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The primary reference “MySql.Data” could not be resolved because it was built against the “.NETFramework,Version=v4.5” framework. This is a higher version than the currently targeted framework “.NETFramework,Version=v4.0”.

We have a VB.NET application which was originally developed with the target framework as .NET Framework 4.5. However, because the client wants it to also run on Windows XP, we were forced it to change to .NET Framework 4. The solution is in this link. Just follow the steps on the Workaround section. I also copied the steps below to save you time from opening another page.

However, of course, if the current program requires the features that .NET Framework 4.5 offers, then you have no other choice but to re-program to support Windows XP (if the client doesn’t want to upgrade their computers and is willing to pay again to support Windows XP).


Workaround

The simplest workaround is to edit the modeling project file to ignore target framework version mismatches as follows:

1. Unload the modeling project by right clicking on it in Solution Explorer window and choosing Unload Project.

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2. Open the project file into the editor by right clicking on it in Solution Explorer window and choosing Edit projectname.modelproj.

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3. Add the following element inside the <Project> element:
<PropertyGroup>

<ResolveAssemblyReferenceIgnoreTargetFrameworkAttributeVersionMismatch>true</ResolveAssemblyReferenceIgnoreTargetFrameworkAttributeVersionMismatch>

</PropertyGroup>

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4. Save the project file.

5. Right click on the modeling project in Solution Explorer and choose Reload Project.

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6. Validate your architecture in the usual way.

The Ultimate Introduction To Agile Project Management

The Brief

You’re in charge of delivering your company’s latest and greatest initiative that’s going to change the face of “Widgets International” forever. It’s a software project that’ll engage and enthrall your customers, make your colleague’s lives easier, and make the company millions in revenue. There’s a great deal of anticipation, fervour, excitement, and expectation. You need to get it done as quickly as possible, so your business can start to reap the benefits. The future success of the company depends on you. All eyes are on you. You cannot fail.

Agile project management

At first, you’re thinking to yourself “awesome, I’m up for the challenge. Let’s get this thing done!”. You pause for a moment, step back, and think to yourself “okay, so how do we do this?”. You start to talk to your colleagues and peers. You spend time searching for best practice software development and project management techniques, but the options and approaches are countless. There are acronyms and methodologies aplenty. Notable ones rise to the top. Doubt creeps in. Which one should we use? How can I guarantee success? What if I make the wrong decisions?

When it comes to managing software projects, there’s a heady mix of options supported by a myriad of opinion. Voices from the corners of the room whisper “try doing it this way”, others shout “this is the only way to do it”, and the rest just whimper “don’t manage it at all, just get on with it”. In reality, all those voices speak some truth. But what’s important is working out what’s right for your needs, your team, your business, and your customers.

Setting the Scene

There was a time when software project management sat squarely in one of three camps. There were the heavy frameworks that let you make decisions on how you execute and deliver, while offering a structure to maintain control and governance. There were prescriptive sequential methodologies like waterfall that forced you to plan lengthy projects, understand and commit to all your requirements, design and sign off complex systems, write lots of code, and then test (all before your customer gets to see it for the first time). And finally, the less prescriptive but iterative software development life cycles (SDLC) that encourage rapid prototyping or larger systems to be designed, built, and delivered in incremental steps, each building on top of the other.

Agile software development and Agile project management were born out of the inadequacies of the waterfall and the benefits of the iterative approaches to software delivery. They can trace their roots to the 1950’s, thought leadership in the 70’s, maturity in the 90’s and adoption through the 00’s. In 2001, a group of practitioners and experts created the agile manifesto, aimed at defining 4 values and 12 guiding principles that seek to embody the spirit of Agile software development and to encourage its evolution. And it has definitely evolved.

Now, simply calling something Agile isn’t particularly helpful. The word, even in a software context, means different things to different people or organizations. There are many facets, definitions, implementations, and interpretations. Each body that embraces agile tends to try to give it its own definition.

Simply calling something Agile isn’t particularly helpful.

Suffice to say that Agile software development and project management are a group of related behaviours, frameworks, techniques, and concepts that fundamentally favor the delivery of the right working software as early and as frequently as realistically possible.

I mentioned earlier that Agile, as applied to software development or project management, are different things. In a nutshell, Agile software development takes care of developing great software in a business as usual (BAU) or project context. Agile project management, on the other hand, takes care of the governance and control required to deliver complex projects including but not limited to software.

