What is Agile … Really?

A I am constantly amazed at the misconceptions that most people have regarding what agile is and how it is used.  Often times when I bring up the topic of agile, people immediately start talking about “Scrum” and how they like it or not; or whether it can be used on big projects or not.

Agile is hard to pin down as it’s somewhat of a moving target so I have written this article to provide a short overview to those people interested in understanding what Agile really is.

Most people view “Scrum” as agile, and while sometimes a few people may mention concepts from “Lean” or “eXtreme Program” like Kanban boards, pair programming or test driven development, generally people think Scrum is agile.

However, agile is much bigger then Scrum. For example take a look at the diagram below.

Agile Frameworks

Agile really is about “delivery value by satisfying the customers needs by frequently delivering working software and quickly responding to change”.

Most agile teams welcome changing requirements if it helps the customer’s competitive advantage. And, by frequently, we mean from a couple of days to a couple of weeks using a face-to-face mean, as its often the most efficient and effective method of conveying information.

The key is most times, “the customer doesn’t know what they want”, so course of development ideas will flow which will cause customers to change their minds.  Therefore, if you want to deliver customer satisfaction you must respond to change.

In summary, here are four main benefits of agile, (if done correctly!)

  1. Delivers the Right Solution  – agile helps the team, users and other stakeholders to align with the right people to deliver the solution that the business actually needs
  2. Accelerates Delivery – agile shortens the development cycle and provides incremental value by using a set of short time-boxed iterations to get to the right solution faster
  3. Increases Flexibility – agile reduces the upfront investment by creating a more efficient IT development process which helps maximizes return on investment (ROI)
  4. Reduces Risk and Increases Quality – agile provides users, managers and stakeholders with greater stakeholder visibility and more granular control

RTC Adoption Problems: Tool, Education, or Perspective?

An excellent post on practical use of RTC and how it can successfully be adopted.

Best Practices for Building Software Platforms

I work with CLM customers a lot and sometimes I encounter people struggling to adopt RTC. Once in a while the problem is with RTC – a bug, the rare difficult-to-use feature, etc. Once in a while it’s just a technical knowledge thing. For example, if you’re not aware that your Websphere JVM heap space should be no more than half your physical memory, then you’re going to have issues.

And sometimes the problem is human nature. It’s our own difficulty with breaking out of an existing perspective, breaking old habits and old ways of looking at things. These are the most difficult problems to solve, but solving them provides the biggest payback.

Example: Scrum Iteration Planning

To illustrate this issue, let’s say you’re using the RTC Scrum process template. You think that it takes too long to load an iteration plan. You perceive a performance problem. Fair enough.


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How are each Work items estimated and do these estimates relate to each other?

Written by Reedy Feggins, IBM

RTC 3.0 uses three different attributes to help teams determine which work items should be done during the sprint / iteration. These attributes are: Priority, Ranking and Complexity which are covered in detail in the article Customizing the Agile Planning tools in Rational Team Concert 2.0 provides a thorough discussion of the topic with screenshots from RTC 2.x but still remains valid in the RTC 3.x release.

Can you provide some guidance on the relative ranking when assigning this to stories?

The Level of effort estimate is captured using the complexity attribute for Stories where the Story Points are often used.  In some implementations Epics don’t have a complexity attribute while level of effort estimate for a Task is almost always captured in Hours, see figure below.

By default RTC complexity ranking for the Story work item uses Story Points.  In Agile, a Story Point is a unit less measure of time that teams use to estimate to estimate the work that the team will commit to in a sprint. Story points are NOT meant to be directly mapped to calendar time (days/hours) for estimation but instead are mean to help teams create better estimates, often using relative estimating techniques called Poker planning.

RTC Epic - Story - Task Estimates

What is the default to be used for the complexity ranking?  We have 1,2,3,5,8,13, 20, and 40,100.  Is it recommended to modify this?

Estimates using story points mean that if you estimate two stories; one story was estimated as a one and the other story as a value of five, then the second story is 5 times bigger than the first. If a third story is estimated as a ten then it is 10 times bigger than the value of one. Why? so that when you know your team’s velocity equals 10 and you select a 1,2,3 and 5 point story for a sprint, you know they actually add up to a sum velocity of 10.

Studies have found that most people can estimate smaller numbers better but as the number become larger people estimates become less and less accurate so the larger the estimate, the larger the error.

We should give the scrum master some guidance on this relative ranking.

While some teams use a doubling sequence (1,2,4,8…), most Agile teams start off with Story estimates based on the Fibonacci sequence (1,2,3,5,8,13…), which is the default RTC complexity attribute. This mathematical sequence is used for relative ranking. In this approach when estimating, teams are not allowed to pick a number that doesn’t exist in the sequence.[1]

§         http://blog.mountaingoatsoftware.com/tag/story-p

§         http://agile-commentary.blogspot.com/2009/02/create-proper-estimate-scale.html

§         http://loicbar.me/2010/10/24/why-should-you-use-story-points-instead-of-hours/

§         http://agilesoftwaredevelopment.com/blog/jackmilunsky/significance-story-points

[1] APA: Agile Commentary: Create a Proper Estimate Scale… (n.d.). Retrieved 02-20-2011 from http://agile-commentary.blogspot.com/2009/02/create-proper-estimate-scale.html

How are Epics, Stories and Tasks related to each other?

Written by Reedy Feggins, IBM

Work items are the fundamental mechanism in Rational Team Concert (RTC) used to coordinate, and track development tasks.[1] RTC provides several out-of-the-box work items types including Epic, Story, Task and Defect.  Each work item has its own workflow and associated set of attributes used to govern progress status, reporting and collaboration.  Work items are the hub for linkage between many Rational Team Concert artifacts (e.g. other work items, builds, work items, and change sets), as well as providing support for integration with other products.

While RTC allows teams to link work items in any manner they choose, to keep it simple in when the customer is using the SCRUM Process Template, several of my customer implementation, I have recommended the following work item hierarchy: Epic story->Story -> Task/defect, see figure below.

Epics, Story andTask - Typical RTC work item hiearchy

User stories are a good approach to capturing customer requirements without having to create formalized requirement documents or incurring the extra effort to maintaining them. The intention is to speed up the requirement definition process, respond faster to changing requirements and communicate requirements in the language of the customer using scenarios that can be easily validated.

By default the RTC Scrum process template, Epics Stories are defined as top-level-item while Tasks are not.  Each Story can be broken down into smaller tasks but it is not required. In addition we recommend that the RTC process template be updated to make the Defect a top-level-item.

RTC Epic Work Item - Screen Capture

Finally, RTC allows team to use the Work Item customization to create new work item types or modify existing ones in order to support the development process that your team follows. For additional information see Work item tracking on Jazz.net.

[1] APA: Work item tracking – Rational Team Concert – Projects – Jazz … (n.d.). Retrieved 02/20/2011 from http://jazz.net/projects/rational-team-concert/features/wi

What guidance would you give when for assigning priorities to stories in RTC?

What is the default priority generally assigned? It was suggested to me that the default should be medium. We may need to provide some guidance on what constitutes a high, medium versus a low priority ranking.

  • Yes we recommend using Medium as the default value for prioritizing work items. Priorities are usually assigned by the Product Owner or other key stakeholder
RTC - Separating a Larger Task into several smaller tasks

How can you assign a task in a story to more than one person? Sometime we need to assign a task to multiple people

  • In RTC, each work item (Story, Defect, Task,) can only be assigned to 1 person at a time so we often recommend splitting a larger task into multiple smaller tasks, each estimated between 4 – 16 hrs of work, with a clear success criterion and linking them as children to the original task.