Authormpkossen

The adverse effect of version numbers

“We’ll fix that in the 2.0 release!” Sound familiar? To me it does, as I used to say this quite a lot up until a couple of years back when I got introduced to Scrum. Around that time I drew the painful conclusion that version numbers may have a very adverse effect: to draw any software development into a waterfall-like process and postpone the release of value.

The problem with version numbers is that they are abused for something they are not. They’re not targets, they’re not milestones, and they’re definitely not a reason to postpone delivering value.

I’ve seen a lot of situations where version numbers were actually hurting a product, postponing any release for long periods of time. The worst example I’ve come across is no release for 7 years (and counting), which is for a 2.0 release for an immensely popular VPS control panel. Until this date, any fix or improvement is being “moved to 2.0” only never to be heard from again. Another example is a product heading for a 2.0 release that never even made it and got thrown away in the end. That was, after a timespan of about two years and at least 20 2-week Sprints invested (think of how much that has cost!). In both cases, and I have to admit these are extremes, no value was delivered (yet).

Value should be delivered very frequently, regardless of a version number. Bugs or defects should be fixed immediately and should never be postponed until a “version number release” or any other value release, because they are negative value. All a version number should be is a label on something that has been achieved in the past, like the time in which you’ve ran half a marathon or like velocity: an indication of what has been achieved in the past.

Version numbers are actually very useful if used properly, because they allow you to keep track of different versions of software, a document, or something else. But if you make them more than just a label or an indicator of something achieved int he past, the very frequent and adverse effect is that the delivery of value gets postponed.

The American Dream at Prowareness

I am in the very luxurious position to work at an amazing company called Prowareness. Prowareness is a company where you can make your ‘American Dream’ come true and I’d like to tell you more about that.

A short while ago I read a book in which the American Dream was explained in a very short and concise way: the freedom to pursue the ultimate individual happiness (whatever that may be). Two weeks later I was listening to a speech from our CEO regarding the growth of people within Prowareness. He wants Prowareness to grow and to keep growing. When asked why, he didn’t give the answer most people would expect (which was money). He explained he wanted to provide a platform or a movement in which individuals could grow, because the growth of an organization’s employees will accelerate the growth of the organization itself. So individual growth was the ultimate goal for organization growth. Followed by money, of course.

To me this is having the American Dream incorporated in Prowareness. Prowareness provides people with the freedom to pursue their ultimate individual happiness and Prowareness provides you with the tools and needs for that.

A great example of that freedom is the principle of Vision Groups. Every four weeks on a Tuesday afternoon all Prowareness employees gather in Delft and get one assignment: to not work for the next four hours. Instead, they get to spend time on any topic they’re passionate about. They get time to innovate, to explore, to talk to colleagues, to create new products, and most of all to learn. The effort spent on a Vision Group may eventually result in participation in a Dragons’ Den where people can win an investment of up to €25,000 in their vision. One of these visions has resulted in a new organization (under the Prowareness Group umbrella) called DevOn after having won the Dragons’ Den.

Naturally, we are not limited by the Vision Groups. We can spend time on personal growth whenever and wherever we want; the Vision Groups just provide a platform. There’s plenty of opportunity to grow and explore their our personal dream (for example by speaking at events or attending the monthly Guild session at Prowareness). The only limit is usually time, or sometimes imagination, but there’s people willing to help with that as well.

My American Dream is the American Dream and right now I’m pursuing that dream at Prowareness by taking the steps to expand Prowareness to the USA.

Why you should train your contractors

As an Agile coach I’ve had the chance to observe a number of organizations in both small and large training settings. With several of those organizations I’ve observed the same problem: the unwillingness to invest in their contractors and thus having them absent from trainings. Even if those people are part of the same teams as the organization’s own employees that are attending the training. Sometimes the contractors were literally sitting outside the room the organization’s own employees were getting trained in.

The people that attend the training often don’t like this either. They realize more than anyone how important it is to have the entire team aligned, be it on terminology, mindset or something else. They are the ones that have to do the work, they are the ones that a certain performance is expected from, and most importantly they are the ones that are going to be delivering most value.

A training is often a sizable investment for an organization as trainings don’t come cheap. On top of the cost of the training itself there’s the cost of not having those people at work during the day(s) of the training. For contractors these costs could be  considerably higher compared those of the organization’s own employees. But should the focus be on cost, or on return on investment? Isn’t it more important what the training will  bring the organization rather than solely what it costs? Why isn’t the focus on what value the training will add?

