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Agile Delivery (Part 1) - It’s Child’s Play

Auditing Salsa’s project delivery methods against the Agile Manifesto with a little bit of fun at my, and my daughter’s, expense along the way.

Paul M 24 December 2013

Salsa Digital delivers projects using agile principles. My five year old daughter knows nothing about formal agile techniques however analogies exist. I may even facetiously claim “agile projects, and agile project management, are akin to Child’s Play!”.

The Agile Manifesto are 12 guiding statements regarded as the cornerstone of agile. This blog article audits Salsa’s methods against these principles with a little bit of fun at my, and my daughter’s, expense along the way. Don’t worry, neither I nor she mind.

In recent history, Salsa has executed bigger and more complex projects. For example, a recent engagement has a seven figure budget comprising a custom build complete with complex business rules, lots of business stakeholders, an iPhone front end, high availability requirements and real time messaging to multiple corporate backend systems. For the purpose of this article let’s call this Salsa project (the project’s specifics are under nondisclosure) the “Salsa Mega Project”.

….. A typical “project” for my daughter is to bound up our stairs, skip down the hall to her bedroom singing at the top of her voice to see what mischief she can enact for the next hour or so.

Let’s audit each of the agile principles for its application during the Salsa Mega Project. Oh and attempt to explain the analogy to my daughter.

Agile Principles

Principle 1: Highest priority is to satisfy the customer, through early and continuous delivery of valuable software

Salsa score 7/10. The Salsa Mega Project, despite being a seven figure budget executed over 12+ months, was first released after only three months. This initial version of the software, although lacking in some of the more intricate features and business rules, allowed a full dress rehearsal of business processes underpinned by Salsa’s solution. The months that followed that first version have had the benefit of continuous trial feedback from numerous business and system stakeholders.

…My daughter’s approach to continuous delivery? Once fun has been had creating one mess, the way to satisfy the most important customer - her - is to move on as quickly as possible to the next mess. After all, in her world, why would any stakeholder - parents for example - be interested in clean up?

Principle 2: Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage

Salsa score 8/10. The Salsa Mega Project is servicing a very dynamic market sector. Changes have been significant, frequent and above all, necessary to the business. Despite the project being executed under fixed price terms a change request process has enabled the project to stay nimble. We’re presently up to change request number 90 closing fast on 100.

…My daughter’s requirements change all the time. Her competitive advantage usually involves leverage to be applied to her brother. More than once I’ve seen ice cream, which started off as a “must have” (according to her) concept, traded for extra time on iPad. Her requirements changed, she had to keep competitive advantage.

Principle 3: Deliver working software frequently, within a couple of weeks to within a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

Salsa score 7/10. As mentioned above, the Salsa Mega Project was very rapidly built to 1st release (three months). Since that time, and more particularly after the six month period, release cycles are aligned to every two months for our server system and every one month for the iPhone data capture application. This balance allows Salsa to execute a sane process in its role as system/software vendor while enabling the business stakeholders to see frequent updates.

…My daughter seems to take great delight in the modern classic toy Mr Potato Head (a toy potato that acts as a sort of identikit as different shaped eyes, ears, mouth and other body parts are added). Her time scale is in the order of minutes as she swaps the uber lips with smaller mouth and mustache and glasses claiming it’s an even better likeness to “daddy!” .

Principle 4: Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

Salsa score 7/10. The web of stakeholders for the Salsa Mega Project is huge. For fun one day I tallied up my (as Project Manager) direct points of communication in the project and arrived at more than 50 parties, comprising of two corporate entities each with multiple business and technical business units. To manage communications, Salsa employs an internal daily standup meeting, start and end of iteration planning and retrospective reviews, weekly WIP (Work in Progress) meetings with each corporate entity - one of these essentially being a steering committee structure, to cater for the more significant decisions and priorities. Salsa also has a direct line to an empowered party who is effectively acting as the project’s Product Manager. Salsa developers are expected to represent what they aim to achieve each week and look at what happened in the last week in a 15 minute planning session with myself. This has proven to be quite successful in ensuring developer focus, and alignment to business priorities.

…A daily, well more precisely, nightly, task for my daughter is going to bed without too much fuss. I’d like to say we (the business (her parents) and her) “work together” however as many/most parents will attest, the going to bed routine can be hugely problematic. All of a sudden mysterious ailments crop up, more stories post the allotted one short bed-time tale are required, and the search for long lost toys apparently essential (according to her) to induce sleep are considered critical.

Principle 5: Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

Salsa score 6/10. The Salsa Mega Project is/was a game changer for Salsa in terms of size and complexity of engagement. While Salsa had done some largish websites, some with quite complex integration, the Mega Project was just that, ….mega. An order of magnitude bigger than anything Salsa had built in its 10 year history. Luckily, key team members did have experience at enterprise level systems and were able to bring other Salsa employees along for the ride. No project of this size is smooth, and the Mega Project had its share of challenges, however equally the project would not have been as successful as it has been for stakeholders without motivation, support and trust.

…My daughter is inherently motivated. I’m sure she is striving to collect every shade of pink ever invented, perfect the art of pulling silly faces for photos, and with the right environment and our support, she’ll likely prove me wrong and actually find a real live unicorn one day like she tells me she’s going to.

Principle 6: The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

Salsa score 8/10. The Salsa Mega Project had a large Salsa team. For example, six Developers, two Business Analysts, Project Management, Test Team, Operational Support Team. As much as possible, face-to-face communication is used. As mentioned, each day starts with a daily standup which holds all team members to account for the past day and their plan for the upcoming day. Also the Lead BA routinely interfaced with the Developers ad-hoc throughout the day as did the project Technical Architect and Testing Lead. I would suggest to the authors of these agile principles that solid tooling is as equally important, particularly collaboration tools, with Salsa employing a mixture of AtTask, Basecamp and springloops.

…My daughter is not so much face-to-face but in-your-face (in a cute way of course). Her method is both effective and efficient as a bundle of unwavering energy communicates in minute detail life as a five year old - or else she just jumps on me.

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