Improving your Agile Standup Meetings

Meetings and communication in general are essential aspects of any Agile process. The number of get-togethers probably depends on your organization’s choice of Agile framework, but some form of daily standup is likely. Making those standup meetings more valuable and efficient adds to the efficacy of any software development project.

Given that Agile is supposed to make software engineering faster, here is a unique idea for improving those Agile standup meetings. Consider this bit of insight to ensure your next development effort is completed on time and under budget.

Improv makes your Software Development Meetings more Valuable

In an article for SD Times, Madison Moore describes how improv – used in a fashion similar to a comedy troupe – offers the potential to make daily Agile meetings more rewarding. Wayde Stallmann, who works in the software development industry as an Agile coach, devised the practice to improve the productivity and collaboration level of meetings. Stallmann feels using these improv techniques during meetings – both standups and scaled retrospectives – enhances four vital Agile qualities: collaboration, trust, creativity, and communication.

Starting off each meeting with an improv activity lasting a few minutes helps get everyone’s attention focused on the task at hand. “In the first few minutes, everyone talks and has equal voice. No one dominates the game which sets the tone that no one dominates the meeting,” said Stallmann. Once again, the focus is on fostering collaboration among a team of equals.

Some of these gaming activities serve well to fire up the brain – useful for standups occurring first thing in the morning. The Alphabet Conversation is one such example. One person starts a conversion using a sentence beginning with the letter “A;” followed by the next person with “B,” and so on.

While some may feel activities like the Alphabet Conversation seem like a waste of time, Stallmann finds tangible value in the exercise. “We get into the aspect of how a team can solve a problem that no one individually can solve,” said Stallmann. He’s encountered skeptics throughout his coaching activities, but maintains everyone eventually sees the light after they try out the process.

Creating Agile Team Players

The most important benefit derived from improv activities at the beginning of meetings isn’t making software development faster; instead these efforts teach everyone on an Agile project how to be a better team player. Companies eventually see a benefit from what first seems like an unintuitive exercise. “When I was with AT&T as a Scrum Master, I had a team where we did a three-minute warmup game to start each standup, and we did this for two years straight. They did it for a year after I left the team, which I think is testament to the fact that it wasn’t because I was asking them to do it,” said Stallman.

If your team’s morning standups seem like wasteful drudgery, consider leveraging Stallman’s improv gaming techniques. If it works for AT&T, it just may make a difference for your development staff. Getting their minds focused on the gaming activity to start helps keep their attention during the rest of the meeting.

When you need additional insights on the software development process, keep coming back to the Betica Blog. As always, thanks for checking us out!

Add Chef to your Organization’s DevOps Kitchen

Companies looking at DevOps with the hopes of streamlining their software development process sometimes struggle with the initial implementation. Leveraging the right set of DevOps tools is an important factor in achieving success as much as any organizational or policy-based changes. One such tool – known as Chef – is especially helpful for shops taking advantage of the Cloud as part of their overall application engineering strategy.

What follows is a closer look at the features and functionality of Chef to see if it allows your team to manage server infrastructure quicker than ever before.

Open Source Server Configuration Management for the Cloud… and more

Chef’s main functionality centers on the management of Cloud-based infrastructure. It offers value to any company whether they manage ten servers or ten thousand – no matter the platform. It lets your development staff focus on ensuring their software runs properly, instead of having to deal with the drudgery of server administration tasks. While it truly shines in the Cloud, Chef also works with on-premise servers as well as a hybrid infrastructure.

A Code-based Approach to Server Management

What makes Chef unique among similar infrastructure management tools is its emphasis on using code to define and automate a collection of servers. This lets you handle automated server management in a similar fashion as your applications, with development, QA, and production environments ensuring a high level of quality. Additionally, letting your developers manage servers using code fits nicely with the overall philosophy of DevOps, where formerly segregated duties are handled in a more communal fashion.

A development kit, known as the Chef DK, includes everything required to develop and test infrastructure automation code. Test Kitchen handles the running of these tests, using InSpec as the TDD programming language. Not surprisingly, the included code analysis tool is known as the “Food Critic.”

Continuing with this kitchen metaphor, the collection of code used to automate and define a server infrastructure is known as a cookbook, and – of course – they are made up of recipes. This nomenclature definitely helps developers new to Chef better understand the functionality of each part of the system. Behind this somewhat humorous style lies a very powerful tool.

The Chef Server is the central repository for every cookbook in the system. This design allows the Server to manage any number of physical or virtual machines in your infrastructure. The Chef Client runs on each of these nodes; staying in constant communication with the Server.

An Essential Tool for DevOps

As noted earlier, Chef offers any DevOps organization the means to manage their technical infrastructure easier than before. Its code-based scheme for server management lets you leverage your development talent in a new fashion. The kitchen-based metaphor used in Chef also makes it easy to understand by both your technical and non-technical team members.

Chef, and similar tools, like Ansible which we previously covered, play an important role in any company deriving value from its investment in DevOps. Ultimately, this is a methodology requiring more than just a change in organizational structure for success. Download Chef to see if it makes sense in your shop.

Thanks for reading the Betica Blog. Keep coming back for additional insights from the software development world.

Software Architects need these Four Essential Skills

Of course, strong technical ability is a requirement for anyone employed as a software architect. This role is almost always filled with someone who forged their skills working at least a few years as an application engineer. What separates the best architects from those merely holding the job title are the other intangibles necessary to thrive in today’s business world.

O’Reilly Media recently looked at four essential abilities a software architect needs to truly be successful in this era of Agile and DevOps. Let’s take a closer look at these skills to see if adding them to your toolbox makes you better at the practice of software development. Good luck!

Technical and Business Leadership

A good software architect knows how to lead the developers on his team, while also working closely with business stakeholders and project managers to ensure the project requirements are clearly defined with sufficient progress being achieved. Mark Richards, an experienced software architect and author, commented on the importance of this trait.

“It’s being a technical as well as business domain go-to person, it’s really to help clear roadblocks to the team so they can actually move forward. Being a leader as an architect means providing technical help and guidance, it means to help the team make decisions and form those decisions and validate them, and also to provide motivation to the team and support whether it be technical or non-technical support,” said Richards.

The Ability to Negotiate

Software architects also need to be able to negotiate at times to ensure a technology project proceeds in a smooth fashion. This skill comes into play when first determining the technology stack and basic architecture for an application. Sometimes, stakeholders may want a feature beyond the scope of the project or its budget. Similar negotiations happen with project managers and even the development staff, ensuring buy-in before the actual work commences.

Strong Decision-making is a Must

While the product owner or project manager typically rank higher in the hierarchy of most technology projects, a software architect still needs to possess strong decision-making skills. This especially comes into play regarding the technology stack used on a project, i.e. programming language, database, virtualization platform, etc. A strong-minded and confident approach definitely helps to formulate a robust architecture for a software application.

Collaboration is Vital in Today’s Technology World

It stands to reason any software architect working at a company with a DevOps organizational structure knows how to collaborate with their coworkers. Many enterprises also use architectural teams to define system architectures as a group. In this latter case, being able to share ideas and concepts with other like-minded professionals – in an ego-free fashion – helps ensure the best possible applications are built for the organization. Richards feels a mediator role helps when architectures are defined using a team instead of an individual architect.

In any case, it is obvious the best software architects possess a variety of skills that go beyond writing great code. Consider developing these abilities in your own work to take your software development career to a higher level.

Thanks for reading the Betica Blog; check back soon for additional news and insights from the constantly changing software development world.