Analysis In the Spotlight

It’s is with great pleasure that I announce Business Analysis is getting some official attention from both the Agile and Scrum communities! The first set of attention on us comes from the Agile Alliance . . . .

 

During this year’s Agile 2013 conference I talked with many great business analysts and product owners (including co-presenters Inger Dickson and Chris Matts, as well as Kent McDonald, Jake Calabrese, Ellen Gottesdiener, “Kupe” Kupersmith, and Leslie Morse). Toward the end of the conference I remember telling Kent and Kupe we should “take over” the upcoming BBCCon. (The Building Business Capabilities conference is the primary meeting for IIBA, Business Rules, and has tracks for Biz Architecture too!)

Agile Open Jam poster for BBC ConferenceMy simple idea was to run a conference within a conference. I don’t remember drinking during this discussion, but it certainly had all the bluster of a late-night, never-gonna-happen, kind of conversation. For those who don’t know, I am also known to push those conversations into the waking hours. So much so, I generated a list of topics we could share within our “sub-conference.”

As we all know, ideas are cheap. It takes execution to make something great. That’s where Kent McDonald shines. He took our conversation (I do not recall if I ever showed him my notes) and made it real with a proposal to form an official sub-group within the Agile Alliance dedicated to Analysis and Product Management. Further, he received official blessing, permission, and funding for us to share our knowledge at BBC and upcoming events.

Here is the official announcement:

New Agile Alliance Program

Analysis and Product Management in Agile

The Agile Alliance board recently approved a new program, Analysis and Product Management in Agile, with the purpose of providing a way for practitioners in the business analysis and product management communities to share stories, questions, and puzzles about using those skills in an agile setting and to share ideas between communities. The program Chair is Kent McDonald.

 

(Un)conference in a Conference
We’re pleased to announce that the first activity of this program is to facilitate an “(un)conference in a conference” at the Building Business Capability (BBC) conference where attendees can take part in conversations about the intersection of business analysis, business process, and business rules with agile principles and techniques.

 

The members of the Analysis and Product Management in Agile program will curate the outcomes of the discussions and make them available to Agile Alliance members on our website.

 

The Building Business Capability Conference is being held at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas NV November 11 – 15, 2013.  It is the only conference that combines insight into Business Analysis, Business Architecture, Business Process, Business Strategy & Transformation and Business Rules & Decisions to facilitate creating the agile enterprise.  The conference is filling up quickly but registration is still available on the BBC Conference Website: http://www.buildingbusinesscapability.com/

 

We’d like to thank the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) and the organizers of the Building Business Capability Conference for helping us put together a means for members of the analysis, business rules, and business process communities come together to discuss agile approaches.

Agile Alliance Newsletter, Oct 23, 2013

Special kudos go out to Kent for organizing this program and Ellen, who did most of the communication and coordination between the program and BBC. The (Un)conference will run in an open area outside the sessions and keynote Wednesday through Friday. I am one of the hosts, along with Kent, Ellen, Jake, and Mary Gorman.

If you want more information, here are the write-ups by Kent, Jake, and Ellen. Also, Yamo recorded a special podcast with Ellen and Mary. I joined for the last few minutes (at the 30:05 mark) to discuss the Open Jam.

 

Shifting focus to the other good news . . .

Apparently, the Scrum Alliance is also on board with our skill set, too! The next Global Scrum Gathering has a track dedicated to Scrum Product Owners (link to their call for Papers). I’m told this is the first time this has happened, previous conferences pushed their CSPOs into a track with other topics.

 

Note: I am a member of all 3 organizations discussed; IIBA, Agile Alliance, and Scrum Alliance.

Pair Programming: Looking from the Outside-In

Last week I learned more about Pair Programming than I gained from all my previous years of working with developers. (As a Business Analyst, I have never paired for a significant amount of time, but I think I’ll be forcing that issue soon!) My team had an hour-long discussion about pair programming that filled me with new insights, although if you’re into programming and engineering you can follow this reverse engineering tutorial to know how programs work. Here’s a summary of my notes so you can gain some insight into this engineering practice.

