Tag Archives: Scrum

How do you create successful software development teams? (Part 1)

By David Bicknell

Campaign4Change recently took part in a software development roundtable organised by the Dutch software specialist Software Improvement Group (SIG) to find what makes successful teams in software development.

The roundtable featured two specialists in creating specialist teams: Andrew de la Haye, chief operating officer, at RIPE Network Co-ordination Centre (RIPE NCC), one of five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) providing Internet resource allocations, registration services and coordination activities that support the operation of the Internet globally; and author and management expert Kevan Hall, chief executive of Global Integration.

The event discussed the process in the creation of excellent teams in software development, the qualities shared by successful teams, the role that management plays in their creation, while highighting some of the factors that help create productive teams, and the issues faced by the people managing them. 


Arguably, great development teams typically demonstrate a lot of very tight teamwork, with small groups that all know and understand each other working intensively together.

According to Andrew de la Haye, what makes effective teams  is a mix of  strategy, team dynamics, communication, and multifunctional commitment.

“Clarity on the company’s strategy is extremely important in creating an effective team. Very high level strrategies are very difficult to comprehend in regards to the work. Communication is very important: it is the alignment between what we say and what we do. We have to reinforce and embody the goals we have,” says de la Haye.

“Where I used to work, people might say ‘We were going to the factory today. And that meant the developers sitting in a big room. But the word factory is a bit misleading. These guys are not blue-collar workers. They are highly educated and they are much more intelligent than I am. They are intelligent individuals with lots of ideas, which I want to nourish.

Agile Empowerment

“With communication in mind, what we are also doing is lots of measurement and making it very visible,” says de la Haye. “For example in our room, I have a chart showing the quality of our software  to the team, showing how they’re doing. That contributes to the notion of quality and effectiveness in the team.

“Then there are the dynamics of the group. We use Agile development, which means that we deliver every second week to the business side. The business side may say, ‘We don’t like the feature. We don’t like the colour.’ I don’t care what they say as long as what we produce fits their needs. And because the iterations are very short, it’s very easy to change it.

“Another key factor is empowerment of the team with Scrum. We have a huge board with sticky notes and colours. It might say that a particular feature is required, at a very high level. And then they decide who’s doing what. I’m not even part of that discussion. These guys are very bright and know what they’re good at. I do have some control mechanisms in place. We measure quality and I measure the amount of what they deliver. I don’t ask my developers, ‘Can you tell me how many hours you were working?’ because they are not very good at predicting the amount of hours. But what they are very good at is predicting the complexity based on complexity points. And the complexity points tell me how much time something will take.

“I had this phrase, ‘Quality is cheap,’ and I had some arguments with people over its meaning. What is says that ‘If you do really really good work, the rework that you have to do, which is really more than doing it properly in the first instance, you will be able to reduce that rework.’ And that has to be reinforced. If we hire people, we hire people who like quality and are quality driven and that’s very important as well.

Commitment to quality

“We have multidisciplinary teams. And we have expertise areas, but we don’t have experts. An expert is someone you put on a pedestal and nurture. Someone with an expertise area is willing to broaden that knowledge but also is able to pick up other knowledge. In the Scrum team, we have developers and senior developers. That’s it – no architects, senior architects, enterprise architects. And a healthy turnover is very important as well. For us, it’s about 10-15%. You need new blood in your team once in a while. We are not consultants, so we are not doing cutting edge stuff. But we’re not lagging behind either. So you need to replenish your team with the knowledge that’s available, and that’s very important to the team.

“The final area is the commitment. If you have all these areas well in place, you have a team that is very committed. Committed to quality; committed to our overall goals as a company. They all understand why our company is there. And it’s not to make money. They are empowered and result-oriented. And one of the things that gets me lots of credit is that I give them lots of learning opportunities. We have a budget for our developers  and what we used to do was send them away to the US, to California to a conference, that kind of stuff. And the value that came back was not that much. They may have had a great time, but that’s not the commitment I’m looking for.

“So now I say, ‘Take two weeks in the office. Come in whenever you like. Leave whenever you like and do something you think is interesting for yourself. And after those two weeks, show the team what you have been doing. Hopefully it’s innovative and hopefully people learn from it. It’s not something we need to apply. We might; we might not. But it should be a learning experience for you.’

“At RIPE NCC, we’re not top heavy on mobile applications. And it’s not an area that we need to go into. But we had this guy whose ambition is to work for a mobile operator in a couple of years’ time. And so he created a mobile app for us. I’m not scared of losing him because I expect that turnover anyway. The guy is very committed to his job because I take him very seriously. I help him get to the next level. So he might stay for the next six months and if I really need him he will come back. It’s all about collaboration with my teams.

“My strategy director said ‘I keep going to these strategy conferences and I’ll see the same people the same time over and over again. And they tell me stuff that I already know about because of publications etc, and there’s not much value.’ So then he went to a conference for surgeons which he admitted was way beyond his league. And he said it was so interesting to see this different world, that he actually took away more from a conference with surgeons than those strategy meetings he went to for years and years. And that gave me the idea of just letting these people do what they want to do. It’s not a done deal that they have to spend their two weeks in-house. But most of them do. It’s not that we don’t send them to conferences. I might send them anyway.

