evening seems to be increasing and there was already a substantial buzz in the room at 6:30.
The main speaker for the evening was Jose Casal (@jose_casal) who, whilst being based in the south east, is a frequent visitor to Yorkshire for engagements with large and medium sized organisations. These organisation typically want some of the kool-aid associated with progressive software development processes but are often typified by islands of agility in more traditional organisational structures.
Jose asserted that, compared to the industrial revolution, the information revolution has barely started and is currently at the “Model T” stage. He posed the hypothesis that in order for organisations to transform to hyperproductivity then the low levels of efficiency of software delivery teams (given as between 1% and 5%) needs to be addressed. Jose emphasised the impact of people and culture in the transformation process which itself should be evolutionary not revolutionary. There was a lively debate in the Q&A session around the theme of “slack” and how organisations might best build that into their software delivery process. This debate carried on enthusiastically into the pub where the beers were kindly sponsored by iSourceIT.
The support slot for the evening was taken up by Richard Tasker (@ritasker) - an exile from across the Pennines who is now resident in Yorkshire. Richard gave a tour of the different flavours of tools available in .NET for driving software development from examples (aka BDD - Behaviour Driven Development ). In the process he also gave a useful overview of the difference between TDD and BDD, the strengths of each and where BDD adds value to software delivery by clarifying requirements through examples which, in turn, can act as living documentation.
Thanks to all in the volunteer team who make the event happen and finally thanks to our other main sponsors Callcredit and NewRedo and to our prize sponsors O'Reilly, JetBRAINS, Manning, Wrox and PluralSight.
See you next month,
If the audience at this month's Agile Yorkshire is taken to be a reasonable representation of the development community at large, it would seem that most organisations have not roamed far beyond Scrum or Kanban in their approach to Agile. So it was with great interest that many listened to Rachel Davies' experiences as an Agile Coach doing XP (eXtreme Programming) at Unruly. We were warned up front that XP is 'not like Scrum', despite the familiar looking whiteboards and Post-it notes. Unlike Scrum, XP dictates that pair programming is a non-negotiable part of the development process. At Unruly, only a pair of developers working together may make changes to production code, even going to the 'eXtreme' (!) of limiting the number of workstations to fewer than one per person in order to ensure this collaboration takes place. We were assured, thankfully, that their developers do at least get their own chair.
It has not all been without its problems, however. As an exercise in demonstrating that people don't always know what's good for them, a successful change Rachel has been involved with at Unruly has been to break their development teams into smaller units. Though it initially met with some resistance, people soon saw the advantages to working in smaller groups in the form of much more streamlined meetings and the consequent time savings and improvement in communication. With small teams working in relative isolation, Rachel told us that it sometimes became hard to maintain consistency as different development teams began to work in slightly different ways, making it difficult for developers outside of a given team to quickly engage in that team's work. To combat this developers are offered the chance to move between teams on a quarterly basis, sharing knowledge and encouraging consistent cross-team practice along the way.
With no staging environments or test team, Rachel feels that good Test Driven Development is an important part of Unruly's success with XP. Software developers at Unruly are expected to have knowledge of the full development stack, with many of the traditional roles in a development team eschewed in favour of a team of generalists. Requirements are written by developers talking directly to stakeholders within the business, often facilitated by an Embedded Project Manager who can provide direction as to where the knowledge on a particular subject lies in the company. In terms of the organisation of projects -- well, apparently Unruly don't actually have projects. Instead the developers manage a constant stream of imminent potential work, where development time is estimated and stories composed then eventually prioritised in a Story Prioritization meeting with other members of the business.
In this evening's support slot was Ray Edgar, who presented observations of the use of Agile Development in enterprise businesses. Ray has recently been studying to become a BCS Agile Practitioner, giving him an opportunity to reflect on the value of Agile Software Development to the enterprise business. He has found that there is often a discrepancy between 'doing' Agile and working in a way that provides the benefits that Agile Development should. Ask most people what Agile Development is and typically they'll respond with a list of fancy sounding acronyms (SAFe) and initialisms (XP!). What it's really about, Ray argues, is focussing on the business value of development and doing it in a way that provides quick feedback. To some organisations, adopting Agile has amounted to a reshuffling of the business processes that were already in place; losing sight of the benefits a more thorough implementation could bring, they stick to the comfort of the familiar. For this reason, some companies remain unaware that their confused implementation limits the potential advantage they hoped to gain by engaging in Agile Development in the first place. Finally, Ray encouraged the audience to promote some risk-taking in their workplaces, as a failure to make sufficiently drastic changes can leave a business miles behind the competition.