Project Background: ThoughtWorks was hired to develop a set of branded websites for our Client. The team was a mix of ThoughtWorkers and Client developers, analysts, and project management. The first few months were pretty rough with a scope significantly bigger than the timeline. Worse, while we thought we could avoid the 15-year old legacy code and a myriad of systems, we couldn’t and it added significant roadblocks. The result is we struggled for a couple months in the middle of the project. We turned things around and were very happy with the end product, which was due to go live in two weeks. Except the project was cancelled!

The team history — struggling against the seemingly insurmountable scope and environment, turning the project around, and the sudden cancellation (for business reasons, nothing to do with the project itself) — built the environment for very open and honest discussions. Of the 25+ people on the project, almost 15 of us met to talk about Pair Programming. Most of the folks were developers, split evenly between the Client and ThoughtWorks. The Client developers were new to paired programming when they started with this project. Their total experience with pairing ranged from 1-7 months. The final third of the audience was spread among QA, BA, an iteration manager (think Scrum Master), and a Client program manager.

I kicked off the meeting by asking the Client devs if they had experience with paired programming before this, what they liked, and didn’t like about the experience. Starting off positive, they really liked the knowledge sharing and the cross-pollination of new ideas and information.

A month later I was exhausted, but I was completely on board.

Then we got honest and they said it was really awkward at first. “Do I touch the keyboard? Do I not touch the keyboard? I was pointing at the screen with my finger and the other person said they couldn’t see what I was pointing at.” Quickly, another Client dev jumped in and said, “It was intimidating. I don’t like to look stupid. When I work on my own it’s a process of doing stupid stuff, it doesn’t work, doing stupid stuff, it doesn’t work, and finally one day it works. It [paired programming] is like a test.”

“I thought the math meant we could do double,” said a third Client dev. “I was not on board and a month later I was exhausted, but I was completely on board. I would not go away from paired programming at all. You have fixed 10 things without even typing anything because you’re pair is catching things.” After a bit more discussion he came back and finished with, “It’s a different math, but I think the speed is double. It’s more efficient. When you’re with a pair, then you are not checking emails, you are not on YouTube. You are not doing any of that. You have almost no waste of time. It’s quite exhausting.”

From one of the ThoughtWorks devs with less than 2-years experience, the comment came “I learned paired programming and when I write code on my own it seems so much slower. If I could sit down with someone I could talk to it would go much faster.”

ThoughtWorks’ technical lead for the project had some interesting comments on using pair programming. For him, the largest benefits were for the project, not the particular piece of code developers were working on. “The only way to keep everyone marching to the same drumbeat is pairing and rotation. It only works when you have to work with everyone else. I’ve never found any other mechanism for keeping standards on a team.” Everyone was on board with the idea paired programming is about optimizing for the team, not the individual. Reinforcing this point, there are studies pointing to conditions where pairing is less effective, particularly on simple tasks and novice-novice pairing without enough mentoring.

Beyond the general statements about pairing, the team also discussed the best techniques for pairing. One Client dev said, “I found myself doing better where there was only 1 keyboard and we had to pass it back and forth.” They found it’s more engaging when you’re driving. And everyone agreed it is up to the more experienced of the pair to make the other person type.

There is no doubt the confidence of pairing developers is higher than those who work solo. This comes out in a couple ways. First, when giving a daily update on your progress that has been stalled by a bottleneck, it takes the pressure off when you can say, “We’re working on it.” Second, when you’re  in an environment with siloed knowledge, after pairing for a couple days you are willing to say “I’ll try working on that.” On the other hand, if there’s a bottleneck and the key resource is out of the office, the tendency is to look the other way. The devs do not volunteer to help and everyone has to wait for the expert to come back.

The QA lead for the team said he didn’t track the numbers to prove it, but there was a better chance of the story passing a desk check. There is a lower chance of passing the desk check if just one person worked on the functionality.

The conversation went on for a bit more, covering topics such as pair switching, optimizing space and environments, gold plating, and even introduced new ideas like the Ping Pong Pattern. (Did you know using this method in some programming languages may result in switching every 60 seconds?!)

The evening after this meeting I read The Shame of Pair Programming, by Tom Howlett. It’s a great, short read about how bad pairing can be demoralizing. It’s takes both vulnerability and strength. I didn’t see where our team suffered this problem, but it’s something to be watched for. As we talked about in our meeting, it’s not about being an introvert or extrovert, it’s about you. You need to learn how to speak within the pair.

