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Which is the Best Agile Certification for you?

In this age of rapid business acceleration, Agile is an answer for organizations struggling with how their traditional methods of Project Management are responding to change. Since, many organizations are looking for agile knowledge and experience to help them adapt their traditional methods, Agile certifications are an important way professionals can enhance their career opportunities so they can be part of this rapidly growing area.  Agile certifications provide career advancement, salary and promotion opportunities so they’re a great way to invest in your future.

There are a lot of Agile certifications available and it’s important to pick the right one so you can get the most for your time and money.  Here is a short overview of the top 3 Agile certifications so you can pick the one that will help you the most.

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Delivering Business Value Through Technology

Welcome to a site focused on increasing business value through the effective use of technology.  I’m an IT professional based in Houston, Texas with more than 25 years of experience in the management and architecture of large scale technology solutions across a variety of industries.  Although my experience and focus has been on technology, my educational background is in Economics and Business and I have degrees and certifications on both sides of the business and technology continuum.

One of my primary interests is in increasing the throughput between business ideas and succesful technology implementations. I draw upon a range of practical industry standard approaches such as Agile, Lean, and the Unified Process as well as years of experience applying these techniques in a wide variety of settings.

One of the things I enjoy most about the IT industry is the rapid pace of change and its inexorable movement towards increasing throughput.  I see Information Technology moving into a new phase of its evolution.  The days of having one centralized IT organization responsible for supporting business development initiatives AND maintaining and supporting existing systems and their infrastructure are over.  A more effective model finely tuned for a dynamic business environment operating in a flat world of globally interconnected markets and people will focus on a more responsive and adaptive model.  Organizations with IT organizations managing classic ‘feeds and speeds’ will increasingly turn to the services of outsourced service providers and leverage applications and computing capacity through a cloud of web based solutions that can increase or decrease capacity  based on need.  A new business technology organizationfocused on business outcomes embedded within business units will emerge overseen by a Chief Business Acceleration Officer with visibility across all of an organizations’ value chain.  Interested… read more on my sponsored blog at ITToolbox and explore the articles and templates available on my site.

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Great Walls of Wonder

Project team in front of an Agile Wall of Wonder

How to Build Your Own Wall of Wonder

One of the foundations of agile development is increasing the visibility into the software development process through techniques like the demonstration of working software at the completion of an iteration. Another technique is to leverage a visual radiator that shows requirements flowing through an iteration development lifecycle into completed and tested code. I call this a Wall of Wonder as it can have a wondrous effects on business stakeholders and project participants as they see iteration progress and can adapt to bottlenecks and problem areas.

What is a Wall of Wonder?

A Wall of Wonder is a visual radiator that software development teams use to manage their tasks and activities in completing their goals in an iteration. The Wall of Wonder is a highly tactile and visible tool that requires very little in the way of infrastructure or training to implement.

In many software development projects, information related to the project and its overall progress and velocity is ‘locked’ inside a variety of different tools. Project Managers create GANTT charts in Microsoft Project, analysts document requirements in Requisite Pro or Doors, developers write their code using an IDE and check it into a version control system, testers write scripts using Winrunner or Loadrunner. In rare cases, this information will be browser accessible but typically it can only be accessed using the original authoring tool and often requires special authorizations to access the files themselves. In every case, it’s not clear how any of information relates to one another; are the requirements being developed by the analysts really what the developers need to create the right software, do the testers know what functionality will be available for testing, does the project manager know that the most important/architecturally significant tasks are being completed first? The result is that it’s almost impossible to get a definitive understanding of project progress which limits the feedback teams need to adapt and adjust.

One way around this is to create a Wall of Wonder. Using standard index cards, a white board and some tape or magnets you can quickly show overall progress in an iteration and make your daily stand-up meetings more effective.

Creating a Wall of Wonder

To create your wall of wonder you’ll need:

  • A large whiteboard in a highly visible location (ideally the same location where your daily stand-up meetings are held)
  • Index cards (different color cards can be useful to represent different types of tasks but you can use a colored marker instead)
  • Tape or if you have a magnetized whiteboard, magnets (you can buy these in small pre-cut squares)/li>
  • Post-it Notes: As you can see from the picture to the right, the wall of wonder in this case was a simple white board next to a large table. This particular location was actually in a hallway which increased visibility into the project and the technique as people walked by. The team did considerable brainstorming around the table and the wall.

