June 30, 2010

Professional Organizations and Value

Filed under: Uncategorized — heratech @ 10:14 pm
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Belt tightening I had a bit of a revelation last week. On my way home from Scrum Club last Thursday my brain was a whirl with thoughts, making connections between the speaker’s presentation and not only my work life, but my personal life as well.

And then I got to thinking about the pros and cons of the different professional organizations whose local meetings I attend.

The first organization charges $215 a year for membership dues, $20-30 for monthly meetings (which pays for dinner), frequently schedules meeting topics that have absolutely no relevance to my career or interests, and when I do attend the meetings my impression of the members is that they’re old, out of touch with recent trends, not particularly technical, and even worse, completely uninterested or unwilling to learn or change.

The second organization has no membership fees of any sort, doesn’t charge for meetings and even provides free pizza, recruits excellent speakers sometimes with national reputations, and the membership generally impresses me as intelligent, professional, and technical.

Which professional organization would you rather belong to?

Yeah, me too.

So despite the fact that I wrote a post last year about how I was sticking with the Society for Technical Communications, I don’t see myself renewing my membership next year. I’ve been trying to be more active in the STC, posting to my mailing lists and attending local chapter meetings. I still hate leaving an organization when it’s in trouble, but I stuck with them this year, despite the fact that my dues went up by over $100 and I still lost benefits under the new a la carte pricing system. My STC dues have more than doubled in the past five years. Between the bad economy and their huge price increase, is it any wonder that the STC has had a major drop off in membership this year?

Over the past couple of months, as underemployment has pinched my budget, ROI has become more and more important to me. But the good news is, there are plenty of free resources out there, if you’re willing to look for them.

I’ll miss the STC Lone Writer’s Mailing list. But I’ll still have the TECHWR-L mailing list and HATT Yahoo group and various blog feeds to keep my G-mail inbox supplied with professional development reading material.

MadCap Software has been offering a series of free webinars. Some of the webinars are specifically for MadCap products, but many of them are tool neutral. I recognize the names of the majority of the presenters, which means they’re either industry experts or active on one of my various mailing lists. So far the couple of webinars that I’ve attended have been worth my time to attend. And you can’t beat the price.

The STC charges $79 for webinars. I haven’t signed up for one yet because I’ve attended more than one poor workshop or webinar where I wished I’d spent the money on a good book instead of the event. So far the STC’s track record for events hasn’t done anything to convince me to part with the money for a webinar.

But I think that even more than the money, I’m worried that the STC is out of touch and that the membership is graying. I’m often one of the youngest people in the room at our local chapter meetings. The Boston chapter is supposed to be the second largest chapter in the country (Silicon Valley is number one, natch), but despite the fact that Boston is a college town and has several local universities with TW programs, we don’t seem to be attracting members in their 20s and 30s.

And the fact that national actually put out a request for someone to write an RSS tutorial rather frightens me. I’ll admit that I was rather late to join the RSS party, but I somehow managed to set up three RSS feeds on two different readers without anyone providing me with a tutorial. It’s not that hard people!

So for the foreseeable future, I think I’ll be focusing my professional development and networking efforts on the local organizations that are providing free events in the Boston area:

Nashua Scrum Club

Agile Bazaar

Agile Boston


November 25, 2009

November Scrub Club – Scrum and Kanban

Filed under: Uncategorized — heratech @ 12:45 pm
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Bulletin board with post it notesLast Thursday night’s Nashua Scrum Club introduced me to yet another new software development term.  Kanban.  The speaker was Damon Poole, who spoke on the topic “Scrum and Kanban, Chocolate and Peanut Butter?”

Since I’d never heard the term Kanban before, I hit Wikipedia before the meeting to look it up.  But only ended up confused about how a manufacturing process applied to software development? 

After the meeting, it seems that the answer is not so much kanban, but “lean software development.”

I only took a few notes, mostly listening and trying to understand what was, for me, a new concept.  Damon started out giving a brief overview of Agile (which was useful for the majority of the audience, who were not working in an Agile environment).  Then he talked a little bit about Lean.  My notes say “providing value” and “continuous improvement”.  Aha,  I know that one, kaizen!   He mentioned 14 critical mass Agile practices, but I was only able to scribble down five before he flipped to the next slide.  I do hope that the slide deck is posted online at some point.

The next part of his talk focused on process.  He had some color coded slides that showed several iterations, with Development doing their work during one iteration, and QA doing the testing during the next iteration.  My notes say “This is not Agile.”

He talked a bit about how to break down large stories into smaller ones by listing the tasks, and then determining the critical tasks and the dependencies between them.  He had some great slides for this, which I appreciated, because I’m a visual learner.  And I was grateful that when he talked about workflow that he included Documentation (Specify > Design > Code > Unit Test > Integration/Doc > Testing) because so many people seem to forget or ignore Doc when talking about Agile.

Then there were color coded slides, showing several small stories being worked on during several different sprints and showing how there were bits of downtime for the testers while they waited for the code.  Then he had a rather spiffy animation that removed the lines indicating the iterations, and sliding the testing tasks right up to match the coding tasks.  “Getting rid of the iteration fills the gaps between coding and testing.”

He talked about decoupling the tasks of Agile from the iteration/Sprint.  Backlog grooming can happen anytime.  Story point estimating can happen anytime.  These tasks can be decoupled from the Retrospective or the Planning phase of a Sprint.  “Done” is decoupled.  Done is no longer the end of the iteration, but the end of the story.  And when you’re finished with a story, you pull the next story off the top of the backlog and start working on that.  He also talked about a Work In Progress (WIP) limit, that no more than X story points could be in progress at any one time.  During the Q & A someone asked when you demo?  His answer was not every time you finish a story (which might be every day or two) but when it makes sense to the team.

Damon finished his talk with a list of Lean and Kanban concepts that he thinks can be applied to Agile:

  • Decoupling
  • Lean thinking
  • One piece flow
  • Work in Progress limits
  • Eliminating waste


Related Blog posts that I found while researching Kanban:

Defining Kanban

Between kanban and pair programming lies the feature brigade

Related Books:

Do It Yourself Agile by Damon Poole – Free download!

Lean Software Development by Mary and Tom Poppendieck

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