A strong argument I always see against training contractors is the idea that organizations have that such an investment will be an investment in a different company (namely the employer of the contractor). I think they couldn’t be more wrong. Those contractors work for them right now, meaning that’s where they’ll add value. That’s where the ROI of the training will end up and so the organization benefiting most from training contractors is the organization currently hiring them.

An organization’s growth is often linked to the growth of its employees and/or contractors. If people stop growing, either on a personal or a professional level, so will, eventually, the organization. In other words: not enabling that growth can be interpreted as deliberately holding the organization back, not training your contractors (as well) is a disinvestment.

So I would urge anyone who’s in a decision-making position related to trainings taking place at an organization to please also includes any contractors: train teams, not people.

 

SAFe: Scaled Agile Framework – or is it?

Last week I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in a Leading and Implementing SAFe course. During this four-day course I would be introduced to the Scaled Agile Framework, learn how to implement it, and learn how to share it with others.

To summarize the outcome of course in just one line: it sucked.

How is SAFe a framework?

To me, a framework is a light-weight set of boundaries within which there is a lot freedom to do as one sees fit. If you see the SAFe Big Picture you’ll understand my initial skepticism at the term ‘framework’. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to having my skepticism rebuked and to learn how to see and use SAFe as a framework. All this in order to be able to better help organizations that need scaling scale.

Whether organizations actually need scaling or a scaling framework is an interesting discussion. I think that if you need scaling you should first look at your products and your architecture. Self-organizing teams with the help of a clear vision and a good architecture can get a long way.

Unfortunately, the way I interpreted the way SAFe was put down this week was as a methodology. These are small selection of some of the concerns I have after having taken the course.

Let’s start with the roles: Release Train Engineer, our “facilitating” Super Scrum Master; Release Management, the Super Product Owner of the Release Train; System Architect, who together with the RTE and PM act like the steering committee of the Release Train (also, drawn above the teams, like hierarchically superior). All set and ready to go, all required.

The format in which work should be sent to the teams is also set for you: User Stories coming from Features or Enablers, coming from Epics; Enablers that are used for work supporting other User Stories or Features; and if you open the Value Stream level there’s something called Capabilities as well. Additionally, there’s a selection of templates available for most of these items to fill out. All having been done during the course and available from ScaledAgile’s website for your day-to-day use.

My biggest concern, however, was the ‘Agile Release Train’. Calling a Release Train ‘Agile’ when the recommended time-box is 10 weeks is beyond me. Sure, teams could release more frequently (and I quote, because of “individuals and interactions over processes and tools, and stuff”). But once you’ve seen the monstrous PI planning board with all its dependencies between teams you may wonder how that could ever happen.

In other words: my skepticism was not only not rebuked, it was definitely reaffirmed and has even worsened.

SAFe the way I would have liked to see it

If SAFe really is a framework, I would have loved to see it like that. Perhaps with a various complementary practices that would make it work for specific scenarios, in which alternatives to certain practices would have also been discussed.

The power of SAFe to me is keeping synchronized across teams and Release Trains in a larger organization, in which each release train is an independent part of the organization focusing on a specific product or value stream. There would be direct contact between the customer(s) and the teams in each release train, where each release train would have their own tools and practices to handle how work comes in. Whatever works for the teams should be the practice, not whatever someone else tells them to.

I love the end-of-increment Inspect and Adapt opportunity, but without all the practices that SAFe introduces and without the compulsory interval of 8 to 12 weeks. It’s great to inspect and adapt with a bunch of teams working on the same product or value stream, serving the same customers. Just like the PI planning: a high-level “planning” event which can be used to identify dependencies and remove them on the spot. I’d call it PI refinement rather than planning and I would never give commitment to finishing a list of work or reaching certain objectives for the next 10 weeks. I’d be doing my customer a disservice in nailing down what we’re going to do for 10 weeks rather than giving them the opportunity to take a different course at a shorter interval. But I like the synchronization nonetheless.

I’d have loved to see SAFe as an enabler for Agile at scale, because that is what organizations need. Practices come from experience and that’s where coaches come in: to help an organization find a practice that works from them, in which there is multiple practices to be compared. That is what SAFe (or any other scaling framework) should enable.

Closing

Looking at this constructively, I see SAFe as an intermediary step for very large and very traditional organizations towards true agility. I think it’s loads better than sticking to a waterfall-approach and if an organization implements SAFe the way I heard it, they’d be far better off.

To reach true agility you’d need to take a lot of additional steps. Mostly you’d need to experiment, see what works for your organization, your teams, keep inspecting and adapting and changing things if they make more sense. And to me, that’s the danger of a methodology over a framework: it makes things fixed rather than up for change. Whereas a framework should give you those boundaries in which your organization can shine.

