Category Archives: nwc

ALM Summit: devgrrrl Evolution

I’m working on a blog post wrap-up of the 2011 ALM Summit experience, so today I did a little bit of white-glove research in the archives.

I can’t find archaeological evidence of my attendance at what was then still called p&p summit in 2006, but I know I was there because that’s where Peter Provost & Michael Puleio gave their “Agile Talk on Agility” which blew my mind and changed the way I do software and public speaking and made me a loyal Summiteer for life.

I did, however, find some real treasures: my p&p 2009 and 2007 (!) adventures in liveblogging.  They’re essentially my scribbled notes, so a lot of the actual content is completely unintelligible now, even to me, but they provide a window into my growth as an attendee and as a professional in this field.

Even at the time I was writing them, I knew perfectly well that those blog posts were an outlet for my insecurities as a dev and a #devgrrrl, so you’ll see lots of that in there (see also the posts in between, from TechEd 2008).  If you read them in chronological order, I think you’ll see a growing level of experience and confidence.

I switched to livetweeting the rebranded #almsummit in 2010.  By then, I was fully aware that the great value I get out of conferences isn’t the received wisdom from a speaker in a lecture hall and never has been and I’m not sorry.  (See also: my college, with an average class size < 20 and a high degree of informal access to faculty.)  In 2006, 2007 and 2009, it was clear that I learned more by talking with colleagues about the previous hour during the 15-minute coffee breaks than I did in the hour itself.  That’s why I always worked so hard to recruit a good group to come with me.  The other big change in 2010 was that I quit being afraid of the broader community, and I put myself out there to engage with them.  Maybe the interactivity of the Summit’s little Twitterverse helped: I started to see that highly skilled professionals struggle with the same issues as I do, or even struggle with issues my team had already, in our way, solved.  I even got retweeted!  In other words, I might have something to contribute!

Plus, I was thrilled to witness the impact of the community’s livetweeting on the entire 2010 Summit.  We stopped talking about Agile in a waterfall way (top-down, planned in advance) and started actually putting Agile Talk About Agility into practice (self-organizing, continuous feedback)!  It was like our collective lightbulb moment!  And, as Agile techniques are wont to do, it left me feeling smart and empowered.  I can do this!

The other big event in 2010, not recorded anywhere, was my chance meeting with Linda from Northwest Cadence during one of the aforementioned coffee breaks.  We hit it off, which set some slow-moving wheels in motion throughout 2011 and landed me where I am today.  It’s a good thing I’m not (too) afraid of the ALM community any more, because I’m up to my neck in it!

Stay tuned to the Northwest Cadence blog, where I’ll talk more about making the transition from acolyte to Platinum Sponsor at this year’s Summit…



My Scrum knowledge was out-of-date.  The new Scrum guidance is streamlined to essentials and I like that.

Last Friday I was privileged to serve as a guinea pig for my colleague Martin‘s Professional Scrum Master course.  The afternoon prior, he asked me and my colleague/classmate James to read the Scrum Guide and take the Scrum Open Assessment, specifying that we should score at least 75% on the assessment to show our readiness for the level of the course.  James did exactly as asked, posted a fine passing score, and thoughtfully generated this blog post which instantly became the most-viewed in Northwest Cadence blogging history.  Meanwhile, I flunked the assessment and wrote a blog post about how my new USB adapter has googly eyes.

Not the best student, me.

On Friday it was time to double down, literally.  As a practice run, Martin condensed the two-day course into one long day.  With only the three of us, we had lots of opportunity for discussion and debate as we worked through the PSM material.  Martin’s insights, having used this stuff in the real world, are invaluable too.

Mid-morning, our new social media guru Laura asked us to live-Tweet or Facebook our thoughts about the course… a request she may swiftly have come to regret, as we were feeling feisty and immediately began Tweeting helpful suggestions such as marketing “WWKD?” beaded bracelets.  (Hmm… chicken & pig Bandz!  Calling patent office…)

At the end of the day, we took me up on my (frankly self-defensive) suggestion to use our prior scores as a baseline and take the Open Assessment again to see how Martin’s teaching had helped us to improve.  Both of us had higher scores, but if mine is to be believed, Martin’s definitely the best Scrum instructor out there:

My score on the assessment, after a great class

Didn't just ace it... did so in 4 minutes, 49 seconds

No, I didn’t cheat.  Yes, I’m kind of one of those annoying good-test-takers.  (Which, as with SAT and the like, should not be confused with “knows the subject matter any better than a non-test-taker”.)

