Author Archives: Laura Powers

Agile in Context

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
Charles Darwin

Just about everyone agrees that being “adaptable to change” is important.

At the same time, many people believe that we’re entering an age of acceleration. The models underlying society at every level are being redefined as traditional linear models of change give way to the explosive power of exponential growth. According to computer scientist, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil:

“The 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress; organizations have to be able to redefine themselves at a faster and faster pace.”

At all levels of engineering, we need a management methodology that is “most adaptable to change.”

Is “Agile” the answer? When we ask people to voice their opinions, doubts emerge around the concept of “agile methodologies.” Is it a new buzzword, yet another management fad or a new paradigm for surviving and thriving in times of rapid change? Or is there something better on the horizon?

Join Cathy Simpson of Agile Learning Labs to explore these questions at the next IEEE Technology and Engineering Management Society meeting on April 2, 2015. In this talk, we will look for the “core of agile” that will endure beyond the fad. We will address agile in context. Everything that is old is new again; and perhaps we will discover together that we’ve been agile all along. We just didn’t have the context to know it.

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Quick Reference Guide for Splitting User Stories


We’ve been talking a lot lately about splitting user stories.

After all, one of the keys to scrum team success and happiness is properly sized stories that play nicely in a sprint. To help teams remember the four easy steps to splitting a user story, we’ve developed a quick reference guide.

Download a copy for your scrum team today!

And if you missed all the juicy details on story splitting, here are quick links to all our recent user story splitting posts.

Happy splitting!


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Test Driven Development – Life Beyond the Insanity

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
~ Albert Einstein

Are you a survivor of insane software development? Design-code-integrate-test-deploy. Maybe it’s time for a different approach.

Test driven development takes some of the insanity out of the software development process by shifting the emphasis on testing from post-development necessity to the first objective in the project. Create a test and see it fail. Then write enough code so that the test passes. Then refactor mercilessly.

The result?

  • 60% to 90% fewer software defects according to an IBM/Microsoft study. That could make the head of your department giggle for the first time in months.
  • More confidence that code changes can be made swiftly and effectively without the recurring nightmare of current functionality heading south of the border.
  • Useful, functional specifications available to be executed by new team members. Now you aren’t the only cog in the software machine who understands how to make this particular hunk of code sing and dance.

Skip any of the steps in test-driven development – and you’re just blindly blazing new trails in the land of insane software development. Instead – make an investment in your sanity.

Agile Learning Labs presents “Test Driven Development in C#” on September 26-28 in Redwood City. Led by TDD-evangelist Rob Myers, this hands-on course delves into the techniques of fearless test-driven development – including test-first, refactoring, mock objects, and more. You won’t be talking about coding – you’ll be working in pairs to produce code using test-driven development techniques. After this class – you’ll be ready to tackle your “real life” software insanity head-on.

Not fluent in C#? Never fear. Rob promises a multi-lingual approach to the class. Get your C# on – or bring a little Java on the side. Whatever the language – this course will set you on a new course towards software sanity using test-driven development.

Early bird pricing for the Test Driven Development class ends September 12. Use code ‘StoptheInsanity’ to save an extra $300 on your registration. Register today!

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PMI Wine Country – Professional Development Day


Calling all Project Managers! It’s time to head to Wine Country! The Wine Country Chapter of the Project Management Institute will host a Professional Development Day on Saturday, August 27, 2011.

Head up to Santa Rosa for excellent networking and catch up on the latest trends in project management.

Highlights of the agenda include:

  • Workshop on Sustainability and Social Responsibility in Project Management
  • Workshop on Mind Mapping
  • Panel Discussion on Project Management Certifications and how they can help your career

Of course, that last topic is near and dear to the hearts of Agile Learning Labs since our founder and Chief Agile Coach – Chris Sims will be part of the panel. Up for discussion will be the newly minted PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) certification, as well as the Scrum Alliance’s Certified ScrumMaster and Certified Scrum Product Owner designations. If you have questions about how these certifications and others might harmonize on your resume – be sure to check out this event.

The best news – of course – is that the agenda is designed with plenty of networking opportunities and an unconference-style “World Cafe” to collectively discuss how to apply the concepts presented throughout the day.

Let’s all raise a glass and toast the PMI Wine Country chapter! See you there.

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Performance Review Pain Review – The Agile Way

Performance Review Pain ReliefTake a piece of yellow paper, a slice of pizza, and a couple of guys with clipboards – and what do you have?