“There is a correlation between value delivered and the commitment to what they do and feeling part of what they deliver in Agile development. They have these regular check-ups with the busines and it’s very nice if you build something for two weeks and ou present it to a business person and they are sitting there with a big smile on their face, because he has exactly what he wanted and he never had that before. There is a correlation between happiness, commitment and Agile development.”

SIG pointed that three of its clients which all delivered four or five star software quality had followed a Scrum-like approach or had adopted Agile principles. Scrum teams tend to be more cohesive because they are empowered: they have to do it themselves. They decide amongst themselves what to do to deliver the right product.

Remote working or co-location

In contrast to other IT working environments, there is little or no remote working in RIPE NCC’s software development, says Haye.

“We have everyone here in one environment, which helps create some trust, and understand who in the team does what. Then once they understood each other, then perhaps there’s some leeway for remote working.But first they had to establish the trust.”

“I think it depends what type of work you do,” says Kevan Hall. “I’m a big corporate person.  The only area where I see the big global multinationals moving back to co-location is in very intensive R&D groups, such as the auto industry, because they seem to be unable to manage distributed R&D. One of the big challenges in distributed research teams is serendipity. It’s the bouncing off and the ideas and those kinds of things.  You can do that when you get people together and you can to a certain extent do it through a conference call, and videoconferencing and WebEx and things like that.

“But even in an open-plan office, if you look at how far apart people’s desks are, that affects how often they just spontaneously talk. Anything up to ten metres, you talk. Anything beyond ten metres, forget it.”

Too much teamwork

“It may be shocking, but I actually spend quite a bit of my time trying to discourage teamwork, because one of the things in the kind of organisation that is distributed or  global is that teamwork is really expensive.  It requires people to be accessible in the same time, if not the same place. and for global teams, there isn’t a right time to do that. It’s also very expensive.

“So when the cost of something goes up, the demand for it should come down. But because we’ve got this almost unthinking attachment to teams for everything, it hasn’t. And when we ask people how they’re spending their time, they tell us they’re spending two days a week in meetings, and they get 60 emails a day, 85% of which is irrelevant. We’re just sharing too much stuff.

“I used to be in manufacturing and if somebody told me we were producing 50% scrap, we’d have had a really sharp discussion about the future of that factory.  But we routinely accept 50% waste in collaboration. We have to be much more selective about when we use teams.”

Lifting the lid on Agile development within a public sector IT project

By David Bicknell

It’s not often that you get an insight into the workings of Agile development within a public sector  IT project.

So the Inspector General’s report into the Sentinel IT project at the FBI that I mentioned a couple of days ago offers a rare and unique picture into how the sprints, story points etc are progressing. This will not be new to Agile exponents – but the detail below may be of interest to those unfamiliar with Agile’s processes.

Transition to an Agile Development Approach

The report’s discussion of Agile within the Sentinel project says this:

“Agile software development is not a set of tools or a single methodology, but an approach that leverages close collaboration between representatives of system users, system developers, and testers to deliver functionality in a compressed timeframe and on a continuous basis. The delivery of working software is the primary measure of progress, and satisfying customers through the delivery of valuable software is treated as the highest priority during development.

“While an Agile methodology can be implemented in a variety of ways, the FBI is implementing a variation called Scrum, an iterative methodology which breaks the development effort into increments called sprints, each of which the FBI decided would last 2 weeks.

“At the conclusion of each sprint, User Stories – functions that a system user would typically perform – along with Architecture Stories – qualities that define the system software architecture and configuration – are planned and completed, and it is the successful completion of these stories that is measured as progress for the project.”

Development Progress

“As of August 26, 2011, the FBI had completed 22 of 24 planned sprints. Under the Scrum approach, a project’s progress and amount of work remaining is measured using a burndown chart, which depicts how factors such as the rate at which a development team completes work (a team’s velocity) and changes in a project’s scope affect its likelihood of staying on schedule and within budget over time.

“This information can be used by project management and project stakeholders to estimate the duration of the project or the amount of work that can be completed within an identified amount of time.

“During the first 22 sprints (Sprint 0 through Sprint 21), the FBI had completed 1,545 of the 3,093 story points (1,548 remaining) that it identified at the beginning of the project, or about 50 percent.  As of December 2, 2011, the FBI reported that it had completed 28 of 33 planned sprints ….It had also completed 2,345 story points  – 748 remained to be completed.”


The Report says this of the Agile team’s velocity:

“According to FBI officials, after five sprints have been completed, the velocity, or rate at which an Agile team completes story points, can be used to project the completion rate of future work. During Sprints 5 through 21, the Sentinel team’s average velocity was 80 story points per sprint.

“During our review, we estimated that if the team’s velocity remained at 80 story points per sprint, the FBI would complete about 55 percent of the intended functionality by the end of the project’s originally planned 24 sprints on September 23, 2011. At that rate of development we estimated that Sentinel will be completed in June 2012.

