Swarming System Analysis Tools

September 10, 2008

What if we could model the interaction of teams the same way that we model the behavior of slime-molds, ants, and other simple organisms? What if we could specify some rules and then watch our artificial system run. What would we look for in our patterns that would indicate a desirable outcome?

This is certainly not an original idea on my part – In Swarm Creativity: Competitive Advantage through Collaborative Innovation Networks Peter Gloor talks about a tool they used to model these “Innovation Networks”. Of course you might say that the “Sim” games are a classic example of this sort of tool (Spore, theSims). Another example can be found at BioTeams where Ken Thompson focuses on the role of new communication tools to foster swarm like behavior (cell phone texting, IM, Twitter, Friend Feed, etc.).

Cool stuff. Check it out.

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10 Different Ways to Run a Planning Meeting

September 10, 2008

Tired of running your sprint planning meetings exactly the same way every iteration? Here are a few ideas for alternatives to the “standard” sprint planning meeting:

  1. Rotating Story Cards
  2. JAD
  3. Split and Recombine
  4. Tag Team
  5. Steering Committee
  6. Recruit Through Swarming
  7. Interview with Customer(s)
  8. Multi-team
  9. The 10 Commandments
  10. Rephrasing
  11. (OK, so it’s not 10 – sue me) Super-Iterative Planning

Rotating Story Cards – That’s right. Rotate ’em, pass ’em around, draw funny pictures on them. You’d be amazed what happens when everyone has to handle them. Hand them to someone on the team and ask them to tell you what they (the stories) are all about. It’s very likely they will breeze through a couple and then stop, scratch their heads, and admit they have no idea what the next story is all about. Perfect! Follow up with questions, modify the story, talk about the story and hand the deck to the next person.

JAD – Anybody try JAD (Joint Application Development)? JAD really is just an acronym for well run, heavily facilitated planning meetings. These came into vogue around the same time that Agile did. There are a lot of good techniques for garnering stakeholder input, and lots of info on facilitation associated with this technique. All of which could be directly applied to Sprint planning.

Split and Recombine – split the team, and the cards into two or more groups. Have them work separately for a while to analyse the stories, then swap.

Tag Team – Pair people up and have them review a story together. Present the story to the team. Come up with a list of questions for the story. Come up with a list of proposed tasks.

Steering Committee – Sometimes the team will appoint a subgroup to serve as a committee. The committee is responsible for grooming the backlog and setting everything up nice and pretty for the rest of the team. This enables the rest of the team to keep focused on implementation, while putting people they trust in charge of massaging the requirements.

Recruit Through Swarming – Take the facilitator out of the equation. Let the people decide what they are going to work on next. No rules – anybody can pick any story.

Interview with Customer(s) – Treat the planning meeting like an interview. Have a prepared set of questions, capture the answers.

Multi-team – Break up into sub teams (~3 people). Have the sub teams pull items from the backlog and deliver them. Teams can compete, teams can share, teams can reorganize frequently

The 10 Commandments – OK, so maybe there is no burning bush, but sometimes I think the product owner is like Moses delivering the ten commandments to the team. Here are your stories…implement them. This is probably a smell…no make that a stink!

Rephrasing – Ask the team to put the stories in their own words. Perhaps everyone could do this. Then share the results. Rephrasing something requires that you understand it to begin with. I think you might find some rephrasings that sound a lot better than the originals.

Super Iterative Planning – What if you had a constraint that only allowed you to do your complete planning meeting in 10 minutes? Then you do a retrospective for 2 minutes, and try again. How many iterations of planning does it take to come up with a good plan?

OK, So there you go. I bet there are a whole bunch of different ways to run a planning meeting. So get off your duff and try something different! An effective planning meeting is a meeting where everyone is engaged and interacting – that demands a great deal of creativity from us as facilitators.