Last week – it was the latest gathering of the North Bay Agile Meetup group. The topic was “Performance Review Pain Relief.” So what would you do with that piece of paper – write a performance review – or make an airplane? At this Meetup – we did both.

Led by Chris Sims of Agile Learning Labs and Harold Shinsanto – we formed agile teams of expert paper airplane manufacturers. And in the course of producing some of the most embarrassing paper airplanes in aeronautical history – the group explored what works and doesn’t work with performance reviews.

In the context of “agile business” – it would be easy to decree that old-fashioned stack-ranking and personal performance reviews should go by the wayside. After all, rating the performance of individuals relative one another runs counter to the ideas of self-organization, teamwork, and continual improvement so central to agile product development.

And until the HR department hops on board the “agile train” – are we just stuck? The group decided no. As an agile team – we can

  • Make sure we clarify “the goal” – understanding the performance criteria for the team and for individuals long before any feedback session

  • Foster a culture of coaching – even when “the boss” is officially only providing annual written feedback in the traditional performance review – coaching can be something done by the team – for the team.

  • Develop systems for continual feedback and improvement – rather than only examining results when the “system” says we must – find ways to frequently improve. Inspect and adapt. Lather, rinse, repeat. Sounds a lot like what we do in agile anyways!
  • And to the Human Resources professionals who may accidentally stumble on the great world of agile, scrum and team-based work – come on over. We’d love to talk. We saved a couple of slices of pizza just for you.

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    5 Agile Ways to Rock the Boat with Eric Ries

    Eric Ries Interview by Lara Druyan at Hackers and Founders, July 2011According to Eric Ries, another way to say “agile” is “extreme troublemaker.” If you think you know what’s given, constant, and unchangeable – think again.

    In an interview with Lara Druyan at a recent Silicon Valley gathering hosted by 106 Miles and Hackers & Founders – Eric poked holes in the foundation of entrepreneurial sense and sensibility we all “know” so well.

    From his interview, my favorite five agile ways to rock the boat of status quo are:

    1. Redefine Entrepreneurship.
    Think you need to live on ramen noodles, sign your world over to venture capital, and camp in a garage to be an entrepreneur? Maybe not. In Eric’s view – entrepreneurship is a management discipline for creating value in an environment with a high degree of uncertainty. Entrepreneurship lives in large corporations, small startups, and nonprofits everywhere. And considering the high degree of uncertainty that pervades our lives these days – even my kitchen is a hot bed of entrepreneurialism as I ponder the uncertainty of what’s for dinner tonight.

    2. Put your Idea up for Adoption.
    Got an idea? Afraid someone else will steal it? Eric advises that surrounding your baby in a cloak of stealth will very likely be the thing that kills your idea. Stealth mode is like having a conversation with yourself. As an experiment, take your second best idea – and actively go out and try to have someone else steal it. Established organizations moored in the status quo won’t be interested. Other folks won’t have the juice to run with it. But talk it up – walk your idea like your favorite puppy. And when it grows up – it won’t bear the tiniest resemblance to your original doggy idea.

    3. Loosen the constraints.
    Ever hear the old adage of “Time, quality, money – pick two?” Fact or fiction? As someone who has regularly used this adage in previous corporate lives – I had never considered that maybe it’s not always true. Eric believes that the waterfall model of product development creates this “pick any 2” constraint, and by changing your process – you change your constraints as well.

    4. Aim for Failure.
    “Every failure is our most precious opportunity to discover what is true.” Create learning milestones, not product milestones. Listen hard for leap of faith assumptions. If you are assuming that your click-through rate on a given page will be 2% – don’t bury that assumption in a footnote on page 32. Print your assumptions in 97-point font and post them on your front door. Then test the assumption quickly and adapt. Interestingly, there’s a lot of failure in startups – except in the media where only success gets sold to Hollywood.

    5. Visualize Success.
    As an entrepreneur, success is having a vision of the world as a better place, and then building a sustainable business organization to fulfill that vision. It’s up to you to define what is a “better place” – more connected, better informed, entertained, you get to choose. Success comes from creating that vision and then failing your way to success.

    ERIC RIES is an entrepreneur and author of the popular blog Startup Lessons Learned. He co-founded and served as CTO of IMVU, his third startup, and has had plenty of startup failures along the way. Eric’s first book THE LEAN STARTUP will be published in September 2011.

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