Agile Tour Visits Hyderabad

For the first time Agile tour visited Hyderabad last weekend on October 1st. The event was held at the awesome HICC.

This event comes in the back of Agile Hyderabad 2011 conference which was a well organized one and had great speakers like Vibhu Srinivasan and Jesse Fewell.

The theme for Agile tour Hyderabad was Agile First Steps. As the theme indicates, the conference delved into the basics of Agile, especially the “what” bit — understanding what agile is and what benefits it provides. Understandably, the talks didn’t venture much into the “how” of it. On a personal note, it was a little disappointing to have such a theme as I was pretty much comfortable with the basics of Agile after reading books on Scrum, Extreme Programming, Lean Software Development and of course practicising xDD and little bit of Scrum. But I was also looking forward to meet the agile community in Hyderabad.

The event kicked off with a key note by Mr. Vivek Jain, Director, Pega Systems, on “Introducing Agile Work in a Product Enterprise”. Basically the talk was about how Pega System adopted Scrum and have seen exponential growth in revenue numbers and have successfully launched a couple of products after that. They had adopted Scrum hardly 2 years back after doing waterfall/chaotic model for a decade or long. The talk was well delivered but I have a peeve for the way it was delivered. I thought they spend lot time explaning Pega Systems, their revenue and market analysis etc. rather than focussing more on nitty-gritties of how really Scrum works at the ground level or at least what their experience has been.

Then we moved to the 2nd key note of the day by Madhur Kathuria. Madhur is the only Certified Scrum Coach in India, and I have heard him talk at Agile Hyderabad 2011. He is an eloquent speaker and really engages the audience well in his talks. So I was expecting a very good session and Madhur really delivered with his keynote on “Why it’s hard to Scrum in India”. He touched on the cultural factors which stand against us (Indians) when it is coming to do Scrum. I still remember the points he delivered on that day on top of my mind. I think some of the factors he touched upon were

  • The Cultural Factors – where we Indians hesitate to say NO
  • Chalta Hai Attitude & Jugaad – basically we tend accept status quo and just accept to fate “it’s like that only”
  • The Service Focus – where we accept anything that client tells us to do blindly
  • The Power Index – where the perceived distance to power center is pretty large when it comes to Inida.

Overall Madhur did a great job and by interspersing games between the talks and there by engaging all the participants the session received a good response.

After the keynote was the time for Just a Minute sessions where anyone can walk up to the stage and talk for a minute or two about their pet topics. I talked about the lack of focus on Engineering Practices in Scrum, especially in Indian context how bad it may hurt the success of agile projects. The message I was trying to drive was – even if we do Scrum, do standups and plan our sprints etc. if we are bad at writing code, if we do not do proper TDD, Refactoring, Continuous Integration and so on, we are basically just sugar-coating our old bad habits with the guise of Scrum and in a couple of years down the line we could be staring at a system which would be tough to maintain, enhance and understand much like the Big Ball of Mud. Weren’t those the problems which waterfall had and agile tried to solve when it came to limelight in the early 2000s?

Here is a picture of me doing my JAM session.

Arun's JAM

The next 30mts was for Open Space where, any one could propose a topic and whoever interested in topic can form a group and discuss the same. There were around 8 topics up for discussion. I participated in topic “TDD” and had some heated debate with my fellow participants and I also propsed and anchored a topic on “What killed waterfall could agile”. Again it was based on my JAM talk about lack of engineering focus while practicing agile. The ideas were around lack of learning in technical side from Project Managers, lack of passion to improve by the upcoming developer community in India and of course the attitude that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix” which is dangerous! And here is why, quoting from the Refactoring Workbook:

Build Testing into Your Practice

There’s an old adage (as so many are), “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” (How many times has that last simple change caused an unexpected bug?) In programming, the downside of applying this adage is that the code just gets uglier and uglier.
Refactoring is willing to go against this rule through two mechanisms: safe refactorings and a supply of tests to verify that the transformations have been done correctly. Don’t neglect your tests.

In fact resonating my idea Jesse Fewell has touched upon the same topic in his latest blog past about his experiences with India. Read the section India’s talent is an impediment. Sad, but true!

The afternoon sessions were split into two tracks and I had a chance to attend the following topics

Learning Agile by Flipping Pennies, by Tushar Somaiya – the idea of the session was simple, there was a team of 4 (requirements guy, design guy, coder, tester) and their respective managers. The team had to flip a bunch of different coins based on some value assigned. First it was done in waterfall way, then it was done in a more iterative way with smaller releases and focussed priorities. After each round the timings were noted and we were shown how agile really reduced the time to market and how effectively people were engaged rather than sitting idle.

Culture and it compatibility in Agile Adoption, by Mohammed Shaik, PayPal – Shaik really spoke well from his experience of 10+ years on what sort of org culture works for Agile and what doesn’t work. He was really forthright in pointing out the short comings of Agile Projects being done in India and how they were just doing lipservice in the name of Agile.

Scrum and Lean: Multiply the Powers, by Om Band, SAP Labs – He demonstrated how SAP had adopted lean practices and meshed it with Scrum and using it in their day-to-day work. I thought this was the best session I attended, it really concentrated on the meat instead of focussing on SAP. The explanations of Lean principles were crisp and to the point. I really enjoyed this session, more so because I am very keen in Lean Startup concept as well.

Master the how, not just the what and why in Agile world, by Shweta Parashar, Xebia – This was a game of building Lego House using Scrum methodology. There were 3 teams of 7 members and each team had Scrum Master. We planned on the Back log, Sprint Plans and Sprint Tasks embarked on building the house by picking task by task. There was also a scrum board on which we posted our tasks using sticky-notes, and moved them from “To Do” to “In Progress” to “Done” time to time. I think the time given for the session was not enough to complete the task or the task was big (probably they could have chosen a less complicated lego toy), nevertheless it was an enjoyable experience. I thought even the presenters were doing it the first time and generally the teams struggled to build the house because there were a hell of a lot of pieces to be arranged. Our team did a fairly decent job, and only we could build something which was appreciated by our Product Owners (aka presenters). Perphaps my experience of playing with my son daily using blocks and lego toys helped us 😉

Overall

Yea, the cookies were real good, food was awesome, and the desserts were fabulous 😉

Coming to the sessions, as I said it was at a very basic level. So if you were aware of Agile Methodology and its basics there was nothing much to take home as learning — it was just reinstating the points back. Again more of it was tuned towards corporate audience in well-set companies (read Project Managers). As a Startup founder may be many of these points may not be applicable for my situation. But looking at the audinece profile, most of the members were Project Managers who never had done Agile in full spirit, they were also trying to figure out how things worked in Agile and many were confused whether what practice they were doing in their job was Agile or not. I could see that there were many misconceptions and misunderstanding floating around. Like one guy concluded that Waterfall with shorter iterations is Agile, or some one else was saying that they did TDD, where they documented the test-case in a Word Doc before starting coding or a Project Manager was mentioning how Agile reduced their release cycle from one year to 6-7 months.

And adding to the list is my pet peeve the target audience was just Project Managers not developers for this conference. I really hope that they had one track next year as to how they do agile technically as well like how you practically do TDD with xUnit or how you refactor the code and stuff like that sort. Again I may be wrong because in Indian context only managerial stuff may sell.

But overall I would rate the event was very good, it gave opportunity to meet a lot of people and surely I hope Agile Tour would come up with a big bang next year as well.

Some of the links from the event
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.267944886569832&type=1
http://www.isec.co/event_detail_info.php?event_id=5

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