There are many Agile software development methods available, such as Scrum, Kanban, XP, and Lean Software Development. But just as the game of rugby is about more than the scrum, so is Agile. In isolation, these Agile paradigms do not address the full lifecycle of project management required in complex projects such as governance, resourcing, financial, explicit risk management, and many other important project management concepts. For these, you might want to consider PMI Agile or PRINCE2 Agile – think of it as “Governed Agility”.

Scrum and agile project management

Why Do We Need To Be Agile?

Long ago, we roamed the land to gather food and shelter to survive. They were simple needs, but pretty agile. Some time later, countries and economies grew and prospered on the back of the Industrial Revolution. This was the birth of management and control and the loss of agility. Now we’re in the Information Age or Revolution, where businesses employ knowledge workers. Knowledge workers are you, your partners, your colleagues and peers that endeavor to create great solutions to customer, business, social, economic and world problems. Knowledge workers apply analysis, knowledge, reasoning, understanding, expertise, and skills to often loosely defined and changing needs. These businesses and workers need methods and techniques that cannot be met by old Industrial Age processes and procedures. Agile supports interactions.

Virtually no software project can confidently set out at the beginning and know all that it needs in order to deliver valuable working software without change. Change presents both opportunities and risks to the success of a project. Unmanaged opportunities can mean the difference between a great company and an awesome company. Unmanaged risk spells disaster and ruin. Agile manages change.

Adopting agile allows you to be responsive to changing or new requirements. It empowers development teams to be the experts and make decisions supported by an engaged, trusting, and informed business. It enables you to deliver to customers what they really want. Ultimately, it puts you and your organization in control of delivering high quality valuable software that delivers on customer need and expectations whilst extracting a return on your investment dollars as early as possible. Agile creates value.

There is a cost to adopting agile. It doesn’t come for free. Transforming to an agile approach for software delivery can be a hard path to follow. However, if you internalize the agile philosophy, tread carefully, engage the right team with the right attitude, break things down, make it achievable and realistic and respond to feedback, you will reap rewards. Agile emphasizes collaboration.

The following lists some benefits you can expect:

  • Speed to market
  • Earlier revenue generation
  • Regular delivery of real value
  • Protection for your investment
  • Data, data, data
  • Better product quality
  • Manageable expectations
  • Greater customer satisfaction
  • Higher performing teams
  • Improved visibility on progress
  • Predictability, transparency, and confidence
  • Manageable risk

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill may never have actually said this, but I think it’s a pretty good summation of Agile. We know Agile is the best foot forward for most projects. It encourages you to strive for success, but we always iterate and keep building on it. Agile will encourage you to fail, but fail early and move on. Having the courage to continue and to build the right solution based on insight informed by your customer is what brings the reward.

The thing to keep in mind is you can tailor Agile to your needs. Use the method and governance that is right for your business. Wherever you start, be true to the content, context, and spirit of the method you use – keep it vanilla. If you’re just starting out – Learn. If you’ve been doing it for a while – Understand. If you’re becoming awesome – Apply. Finally, if your business and your projects are complex and interdependent – Govern. Over time, you and your teams will figure out what works best for your business.

Feasibility

So now you’re thinking “okay, I get it. How do I start? Where do I start?”. Well, with all good things, we start at the beginning. And with Agile, it’s by asking yourself “What business value do I want to deliver?”. After all, that’s why we undertake projects, to generate business value. In order to establish if the project is worth undertaking to derive the business value, you need to understand whether it is feasible.

Vision

Is your project projected to increase revenue, enter a new market, acquire more customers, improve customer perception, or make life easier for a given problem you’ve identified? With this in mind, you can state your “Vision”.

  • Your vision may come from different sources – your own bold startup to fix a common problem, business management strategy, your CEO’s pet project, a specific product team, or even your customer’s needs.
  • Try to take a step back from your own shoes and “see” what the future looks like with your new product or service in the hands of your customers.
  • Engage your stakeholders – the CEO, product guy, and customers. Workshop it, don’t attempt this in isolation. Challenge assumptions and validate arguments.
  • Write it down, keep it short. Focus on the business value.
  • Refine it until you all agree the vision resonates with everybody and meets a common interpretation that states where you’re heading.
  • Your vision, if valid, rarely changes. How you get there most certainly will.

People don’t buy what you do, or how you do it. They buy the “why” you do it. This is what creates the emotional connection between your business and your customers. The vision will help illustrate this.

Is it feasible?

Feasibility comes in at least a couple of shades. Typically, you’ll want to understand if your vision of a brighter future for your business and customers is both technically feasible and that it’s feasible for your business to make it happen.