But let’s get serious for a moment.  The questions that tripped me up the first time were, in fact, meaty and interesting.  Scrum has evolved and simplified in recent years.  Before joining Northwest Cadence, I spent nearly three years on a reasonably effective Scrum-but team (which I guess really does make me a Scrum-but Master), and as I spent the day learning new insights about the Product Owner role and its responsibilities, the Scrum Master role and its limitations, I recognized so many nifty little practices – some we used, some I wish we’d used – that either solved or might have solved real issues we faced in the wild.

My favorite part, by far, is the way in which well-defined roles in Scrum empower the development team.  Martin recently posted about the Rolled Up Newspaper Method of bringing developers around to Scrum.  I understand it makes me a filthy tree-hugging hippie, but I don’t believe in the rolled-up newspaper for dogs or developers.

As it happens, I train my dog at Ahimsa in Seattle, an amazing place with fantastic results, run by a rock star genius mathematician who left academia to train dogs and their owners to get great results using positive methods that empower the dog.  Hmm!

(Those who know how much I adore my dog, and how much I adore my former development team, won’t blink at the comparison of developers to dogs.  Also, Martin started it.)

My lovely little dog, peeing outside like he is supposed to

Dogs, like developers, can be trained to pee outside using exclusively positive methods.

For at least the last three years, I’ve said that if developers understood how much Agile, and specifically Scrum, helps them with problems they care about, they’d demand it. That’s exactly what I did, although I understand that as a “developer” I’m a bit of an odd duck.  (Odd pig?)

Anyway, here are a couple of specifics I find intriguing:

  • I like the way the Product Owner has absolute control over the Product Backlog and its sequencing.  I like how “prioritization” has been changed to “ordering” to emphasize that it isn’t just the stakeholders’ priority or preference that drives the sequence: any number of other criteria may be used, and the Development Team is free to negotiate with the Product Owner on this matter.  The Product Owner is accountable to the stakeholders for satisfactory results, let’s say for delivering value, but the stakeholders don’t control the details of how this is accomplished.  I like how this gives the Development Team opportunities, e.g., to propose knocking out valuable low-hanging fruit, or to request re-sequencing to smooth out architectural or infrastructure dependencies.  A strong, positive relationship between the Product Owner and the Development Team (and the stakeholders) will yield great results and a better quality of life for developers.
  • I like how the Scrum Master’s job is to get the hell out of the Development Team’s way.  I like the emphasis on Servant Leadership in this role.  Over and over again, Scrum training questions and scenarios beat this point into the student’s head: the Scrum Master doesn’t solve problems or make decisions.  The Scrum Master only preserves the Development Team’s autonomy and provides them with any structural assistance needed for them to solve the problems or make the decisions themselves.  This is exactly what we devs say we want – hire us to write great code, then leave us alone while we do it.

On my former team, I was simultaneously Scrum-but Master and Technical Lead.  This was ill-advised for at least two reasons: Dev Team members shouldn’t have titles, and my combo-role seems like a conflict of interest.  But looking back on it, I can see the beginnings of some really nice practices: as Lead, I had the opportunity to participate directly in Product Backlog grooming throughout each Sprint, giving the team’s technical feedback on complexity, dependencies, and quick wins.  Two successive Product Owners were great to work with and did a great job of synthesizing technical recommendations with our stakeholders’ priorities – no small feat, considering how stakeholders proliferate and conflict with each other in higher ed.  Even struggling with Scrum-but, we did some amazing things as a team and delivered some really cool software in the federal compliance space.

  • I like the way Scrum is a framework, within which the Scrum Team has total freedom to write PBIs, decompose requirements, and develop, test and deliver software in whatever way works for them.  It doesn’t prescribe the SDLC: it fosters an environment in which an SDLC can happen reliably, because they can adapt and grow one that works well for them.  In this sense I’m seeing similarities to Kanban but with a lot more structure.  I don’t mind structure and neither do developers generally, if it’s a good one!

I came to Northwest Cadence expecting to be a defender of Scrum-but, which might yet occur, but for the moment I’m really fascinated by the framework itself, straight up.  I’m excited to dig in and put my public-sector experience to work with a more diverse clientele. I have some cool things I can teach already, but test scores notwithstanding, I also have a lot to learn.