It’s great to announce that iSource IT
, one of Yorkshire most familiar local recruitment companies, will now be sponsoring Agile Yorkshire and contributing to it ongoing success and quality. Agile Yorkshire’s mission is to stimulate innovation in the way organisations create software products for greater commercial effectiveness. By supporting Agile Yorkshire iSource IT are also supporting businesses across the whole region.
iSource IT pride themselves on developing long term relationships and delivering a high quality service through fast, accurate delivery. They operate a vertical model covering all areas of IT and work predominantly with clients across Yorkshire and the North of England. They also founded the Yorkshire Mafia and run the annual Buy Yorkshire business conference."
Matthew Wood from iSource IT commented “I have attended Agile Yorkshire and found it to be a very stimulating event which has allowed me to build my knowledge and network. As a business we’re committed to building our Software & Testing vertical whilst developing the all important relationships which underpin our business. This sponsorship is a natural extension of our commitment to this market and Yorkshire as a region.
On an evening with heavy sleet showers, Agile Yorkshire attendees could have been forgiven for heading to the warmth of their homes. It was, however, fantastic to see yet another packed house. We could have filled the room twice over as for the first time, we saw more names added to the waiting list than places available. This month's first speaker was Andy Burgin, the founder of the Leeds Devops group, speaking on that very topic in the 30 minute slot. Andy was followed by Seb Rose who discussed what makes a unit test good or bad.
Andy took the audience through the history of the devops movement while telling the group about 5 definitions of devops and discussing the problems devops attempts to resolve. It was demonstrated, that as with many development practices, the culture around devops is hugely important. Andy suggested that it is not a good idea to try jumping straight in with automation, but allow a culture to develop which can then be supported with technology.
What makes a unit test good or bad? Seb Rose posed this question, even going as far as asking the entire room to ponder it in silence for a minute! In order to answer the question, Seb discussed why we even write unit tests in the first place. It was discussed that unit tests should be specifications of the code under test, the tests therefore need to read well and become documentation. Seb showed that tests should be repeatable, that they must be necessary; if a test has served it's purpose, and another test covers the same functionality, delete it. The group were shown a number of design patterns which can help to keep tests maintainable and readable.
See you next month,
A few weeks ago I attended an event where James Allen of @Creative_Huddle
ran a session on group creativity techniques. It felt so useful and inspiring (and agile) that talking to him afterwards seemed essential. One thing led to another and James has agreed to visit Agile Yorkshire sometime this year.
In the mean time he has kindly offered a small number of FREE tickets to two of his upcoming events:
Both events are happening in the next few days so you'll need to be available but hey, they're FREE. If you can make it along to either come and grab me at tonight's meetup (Feb 11th) or tweet us a message at @AgileYorkshire
(priority will be given to tonight's attendees).
Also if you'd like to reserve space for other colleagues Creative Huddle have offered Agile Yorkshire attendees a 50% discount code which we'll give out tonight or try tweeting us.
Last month's audio visual extravaganza was always going to be a tough act to follow but, still on form after his well received ten minutes of turtle graphics, Simon Davey (@bloodearnest) this month gave a detailed and insightful account of the feature flag strategy used by his team at Canonical. Makers of the Ubuntu OS in case you didn't know. The practice of coding toggle switches into features under development is not new; but doing so with a thoughtful, tactical approach and making a careful note of successful strategies on the way might be. Being able to share this type of insight and experience is the lifeblood of the Agile Yorkshire community and speakers like Simon should be celebrated.
Characterised as config. options on steroids, Simon outlined some of the feature flag benefits, including maintaining an always deployable single mainline, providing tailored usability to targeted users and supporting multi variant testing. The downsides of added complexity were emphasised by the hard won advice to removed unused code paths and associated switches as soon as possible after the code is in production and functionality stable.