A response to ‘Agile does NOT work!’

I recently read a blog post on LinkedIn from Oleg Vishnepolsky from DailyMail Online and Metro.co.uk stating that ‘Agile does not work’ and ‘And never did’. The blog contains some interesting statements and asks for responses. Well, here is one:

1) Short-term thinking that results from following short iterations and daily stand-ups

Where does this short-term thinking take place? Who does it? What have you tried to change that?

I think you do want your development teams focusing more on the short term when it comes to what value they should deliver rather than on the long term. That doesn’t mean the long term isn’t important though, and being agile doesn’t mean you should forget the long term either. It means you should use the frameworks, tools, and methodologies that allow you to respond to an ever-changing world.

In fact, long-term is quite important in order to be agile. You need to focus on quality and prevent technical debt. You should invest in test automation. You should focus on creating the right amount of documentation (be it code documentation, infrastructure as code or something else). You should invest in gathering and sharing knowledge. Those are all examples of the long-term thinking required.

If someone doesn’t think about these things, I’d say they’re doing themselves and their company a disservice. You should help them understand why these things are so important, especially when you want to be agile, and help them keep focus on them as well.

2) Architecture that often times can not be deployed piecemeal

What kind of architecture are you talking about? What challenges are you facing when trying to deploy your architecture? What’s the relation of this to being agile?

One could argue that delivery and deployment aren’t the same thing. I’ve seen cases where entire work-flow systems were being replaced and in certain cases that wasn’t being done one piece at a time, simply because it was either too costly or too complex. That doesn’t mean those teams didn’t work iteratively and didn’t go get feedback as soon as possible. It just meant the final deployment to production was postponed to such time where the work-flow could be implemented as a whole.

I do believe that there’s only a certain number of situations in which piecemeal deployments, for software, are extremely hard or impossible. But in order to do piecemeal deployments your application or architecture does need to support it. In most cases I’ve seen, piecemeal deployment is hard because the architecture isn’t right in the first place.

3) Complex infrastructure in production that is supposedly continuously getting deployed over. If you are Facebook, you can afford automation. Can you ?

What kind of deployments are you talking about and what is blocking you from doing them continuously? What makes your infrastructure so complex you can’t deploy continuously? It could be your infrastructure isn’t ready for continuous deployments yet.

But yes, I believe every company can afford automation. Because every company that I’ve seen that doesn’t invest in it pays the price in the long term. They struggle rather than grow and have to invest in automation along the road anyway, but at an increased cost.

I would like to note that deployment should be a business decision. While you’d want your bug fixes out ASAP, I could imagine not wanting to change your functionality continuously. It’s perfectly legitimate to do some deployments every X weeks and introduce them properly to your users. I’ve had a company offer customers the option of either continuous deployments or one every 6 months. Those that chose the 6 months were still involved in the development effort and gave feedback frequently, but they only got the changes after they had prepared their staff for it.

4) Business expectations that they do not need to give you any requirements and that they can change their mind at any time.

I’m especially curious where this one comes from? How are development teams expected to deliver value without having any requirements? How are they expected to focus when they can change direction from second to second? How could the business be expected to be less involved when the development effort needs them to be more involved?

In my opinion the business has the responsibility to talk to development teams and explore the requirements together. Naturally they can change their mind at any time, but a proper preparation may prevent changes of mind down the road. Because changes of mind are often the result of questions being asked too late or too little, as new insights lead to new solutions. If you don’t have a transparent situation to begin with, how are you expected to inspect and adapt to that situation properly?

Closing

Yes, Agile is being used as a buzz-word and yes, there’s probably some Agile Coaches whom are in it for the money rather than to achieve true agility as meant by the Agile Manifesto. That doesn’t mean agile isn’t good or dead or whatever. Agile isn’t easy. Being agile isn’t easy. I do believe it’s the right option and the right way forward, but it takes time and continuous investment in order to be and remain agile.

A note to the author of the original blog post: my questions are genuine and I’d be more than happy to discuss these topics with you.

WebHostScene is live!

WebHostScene is live! It’s a website I started recently when I found myself needing to write a tutorial and to write about web hosting. There’s not too many content on it yet but that will definitely change over time.

Having WebHostScene means I’ll obviously spend less time blogging here. No worries though for those few of you that do like to read my occasional ramblings. They will still appear ever now and then!

For now, please enjoy WebHostScene and I’d love to get your feedback on it!

Merry Christmas

I just noticed that ever since I’ve started looking for a new job in October 2014 I haven’t posted something on my own blog anymore. While I could go into all the reasons for this, I’d rather share with you what my plans are with regards to my own little website (especially put in the context of me having left my position as LowEndBox/LowEndTalk community leader).