  • If your vision is to make travel to anywhere across the world in under an hour, you may have a problem with the technical feasibility. Since science, physics, and technology haven’t quite caught up with that dream yet, your technical solution may not be viable in anything other than theory. In addition, if your solution was new, this would go well beyond the idea of a Minimal Viable Product (MVP).
  • To test the technical feasibility of your product, consider either exploring it further in a Discovery prototype project or by running a spike in the early stages of the project. You’ll know which method to use by thinking about the scale or complexity of the solution you have in mind.

    “Some of the best knowledge my teams have gained in understanding technical feasibility have come from performing a spike. And often, it’s the simplest solution that wins out!”

  • The second shade of feasibility to consider is whether you, your team or business has the skills and motivation to make it work. Using an example, if you’re great at baking cakes at home for your kids birthday, that’s sweet. But if you want to turn this into a business selling the finest cakes to the world, you need to understand if you can make it scale, handle the business as well as the production, manage distribution and fulfillment, and take care of customer service.
  • This type of vision might be achievable in the long run. But for now, possibly not. So scale it back, think small, take a small chunk that looks realistic and concentrate on delivering the best but smaller aspiration you can. If that manages to engage and delight your customers, get them coming back for more and telling their friends, then scale it up from there using your customer feedback as your guide and compass.
  • Also, you need to know if your project is feasible in terms of budget and timeframe. Can your business afford to deliver this project ? Is the timeframe achievable? Time and money are two of the three constraints in an Agile project that are fixed. We aim to deliver within a given fixed time and within a given fixed budget.
  • The quality of a product refers to the end product that your customers use and the engineering practices your team uses to deliver great, robust, and reliable software. Quality is also something we don’t short change on. Quality criteria, on the other hand, can change. If you’re not setting out to build a Ferrari, the product may not have a high quality perception. If you’re not building space rockets, then the tolerances attained in production terms may be much higher. Set the appropriate tone and expectation early on.

So now you’ve confirmed your dream is more than chocolate fancy, set about testing your assumptions, and proving to people that this endeavor is worth investing in.

Justification

Now depending on your circumstances, justification will come in different forms. But essentially, you want to prove that this project will satisfy customer success criteria, has a chance of success, will deliver value, and is affordable.

  • State your assumptions based on your customer need, then validate them. The Lean Startup gives great guidance on identifying and proving that your product is needed by your customers and will create value.
  • Write, test, and validate your business plan. Now this looks nothing like the ones your bank or Business and Finance major told you to produce. Don’t use them, they will be out of date before the ink is dry. Instead, check out the Business Model Canvas. This is essentially a short form business plan that keeps your focus on your value proposition, your customers, revenue, and costs. Use it to validate if you have a business that will work.

    “I ignored this advice once and spent a long time writing a lengthy traditional 50 page business plan. It got me nowhere. All the assumptions I had made were unfounded, and all the projections I made couldn’t be validated. It was a painful and expensive experience that taught me to never do it again.”

  • If you’re in a mature business with portfolios of projects being delivered in a complex environment, then financial modeling may be necessary. If you must, do this only after you’ve proven the above.
  • Once you’ve built your MVP, there may be a case for creating a more traditional business plan. For example, if you have to go for funding or selection within your company’s portfolio of competing projects and resources. But this will be a business plan based on and informed by the tools used above. It will be lighter too.
  • In any case, use these tools as living, breathing artifacts. Use them as your guide and bellwether. They are never static. Refer to them and revise them as your project or business evolves.

Once you have your justification and all your stakeholders are onboard, you’ll be on fire.

The Feasibility phase is typically performed once in the life of your project. You may find you revisit the vision and feasibility of the project, especially if your data, customers, market or business indicate so. At the very least, they will be your guiding lights throughout.

Initiation

Awesome. The decision has been made, the project has the green light and you’re ready to build. Well, nearly. I know you’re thinking, “c’mon already, really? If we don’t do this now we never will. Let’s get this show on the road!”. But consider this – Agile is nothing if not about delivering value early and often whilst delighting your customers along the way. Taking some time to figure out the best way to deliver your project is the best laid foundation for success.

The Team

In sport, by thinking about your favorite team game you’ll be able to recognise key roles that enable the team to perform as they do. Traditionally you’ll find a manager, a captain, and the rest of the squad. Outside of that, you’ll find coaches, physios, nutritionists, and an assortment of supporting staff. But if we look at the game of rugby, there’s a team within a team. The players that make up the scrum. This pack is made up of designated players whose job it is to win the ball back and continue play. When a scrum is in play, the players from each side then work, with no leader, as a single unit as collaboratively, communicatively, and efficiently as possible to get the ball back in possession. It is the game of rugby that inspired Jeff Sutherland to name his software development methodology, Scrum.