Simon’s session was filled with tips like: try to minimise code branches even at the expense of code duplication, make new code the default path to ensure old code is easier to remove later, try to make flags on by default and consider applying a naming convention to differentiate between short and long term configuration.
Simon covered several real world examples used at Canonical to illustrate his points and the interest and reception was reflected in the numerous questions.
Phil Rice filled the second slot for the second time in twelve months. The last time Phil Rice spoke at Agile Yorkshire was back last April, when he covered his business past and Lean Startup future. Several months of work and coding later he was back to talk about what he has been up to with his brand of Constraint Driven Development. Phil has plenty of past form in this area having spent many years and a previously business focused on the problem domain of legacy systems and their reluctance to be tamed by conventional techniques in a cost effective way. Using his framework to compose constraints yielding both tests and working functionality holds the premise of a new approach to legacy system re-engineering.
For the code hungry in the audience, Phil’s session was a banquet of Scala. With screen after screen of live programming and numerous test driven development “red to green”cycles. The session was based on a Tennis rules kata and after thirty minutes of effort Phil had a working set of coded rules and a suite of tests to match.
The whole session was perhaps too brief to fully absorb the whole concept and explore the full potential but for those wishing to investigate further Phil has a whole website devoted to his framework and its usage.
The evening was capped off with the monthly prizes for "five to" twitter lottery and feedback draw. We now give a total of seven prizes a month so showing up for two or three times means you've a good change of walking away with something. Currently it's books, software licences or training videos.
At at December Lightning Talk Competition last month we presented a short round up of statistics for 2013. They show some great results with community growth and participation increasing significantly. It seems worthwhile to publish them here for wider viewing. We've got lots more plans for Agile Yorkshire, both to make our community more vibrant as well as support the Yorkshire region in any way we can. Roll on 2014.
Website Traffic (Period 11/12/12 - 10/12/13)
- Most metrics have roughly doubled.
- Unique visitors up 80% to 4,300.
- Page views up 108% to 15.5K.
- Unique visits up 115% to 7,800.
- Time spent on site per visit up by a third.
Past December Lightning Talk Competitions Compared
| || December 2012|| December 2013|
| Attendees|| 19|| 71|
| Speakers|| 4|| 9 (21 volunteered)|
Verdict: Community participation way up!
- 531 (in 11 meetups - due to no Jan meetup last year).
- 220 bottles of beer drunk.
- 29 speakers have presented.
- We needed to start using the Eventbrite waiting list feature in April.
- Regular monthly newsletter started in June.
- 2733 sent out to date.
- Mailing list doubled to 430.
We started using the LinkedIn forum more actively in August and still need to work at it if we would like to see more activity. However the LinkedIn group has grown by 83% to 359 this year.
With three projectors in action, thirteen prizes including a significant one, twice the beer budget, fifty percent more people and nine speakers, this years December Lightning Talk Competition was a proper extravaganza. As the twitter stream exploded into life and people began arriving the organisational stuff was left behind and a joyful evening unfolded.
Andy Stewart kicked off with a comic book slide deck of test anti-pattern villains from the dark side and despite the vuvuzela equipped audience, fully tooled up to blast him off stage, he finished with nearly a minute to spare and only applause was necessary.
That set a surprisingly well disciplined trend for the evening with Amy Thompson following, Agile Coach of the Year trophy by her side, with top tips on how not to “boil” your Scrum team and instead rally them to be “synonymous with success”.
Ash Winter prompted much re-tweeting of his statement that the “Project kick-off phase is just an excuse for a big cuddle” and was yet another on time finisher to loud applause. Next up was Bettakultcha compare, artist and speaker Ivor Tymchak with nothing more than a mug, a washer on a piece of string and a wooden spoon. His ten minutes flashed by with wisdom, philosophy and a feat of anti gravitational trickery that did work the second time around to the huge enjoyment and appreciation of the crowd. Having speakers drawn from a wider than usual catchment added the twist of variety and perspective that an Xmas celebration should have. Paul Berwin proved the point further by using his ten minutes, plus his lawyers viewpoint, to add more insight, humour and questions to the recent agile contracts theme the Agile Yorkshire has followed.
