San Francisco, Here I Come

The evening before the big flight and my desk is heaped with cables and electronic devices. Makes you think about how much has changed in the past few years.

Now, preparing for a vacation doesn’t just include making sure that all the trash has been taken outside and no perishable fruit is left on the counter. It’s not just checking that you have all your papers and enough clothes to wear.

No, instead I spent most of the evening looking for cables, adapters for American plugs (finally found the right ones in the one drawer after being temporarily confused by Hong Kong adapters… and why the hell do I have two adapters for my iPod charging cable???), packing my Nintendo DS game into the little pouch that came for my headphones and currently also holds the tiny iPod microphone.

Right now I’m transferring all pictures from our Nikon D70 to the MacBook, so we have a completely free disk when we start taking pictures. I should do the same for the Panasonic Lumix in hopes that then we won’t run out of disk space. After a brief discussion over dinner it was decided that the MacBook stays home (hard to believe, right?) and that we’d just buy new memory cards in case the ones we have don’t suffice.

I also need to remember to charge all electronic devices I need for the flight (i.e. camera(s), Nintendo DS, iPod and iPhone) so that they’re fully loaded in the morning. Then of course I hope to get the chance to charge them all again when transferring at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, just to make sure that once on the plane both the Nintendo and the iPod are charged to their fullest and get me through a ten hour flight.

(I have also refrained from playing Scribblenauts and the new Professor Layton to make sure that I don’t run our of riddles before I’m back home.)

Did I forget anything? I also took good care in syncing my iPod with all new TV show material and podcasts. So yes, I think I’m set.

I know in the good old days you brought a book for the flight and one single camera for the trip. Alas, those days are gone. Now half of my hand baggage is cables and geekie tech stuff. And adapters.

(I also have books though. We have three novels, one half-read non-fiction, two travel guides and I wouldn’t completely rule out the chance of stocking up on magazines in Paris.)

Scrum 101 – First Thoughts

We’ve been working with Scrum for a few month now and so far it has been a very interesting few months. For all of you who don’t know what Scrum is, here’s the gist:

Scrum is what you might best describe as a framework for agile developing. The reason why I’d call it framework is because it doesn’t so much tell you how to do things, but it provides a set of rules and roles that surround the actual developing. The key of Scrum is the team itself, which is self-organizing. Development cycles are usually two to four weeks. At the beginning of each cycle or „sprint“ the team commits to deliver a certain set of user stories, then works on these stories and holds a sprint demo at the end of each cycle to present their results to whoever is interested.

There’s tons of information about Scrum on the internet, so if you want to know more, you can either ask me or use your favorite search engine.

What I learned in these past months is that there are a few key things that you and your team need for Scrum to work. One of them is transparency. The other one is discipline. If one of them is missing, you might just be heavily screwed.

When I said transparency, I could have just as well said communication. It sounds so clichée, but communication really is the key. I still like transparency better because it sums up nicely what Scrum is really about and good communication is the way to reach transparency. I don’t think you can have one without the other. Or, okay, you can communicate without actually being transparent. However, I don’t see how you get transparency without communication.

When you start working in a self-organizing team, stuff gets lost. It just happens. All the time. We’ve identified communication (or the lack thereof) as one of our key problems after the first sprint and we’re still working on improving ourselves. It’s surprisingly hard.

Which leads right to the other thing: discipline. It sounds so school-masterly, but it’s true. I’m not talking military drill discipline here, just a healthy dose of get-your-crap-together. Because truth is, if you don’t, the rest of the team will suffer for it. The lack of a team lead means that the team is responsible for what they do. There’s no single person in charge or responsible.

To be honest, it is kind of scary at times. Self-organizing sounds so cool in theory and it is kind of cool in practice. It has its drawbacks though. When there’s nobody to tell you what to do, there’s also nobody to tell you what not to do, what better to do or how to do what you do. The team has to figure out how to finish their goal and often that’s not as easy as it sounds.

When I talk about discipline in Scrum I’m talking about doing the best you can to get your tasks done. But more than that, I expect you to always think about what needs to be done to get everything delivered with the best quality possible. I expect you to not ignore any problems in hopes that they go away if we don’t talk about it. I expect you to think outside of the borders of the taskboard. Also, in times of increased crankiness, I expect you to suck up and be nice. We all have bad days.

Discipline doesn’t mean working non-stop cranking out code. It also doesn’t mean sticking to fixed rules and doing everything by textbook. And it should never ever mean not having fun.

Working in a self-organized team requires communication, transparency and discipline, because as a team member I depend on the rest of the team. In short: I need to trust my team to be able to work effectively. So I’d like to add trust as another key word for Scrum teams, but that’s a story for another post.