Collaborative Development and Fun with Cards

One of the most telling benefits of the Wall of Wonder and leveraging Task Cards is the level of collaboration and engagement that occurs. The cards themselves are an invitation to ‘have a conversation’ about a feature or requirement, similar to that advocated by Ron Jefferies. Enough information is available on the cards to prioritize and assign work but not so much that a developer will know exactly how to realize the functionality on the card. Another benefit of the cards is that different roles can work together to ensure that all the work on a card is completed. On many of the projects that I have managed the final test of completeness was having a tester walk through the code with a developer to ensure it worked to its specifications and was appropriately documented. The tester was armed with the Red Marker and when satisfied that a card was complete would ‘approve’ it with a mighty swipe of the marker. Developers who claimed they had completed their task card but didn’t have the ‘official’ red marker check were quickly reminded that they weren’t really done. The cards also became a fun way to show progress and bring some friendly competition into the development lifecycle. One of the developers on a project I managed once completed five cards in a single day, from that point on he was nicknamed ‘Five Card’, a name that persisted for several years after the project!

Creating Task Cards

The Wall of Wonder reflects activities and tasks associated with your iteration and to convey this, index cards are used. One reason, index cards are so useful in managing complex software development processes is because they’re so simple. Index cards are readily available (I’ve personally driven to many Office Depots to grab cards prior to facilitating planning sessions at client sites), they require little in the way of training, they’re highly tactile and they’re inexpensive.

The cards used in this example are tasks specifically related to developers and have some important components associated with them.

Using Your Wall of Wonder

There are a variety of ways to create your Wall of Wonder but there are several key themes that should be present:

  • The first is that the purpose of the wall is to show progress in an iteration. You should separate disciplines and even application tiers to make this evident and ideally you should use plain language to represent each of the areas (which will make it easier for non-project team members to see progress).
  • The second is that the wall should help different roles on the team work together to accomplish the goals of the iteration (which implies that you establish goals each iteration, if you need a template for this you can find one here). This means that analysts should be providing requirements to the development team in enough time that they can write software, developers should be building the system across all tiers (not just business logic), testers should be aware of what has been built and what has not been built in preparing their tests/validation processes.

One effective way to manage your Wall of Wonder is to leverage a ‘kanban’ style that shows the flow of work through the lifecycle (Requirements, Analysis, Design, Development, Test. Deploy). Another, and the approach I used on this project, is to list all of the development tasks required to realize a requirement across all tiers of the application (presentation/business/data access). Any approach will work provided that the principles mentioned above are adhered to.

One of the most telling benefits of the Wall of Wonder and leveraging Task Cards is the level of collaboration and engagement that occurs. The cards themselves are an invitation to ‘have a conversation’ about a feature or requirement, similar to that advocated by Ron Jefferies. Enough information is available on the cards to prioritize and assign work but not so much that a developer will know exactly how to realize the functionality on the card. Another benefit of the cards is that different roles can work together to ensure that all the work on a card is completed. On many of the projects that I have managed the final test of completeness was having a tester walk through the code with a developer to ensure it worked to its specifications and was appropriately documented. The tester was armed with the Red Marker and when satisfied that a card was complete would ‘approve’ it with a mighty swipe of the marker. Developers who claimed they had completed their task card but didn’t have the ‘official’ red marker check were quickly reminded that they weren’t really done. The cards also became a fun way to show progress and bring some friendly competition into the development lifecycle. One of the developers on a project I managed once completed five cards in a single day, from that point on he was nicknamed ‘Five Card’, a name that persisted for several years after the project!

Creating Task Cards

The Wall of Wonder reflects activities and tasks associated with your iteration and to convey this, index cards are used. One reason, index cards are so useful in managing complex software development processes is because they’re so simple. Index cards are readily available (I’ve personally driven to many Office Depots to grab cards prior to facilitating planning sessions at client sites), they require little in the way of training, they’re highly tactile and they’re inexpensive.The cards used in this example are tasks specifically related to developers and have some important components associated with them.

The End Result

As you can clearly see from the picture, the development team is delighted with this technique and the level of engagement it provides.  In all seriousness the Wall of Wonder quickly brought life to Daily stand-ups where team members would review their status on their assigned cards and often returned their completed cards and retrieved new cards during the stand-up.  Business stakeholders frequently wandered by to check on progress and enjoyed seeing the tactile nature of the Wall of Wonder which felt ‘real’ compared to the canned reports they found in their corporate project management applications.  For such a modest investment in materials and training, a Wall of Wonder can yield remarkable benefits and is a worthwhile technique for any Agile team to leverage.