A mid point in the evening had been reached, a second slab of beer needed unpacking and a couple of technical adjustments to ready a laptop for code demo. For the second half Simon Davey delved into his unhealthy obsession with turtles of the graphical kind with a little nostalgia, an openGL code demo and his involvement with the STEMnet educational movement. Kudos to Simon for that. Stephen Blower used his slot to work on testers moral and reminded everyone that testing is a profession that can’t be done by dragging random people off the street. Stephen’s slot was all the more entertaining for its crash into extra time and the resulting hoots and baying reaction of the audience.
The penultimate speaker was Stephen Carter with his popular deconstruction of agile grammar, jokes and irony and last of all came James Jeffries. Poor James had to wait patiently for ninety minutes, unable to relax, but delivered a most educational and experience born presentation of kanban mechanics, flow management and system design and was a fantastic end to a charming evening.
A brief question and answer session followed while votes were collected and scores calculated. The results gave Ivor Tymchak top honours and the significant Amazon Kindle Fire first prize, followed by Simon Davy second and Ash Winter third. Everyone who spoke walked away with a prize and there were even a few left over prizes for the audience draw and the “five to” twitter lottery (if you don’t know what that is come along to find out).
With Gravitas sponsoring the “after-drinks” a healthy section of the audience had soon filled the Midnight Bell next door to re-live the evenings rapturous events. Thank you Helen, Usman and Gravitas for making that happen.
The type of influence a contract has over a software project may not always be clear at the outset either to the engineers or the lawyers who drafted it; but it can be profound. Innovation, in the form of agile thinking, within software engineering process has been embraced by many parts of the IT industry, however commercial arrangements have changed little. It's not even easy to find commentary from the legal profession on the subject. One of the few voices that does appear at conferences and on the web is that of Susan Atkinson (@satkinson42). At the Agile Yorkshire's November gathering Susan presented her ideas to a packed room of attentive listeners.
First with a history lesson in management practice and a round up traditional contract mechanisms together with a deconstruction of the mismatch between the realities of product development. Then a round up of what has been tried to date, followed by listing the various flavours of agile contracts that are in present use including earlier work from Susan herself. They too were subject to similar scrutiny and the shortcomings exposed.
Finally the scene was set to focus on the work Susan had done most recently in collaboration with agile community veteran Gabrielle Benefield. Their experience and feedback from previous ventures has lead to current thinking that focuses on business goals, target outcomes and the 007 Model. This work is very new, having been published on the Flexible Contracts website only in the past few weeks; but represents much learning to date. Their new outcome based contract is published under an open-source licence and is available on their website as a free download. A book on the subject is also to be published in the future. The November gatherings support slot was filled by Thom Lawrence (@hotwoofy) and his allegory charting the journey his start-up company Delver.io has taken into enterprise sales. Through the metaphor of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Captain Willard's jungle odyssey to meet the insane Colonel Kurtz, the tips and tricks of enterprise sales success were exposed. The session feedback proved its popularity and for the enterprise vets. in the audience the war stories, body count and general chaos were obviously familiar. The evening finished with the regular prize draw. Thanks to our sponsors O'Reilly, JetBRAINS, Manning and now Wrox for once again for generously providing the prizes.
Finally, thanks to all those who help make the monthly meet-ups run smoothly - it wouldn't be possible to run such events without this help.
See you next month at December competition or at Code and Coffee in York or Leeds if you need your fix sooner!
Agile Yorkshire volunteer and regular attendee Amy Thompson was recently voted Best Agile Coach of 2013 by a panel of judges, including Computer Weekly editors and other industry experts, in a glitzy event at London's Grand Connaught Rooms. The yearly event was hosted by comedian and actress Sally Phillips and included a slap-up dinner, with all the money going to charity.
Congratulations to Amy for landing this national award and to Amy's boss at The Big Word
; who hopefully is now considering a pay rise to ward off the head hunters and recruitment firms in hot pursuit. Conceivably her example will inspire more nominees from our region in the future, as obviously in a county noted for its thrift, agile values are just second nature.