Look for me to test and grow these Scrummy ideas in our upcoming public events!  I haven’t heard back yet on my idea for a bracelet giveaway…

Vertigo-inducing new ALM initiatives!

I designed and am delivering a new free webcast series about Application Lifecycle Management specially for the public sector.

Let’s just say the pace of change at my previous employer… well…

Glacier in Greenland

... thanks to the economy, state projects are slow like this and also shrinking like this...

Learning the culture at a small business with 10 employees plus myself is breathtaking by comparison.

After just a couple of weeks ramping up on Visual Studio tools and ALM, Northwest Cadence is cheerfully throwing me into the deep end with my own series of free webcasts on Application Lifecycle Management, targeted at the public sector!

When I say “my own”, I mean they’ve left it to me to select the content, write the curriculum and deliver the presentations monthly.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Application Lifecycle Management in the Public Sector
Introduction to Agile
Testing and Quality Best Practices
Data Management, Security, and Risk Management

All of these are customized versions of content from our general-audience ALM and Coffee Talk serieses.  Or rather, they will be.  I haven’t exactly written them yet.  If you’re in the public sector (federal, state, local, K12, higher ed) and you’d like to see me cover specific topics or questions, now’s your chance to let me know and I’ll try to work them in!

Finally, the first sessions are scheduled for September 30 and October 28.  For section abstracts and to register, go here:

I’m not sure whether Northwest Cadence had an inkling of these public sector sessions before I started working here, or if they cooked them up during my first week — I’m learning that both are plausible — but that’s not even all.  Based on clever ideas or even witticisms I’ve thrown around since I arrived, I’ve got one new Coffee Talk session and a whole ‘nother major initiative in the works, announcements forthcoming.

Poster from the Hitchcock film

Like this.

This place gives me a head-spinning degree of responsiveness, acknowledgement, respect, and freedom-to-fail that I’m still trying to get used to.  To put it another way, every time I open my mouth about something I think is clever, I earn myself new responsibilities, and that’s so unexpected that I haven’t learned how to filter yet.  I’m kinda hoping I never do.  :)

It’s the little things. Little, tentacled things.

I have a new job, and this new blog.  I like both.

It’s the third week of my new position here at Northwest Cadence.  I’m an ALM Consultant, which means all the process- and tools-related nagging I did for years at my previous employer is what I get paid to do now.  On purpose.  Here’s hoping NWC will continue to think that was a good idea.

My colleague Martin has been exhorting me to blog since before I actually started.  See, here, blogging earned a prominent place on my personal office Kanban board…

"Blog" to-do item on my Kanban board

Behold, the power of a Big Visible Display.

… where, as with many Kanban boards in my acquaintance, it didn’t move for a while and didn’t bring about transformative change solely by being stuck there.  Disappointing.

Martin encouraged me to blog about my workday experiences.  He does this and manages to make it awesomely interesting and useful.  I think it’s a good approach.  He has the advantage that writing about his workday experiences (for clients) is part of his current job and he can adapt billable material for use in blogs (that’s what makes it interesting and useful).  Not true for me yet.  Writing is overhead.  (Me writing is like double secret overhead, because I still overthink it so much.)

So, until I have a chance to settle into an everyday voice, please enjoy this example of something that is certain to be another regular feature of my blog: whimsy.

I requested a cheap USB hub for my desktop and mentioned that the “squid” hubs are most convenient to use.  Amanda showed up today with this…

Octopus 4-port USB hub

"... I took you literally about the squid. I hope that's OK."

It has googly eyes and a red indicator light on the top of its adorable little head.  The instructions that came with it are even more awesome:

Instructions for use of the hub, written by someone whose first language is not English.

"... this time the Octopus of four USB connections have transmission data function."

I keep finding little reasons to love it here: a pile of brightly colored Post-Its and a sharp Sharpie; Diet Dr. Pepper from Costco in the fridge; a small-business DIY attitude about everything.  Bottom line, when someone who’s known me a short time understands that Octopus of Four USB Connections is exactly what I want, it seems clear I’ve found a great place to be.

Blog work item now in the In-Progress column on Kanban board

What, you can't tell that it's moved? Clearly "in progress" now!