“On September 6, 2011, the FBI CIO stated that the FBI had added six development sprints to Sentinel’s development schedule and that the FBI then planned to end development on December 16, 2011, after 30 sprints. After development ended, the FBI planned to test Sentinel for about 6 weeks and then deploy the system to all users in January 2012. During the additional development sprints, the FBI planned to finish the functionality work that it previously planned to complete by September 23, 2011.

“Based on the average velocity of 80 story points per sprint, and the number of remaining story points to be completed (1,548) we estimated that the FBI would complete about 71 percent of the intended functionality by the end of the project’s 30 development sprints on December 16, 2011.

“On December 1, 2011, the FBI again extended the schedule for the completion of Sentinel. The CTO stated that the FBI had added four development sprints to Sentinel’s development schedule and that the FBI now plans to end development in February 2012, after 34 sprints. After development, the FBI plans to test Sentinel for about 12 weeks and then deploy the system to all users in May 2012. During this testing period, the FBI plans to test Sentinel’s hardware and execute a test of all major Sentinel functionality that will involve personnel from across the FBI.

“Also in December 2011, after the FBI received a copy of our draft report, the FBI reported to us that during Sprints 5 through 28 it had completed 2,167 story points, an average of 90 story points per sprint – 10 more story points than its average rate as of September 2011.

“Based on this average velocity and the number of remaining story points to be completed (748) during the final 5 sprints under this plan, the Sentinel team must increase its average velocity to approximately 150 story points per sprint.

“However, the six sprints between the end of development and deployment – during which the FBI will test Sentinel – could also have story points assigned to them that the FBI is not accounting for at this time, and as a result the total number of story points to complete the project could increase. Without including such an increase, the FBI would need to average about 68 story points per sprint over the total 11 sprints remaining before the planned May 2012 deployment.”

Sentinel Agile Development Approach

The report’s Appendix says this about the FBI’s approach to its Agile development for Sentinel:

“In October 2010 the FBI identified a total of 670 stories for the Sentinel Product Backlog, or the compilation of all of the project’s stories. The FBI has mapped the Product Backlog to each of the requirements in Sentinel’s Systems Requirements Specification (SRS), which serves as an important control to ensure that the backlog, and the stories it contains, cover all of Sentinel’s requirements. The FBI also assigned weighted amounts, or “story points,” to each story in the Product Backlog based on the difficulty of the work associated with each story. The FBI assigned a total of 3,093 story points to its 670 stories in the Sentinel Product Backlog.”

The Report’s Conclusion

Although it appears that the FBI has made good progress with its Agile development, adopting Agile may not be enough to get the project exactly on track, with some testing issues and hardware problems discussed in the report.

“It is too early to judge whether the FBI’s Agile development of Sentinel will meet its newly revised budget and completion goals and the needs of FBI agents and analysts.

“While the Sentinel Advisory Group responded positively to the version of Sentinel it tested, results from wider testing were not as positive. Also, none of the Agile-developed Sentinel has been deployed to all users to give them the ability to enter actual case data and assist FBI agents and analysts in more efficiently performing their jobs.

“Despite the FBI’s self-reported progress in developing Sentinel, we are concerned that the FBI is not documenting that the functionality developed during each sprint has met the FBI’s acceptance criteria. Our concerns about the lack of transparency of Sentinel’s progress are magnified by the apparent lack of comprehensive and timely system testing.

“Our concerns about the lack of transparency also extend to Sentinel’s cooperation with internal and external oversight entities, to which Sentinel did not provide the necessary system documentation for them to perform their critical oversight and reporting functions.

“We believe that this issue could be resolved, at least in part, with a revision to the FBI’s Life Cycle Management Directive to include standards for Agile development methodologies.

“….Sentinel experienced significant performance problems during the Sentinel Functional Exercise. The FBI attributed these performance problems to either the system architecture or the computer hardware.

“According to the FBI, subsequent operational testing confirmed the inadequacy of the legacy hardware and the requirement to significantly expand the infrastructure before the system could be deployed to all users. In November 2011, the FBI requested that Lockheed Martin provide a cost proposal for this additional hardware.”

The FBI’s Response

In its response to the report, the FBI says:

 “….we are mindful of the short delay we have recently encountered under our new” Agile” approach. The Sentinel development schedule has recently been extended by two months (from December 2011 to February 2012), and the FBI-wide deployment is now scheduled for May 2012, as described in this Report.

“This modest extension is due primarily to the need to implement a standard  five-year “refresh” of computer hardware, so the Sentinel software will provide the required functionality as intended. Indeed, you have determined that, given the pace at which the program has proceeded under the Agile approach over the time period you reviewed, your estimate for completion is essentially the same – June 2012.

“We have one concern with the current draft of the Report. We request that you note that the hardware we are acquiring for the refresh, which is being purchased using fiscal year 2012 operations and maintenance funds, is separate from the development activities being carried out by the Agile team under the development budget.

“The refresh is part of the normal and expected operations and maintenance activities of the FBI, and such a refresh is a common maintenance activity where hardware has reached its expected replacement threshold. We do not agree that the FBI is using operations and maintenance funds for the development of Sentinel…and we ask that you make this revision.”