Review: AgileTO November Meetup – Refining features and tech debt

On Nov. 16 2016, I participated in the AgileTO meetup for the first time and I must say it was huge. There were around 200 people, among participants, facilitators, presenters and staff.

The subject of this meeting was to play 2 games in groups of 6:

The Product Owner Value Game’s objective was to make us think strategically in how to decompose features into stories through refinements.

Each group has an initial budget and the goal is to add as much business value as possible for the client by implementing features.

In the game, we have some Features cards. For each feature, there are some associated user stories with their respective business value and the effort needed to implement. All we need to do is to decide how we’re going to spend our budget refining stories and implementing them (or not) according to the business value they add. This was played in 3 sprints of 10 minutes each.

The The lessons I learned from this game were:

  • It’s worth to spend some time in thinking the strategy, but thinking too much sometimes makes your team get stuck. Therefore, no business value is added.
  • It’s important to invest time and budget on features that really add relevant business value that can be perceived by clients, instead of spending everything in small features that cannot be perceived in the end.
  • We’re tempted to invest in the higher value features, but we might pay our sins: doing this may cause a technical debt due to bad coding, mainly, making the entire team to get trapped and slowing the development process. This situation links to the next activity we had this night: the Technical Debt Game.
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Source: Meetup

The Technical Debt Game’s objective was to highlight how a technical debt can drastically reduce a software or application business value and how important it is to invest in reducing these debts in order to create new value.

It’s played with 8 white dices, which represent the new value created (NV), and 4 green dices for the technical debt (TD). The total – 12 dices – represent the team’s capacity.

We had 10 turns to roll the dices, each turn representing a sprint. The net value between the total for the NV and TD is the real business value created for each sprint.

It’s possible, along the sprints, to invest in some actions to reduce the technical debt, but it has a price: reducing some white dices (NV) for some sprints in order to reduce the green dices (TD) in other sprints.

The The lessons I learned from this  game were:

  • Remediating a tech debt in the beginning pays-off. Although it requires a high investment, it will help the development process to flow better after the fixes are put in place. The business value gets lower for some time, but it starts to grow again.
  • Taking too long to remediate can result in having no time to put all the fixes needed in place to add business value to your product.
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Source: Meetup

These both games relate to the modern Agile methodology applied to software development in the following ways:

  1. Observe how long your team takes to implement a feature, the percentage of time spent in non-value work (defects, support, etc.), and how faster the development would be if the code was perfect.
  2. Orient yourself and your team on the impacts of a bad code.
  3. Decide to stop bad coding by creating an agreement within the team to take care of bad code and to dedicate some capacity to technical debt reduction and prevention.
  4. Act, fixing the code, starting to automate some processes, and implementing agile engineering practices.

In the end, “94% of the problems are related to systems, not to people” – Declan Whelan

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Source: Meetup

The AgileTo meetings happen monthly and always bring hands-on activities related do Agile project management methodology, specially related to development teams. The audience is mixed: project managers (both agile and waterfall), product owners, developers, designers, business owners, team leads etc.

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