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A Unified Approach to Agility

With the increasing interest in Agile techniques such as Scrum and XP, I often come across clients and project managers assuming that these approaches alone are sufficient to ensure the success of their projects.  In actuality, the Agile Principles are really a value system that help contribute to effective behaviors on a project.  None of the agile techniques recommend dispensing with the well defined practices that govern effective project implementations such as risk, scope and change management (amongst others).  In fact most of the Agile techniques found in current literature are intended to work within existing frameworks and metamodels, without which your projects won’t succeed.

Read the article

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Leveraging Offshore Software Development Centers

If you’ve been working in the software development industry for the last five years you’ll have heard the increasing clamor to use offshore development resources. Most of the initial interest on offshore was focused on the significant cost savings that it could offer, however, recently these claims have been enhanced with promises of increased quality thanks to the high CMM certifications of many offshore development organizations. This article is a short primer on some real world experiences that might help you if you’re either thinking of following this approach or you’re in the midst of an offshore software development project. Read the Article

Enterprise Architecture

This artifact is not so much a template as an example of how to develop and implement an Enterprise Architecture.  This reflects work I created approximately fifteen years ago with several specific goals in mind.  The first was to implement a consistent mechanism for managing IT investments across a dynamic, rapid growth business environment.  Secondly, I wanted to develop the site in such a way that maintaining its content would be relatively straightforward, primarily leveraging network file storage to reference standards and guidelines.  Finally, I wanted to ensure a visual metaphor that would be salient to business and IT stakeholders and impress upon them the solid foundation an Enterprise Architecture provides.

There is a high emphasis on aligning technology processes and the overall architecture with business goals and strategies.  It has very much of a Zachman Framework feel which I was very influenced by at the time.   The entire site emphasizes the importance of aligning IT with Business Goals and priorities which since it was developed before the PMP and ITIL shows some of the prescience that the framework provides.

This is a complete website which was designed to allow easy navigation of important IS reference material with a minimum of maintenance and support.  Documentation is included on both the Java applets used for mouseovers on images and the menu applet within the site.  The rest of the material consists of templates and examples which could be of considerable value to someone responsible for managing the creation of a similar set of material.  This artifact is probably more relevant for someone managing IT assets and resources across a medium sized organization (500 – 5,000 users).

Weighted Criteria Assessment Matrix

The Weighted Criteria Assessment Matrix is a tool designed to aid decision making involving a large number of criteria or decision points. This tool is primarily used for technology decisions but can easily be modified for any multi-criteria decision. As the name suggests, these criteria are ‘weighted’ based on their importance to the decision. The goal is to provide an objective assessment of a decision (which can be a product selection or an architecture decision). Any number of products or decisions can be compared simply by “copy and pasting” one of the existing columns into a new column.  This template includes an instructions tab which provides more details.

Project Iteration Routemap

The Iteration Route Map is a tool that identifies what functionality will be delivered in each iteration of a project. As the name suggests it acts as a map that project stakeholders can reference in order to anticipate how the application will develop throughout its lifecycle. The Iteration Route Map is primarily used by the architect and development team to manage analysis and design and implementation activities throughout the project but every team member and stakeholder will find value in reviewing it once completed.  The template comes with instructions and examples.

Leveraging Social Collaboration Tools for Effective Project Management

One of the reasons social media has exploded in popularity and use is the profound effect it has on improving communication.  The heart of successful projects is the communication amongst teams and stakeholders, so it only makes sense for project managers to look for ways to leverage social collaboration tools.  This presentation provides an inventory of available tools like Twitter and Wikis to help strengthen communication mechanisms in your project and provides real world examples of how to get the most out of these tools.

Presented at the 2010 Project Management Institute Conference (Houston).

Crowdsourcing your PMO Governance Model

Crowdsourcing is a relatively new term that describes the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people or community.  In this presentation, that was part of the 2009 PMO Symposium, an innovative approach to developing an organization’s PMO Governance model was offered that leveraged crowdsourcing and Wikis to create a self-sustaining governance model that was easily scalable and adapted readily to changing organizational needs.