So, here’s an overview of some of my plans:

  • Blog more often. Yes, really.
  • Build a “database” of quality yet easy to understand tutorials.
  • Blog about cars. I love cars!

Nothing is set in stone, but I’m pretty sure I can live up to this little plan and hopefully be of value to some of my visitors!

Merry Christmas!

Some unexpected downtime

Over the past few weeks, my website has been badly reachable. Apparently, I have pissed someone off by banning him from a forum I manage: LowEndTalk (http://lowendtalk.com). As a result, he has been pounding my IPv4 address with attacks resulting in the IPv4 being permanently null-routed. I’ve now moved my website to a VPS with OVH where it benefits from their standard DDoS protection. I hope this will prevent any further attacks from causing downtime.

A new actual blog post will be up soon.

Base16: proper theming of vim, Gnome Terminal, Sublime Text, Cygwin and more

As a DevOps Engineer, I use several applications on a daily basis, on different operating systems. The ones I use most are vim, Gnome Terminal, Sublime Text, and Cygwin. For a long time, I’ve been having different themes on these applications and frankly, it was driving me crazy. Not only did my eyes need to get used to a different theme all the time; even while using the same theme on some of these applications there were still minor differences in appearance, as none of the themes were identical for all these applications. Being lazy and not willing to fix this myself by designing all the themes by hand, I went to look for some proper ones that could be used in all these applications.

I’ve had a bit of a hit-and-miss relationship with Solarized over the past few years, so I wasn’t necessarily looking for that. Gnome Terminal (or Cygwin for that matter) has always been a bit problematic with Solarized, as the colors weren’t always perfect (especially in htop). With Gnome Terminal being the more problematic application theme availability-wise, I decided to use that applications as a basis for my search. After doing some duckduckgoing (I say: word of the year 2014) for nice themes, I found the base16 project.

Enter the party zone

I was like a kid in a candy store! This project does not only contain quote some themes that have been specified properly; it also has them for a wide range of applications. On top of that, there is a project called base16-builder. This project contains all the color schemes of all the themes included in the bas16 project and lets you generate theme files for a long list of applications. So even if the templates aren’t in the base16 project, you can either generate them with base16-builder or add the theme templates yourself and then generate them!

Right now, I am still impressed with the amount of different color schemes the project includes and how properly they have been specified. It even includes a version of Solarized that doesn’t hurt my eyes in htop. But frankly, due to what’s available in the project, I haven’t been using Solarized anymore. I’m currently hung up on Base16 Default Dark, which I now use as my default theme for all the applications I mentioned before.

Give it a shot and give back

Everybody should try out these themes, as the project has something for everone. If you find a theme template that isn’t complete or not present yet, please add it to base16-builder and add a pull request in GitHub.  The more people contribute, the better this project will be.

Switching hosts – May 2014

Part of the reason for me to start blogging again was to try out a variety of hosts (as in: VPS providers) and share my experiences with them. The first month or so this blog was hosted on a VPS with GreenValueHost (GVH), a really cheap one I may add. After GVH had been bashed and ridiculed at LowEndTalk.com, I thought: let’s try out these guys. The VPS cost only $8/year, so the risk was really limited.

Although the machine felt snappy at first, after a week or so I experienced the occasional lag (as in: really slow disk performance). IPv6 connectivity never worked properly, despite me sending in a ticket and providing plenty of information on what the actual problem was. I me experience, the support I received wasn’t the best. When you send the output of an MTR run with 250 cycles and over 90% of the packages gets dropped at the gateway, I think a provider should be able to figure out where the problem is. Then again, I was paying $8/year for this machine, so I didn’t expect any support as all. The fact that they did respond is good, though that didn’t solve my problem. But the thing that made me move elsewhere was the fact that when GVH’s site was under a DDoS attack, the staff simply went to bed and only came back to look at it the following morning. I don’t expect people to give my any support for a $8/year VPS, but I do expect a company’s “CEO” to at least care a bit.

So, after that month or so, I moved this site to my Xen-PV VPS in Pune, India. I got this machine from Prometeus [affiliate link] when I purchased a load of iwStack credits in December. The performance of the machine is just fine; in fact, it performs really, really great. It being in India does provide a challenge when working on the machine, though. It’s not really close to where I live, so working on the CLI has some minor lag. That’s not a real issue though, as I only need to SSH into the machine occasionally!

For now, India it is. It gives me some time to think about where to move my blog next! Any suggestions are welcome, of course!

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