This project was quite the ride. And despite not going live, the closing retrospectives made this one of my favorite projects ever. I feel like I learned more from our ending conversations than on some of my much more successful engagements. Please, continue my learning by adding yours. Add your comments on how paired programming worked for you. This way I, and everyone else, can learn a bit more.

 

LATE ADDITION (Jan 2020): Here’s a nice post on how to pair by TW dev, Juntao Qiu: 7 Principles of Pair Programming Etiquette.

Mastering & Improving …

I am honored to be a guest contributor to ThoughtWorks Studios’ blog this week. This post coalesces some of my thinking about the effort Business Analysts should be putting forth to grow as individuals and as a profession. Please go check out and comment on Mastering and Continuously Improving Stories with Shu Ha Ri.

Image of post on ThoughtWorks Studios website

It was different writing a guest post for ThoughtWorks. I often ask for feedback on my posts before publishing them, but this was much closer to having an editor. The suggestions were deeper and more serious than I usually get from friends and colleagues. I think the post turned out better for it. Also, they wrote the title and suggested the calligraphy image. I suppose I could have asked or been insistent about changing these (Kristi doesn’t understand why this picture was chosen), but I was much more honored to be asked for this than I am concerned about the title and image.

I want a conversation about what it takes to learn and master our craft, so please do comment on the post!

Be Like Aaron

A colleague of mine died on Friday and the internet is aflame with sorrow and anger. I pray his family sees the outpouring and feels within the lives he touched and love he generated.

Aaron Swartz, a technical prodigy and activist was being prosecuted for allegedly stealing thousands of documents. A quick search will leads you to lots of details about the circumstances around Aaron’s involvement and the justness of Justice in his case.

Aaron and I first met last June and again in November, but I couldn’t say he knew who I was. Our meeting was on a bus and we were part of a rolling conversation covering the the state of business analysis at ThoughtWorks, activism, world affairs, media and branding, privacy, the security apparatus surrounding international travel, and more. In these many topics it was quickly obvious I knew about one or two issues. Aaron knew about everything else. It was intimidating, even more than usual, to be around someone who was so young and obviously better informed than I am.

As many have said, Aaron was a prodigy. And when you read enough, of his own words and those who knew him, you learn his technical abilities were only part of the story. In truth he was much more.

How many times have you wondered how something worked or why something wasn’t just a little better? Aaron wondered that, too. Aaron’s curiosity was childlike, asking why without any pretext or presumption. He understood the problem was with the systems trapping people into a course of action instead of the individuals. He worked to put together all the parts into a coherent whole and the motivation behind that whole. He believed he could work hard and make a change. He believe he, and we, could change the world. And then he worked to make it that way.

Forget about his prodigious skill. Forget about what he built so far. If you can, forget about all we have lost with his passing. Instead, dedicate yourself  to doing what Aaron did. Find a problem. Choose to understand the big picture instead of complaining. And then do something to fix it.

Aaron asked lots of questions, and then he offered himself and his talents to the solution. As we start 2013, I cannot think of a better resolution to make than to be more like Aaron.

Measuring the Analysis Process

I’ve previously written about measuring requirements and business analysts. I am concluding the series with my current thoughts on measuring the analysis process.

What_gets_measured_gets_done

This quote is a truism is because it’s how we work. Measurements help us identify areas we should focus on or improve. Measurements let us know when we succeeded, or not. I love the idea of measuring BAs and yet, I have spent years balking at the idea of measuring requirements and BAs. It doesn’t work very well in practice.* I had cause to rethink the how to measure BAs when one team I worked on took down the following action item, “Decide (if,) how and what BA velocity to track.”

Measuring Business Analysts; Don’t KPI Me

Good managers often ask, “How do I know my team is performing well? How can I spot which folks need help? Who should I reward for a job well done?” In today’s busy world, where managers have significant responsibilities in addition to nurturing their team, measurements and metrics can be a a help.

Unfortunately, it is really easy to measure analysts poorly.

book jacket

Read “Discover to Deliver”

In Discover to Deliver: Agile Product Planning & Analysis, Ellen Gottesdiener (author of The Software Requirements Memory Jogger and Requirements by Collaboration) and Mary Gorman tackle one of the largest problems facing Agile and Scrum software projects, how to successfully integrate the ideas and tools made so popular over the last decade into working, valuable solutions.