  • Scrum is not the only software development method in the Agile playbook. But it is the one that best describes the Agile concept and behaviors of working as a team, motivating individuals, creating trusting relationships, self-organization, servant-leadership, communication, transparency, and collaboration.
  • Your team will be formed largely by the circumstances you find yourself in. You may have developers available to you, some, none, or all of them may be familiar with Agile to varying degrees. You may want to hire a new team or partner with a 3rd party.
  • Other roles will be required too, but we’ll discuss those later.
  • It has been said that if your form your development team, then you’ve chosen your technology. As depending on where you bring your team together from, they’ll come with certain skill sets. So, think carefully how you form your development team and whether you need to perform a technical evaluation before you get to this point in your journey.
  • This brings us to cross functional teams. Teams work best when they work together, when individuals pitch in to get the job done regardless of their “title”. Try to build a team that is self sufficient and individuals that take on more than one role.
  • Build an environment, culture, and relationship center. A place where the team can deliver, unencumbered by constraints or restrictions. Give the team the tools, people, resources, and space to be effective and performant.
  • Keep team sizes to no more than 7 or 8. If you have a need for many more developers, break the teams down. Each team might then be responsible for a given functional area. If you you have multiple teams in multiple locations, consider holding a Scrum of Scrums. And where these are numerous in complex environments, use Agile project management.
  • Ensure that the team, business, stakeholders, and even customers have access to each other. Ensure they communicate and collaborate, and remove anything that gets in the way of progress. Daily communication is the best cure for project ailments. When people speak, they get stuff done.

There are many ways a team can be put together to deliver software.

Project Brief

In Feasibility, you figured out the “why” of your project and either built your confidence to forge ahead with your startup or got backing to proceed. The project brief is the living document that brings together the “why” with the “what” and “when” and “who”. It’s living, because as you progress from hence forward your knowledge, understanding, and path may change. To leave this document once written and never to return to it, just consign your thoughts to a point in time. In an Agile world, your point in time reference may change weekly or even daily early on, so it’s important to keep this fresh.

  • A great tool for encapsulating and maintaining your project brief is something that Jonathan Rasmusson calls the “Inception Deck” in his book “The Agile Samurai”. Here you’ll find great advice on ensuring that everybody that is interested in, affected by, or involved with your project is on the same page.
  • The greatest enemy to delivering projects is in having an unclear, inconsistent, or just plain different understanding of what the project is and what “requirements” are to be satisfied. If even one important stakeholder has a different understanding or view of what you’re doing, the consequences can be substantial.
  • A good project brief communicates:
    1. A common and agreed expectation between stakeholders and team members.
    2. An understanding of the project, with the same understanding across all parties.
    3. The goal, vision, objective, scope, and project context.
  • You’ll have a lot of good information for the brief gathered from Feasibility. The project brief will help you define and find the answers to searching questions. It will bring together stakeholders, your raison d’etre, high level scope, risks, target solution, budget, timeline, expectations, and your priorities.

“A colleague stopped me in a corridor once and asked me where he could get the project brief for the project. I quipped ‘We don’t need a brief, we’re Agile’. He looked confused, as if he was questioning my sanity or authority. He was right to do so.”

Before you proceed, ensure you’ve got everybody on the same page, workshop it, ask the difficult questions, and nail it somewhere where people can stop, read it, comment on it, and help revise it.

Culture and Ways of Working

You know the way your business works and its culture, the way it likes to get stuff done. Agile, by its very nature, may challenge some of these ways of working that your business has cultivated over the years. Don’t expect Agile to be implemented and for everybody to lovingly adopt it from the outset. Some people may find it confusing and view it only with dread and fear. Some people may openly refuse to engage in it. These are challenges and perceptions you must overcome. But in your early days, don’t go around waving the Agile stick beating anyone that won’t listen with it. That won’t build trust, adoption, or engagement.

“I was a fan of waving big proverbial sticks once, and it earned me a lot of negative press. I turned it around, but not before suffering considerable pain first.”

As you set out on your path of adoption, tread carefully, respectfully, and with empathy. If you’re in a creaking old traditional business, perhaps it won’t be the best approach to get the whole business aligned. Start small and incrementally earn respect and recognition. Start with your team only. Once you start delivering quicker software with better quality than ever before, people will start to notice and will want to come play your game. When they do, offer them the ball, take them out for a coffee, and ease them into your new world. Help them.

With your team, now that they know what the project is about and your plans for Agile adoption agreed, let the team decide how they wish to behave and operate as a team.

  • Guide your team to identify the Agile concepts, techniques, behaviors, and frameworks that you feel fits your collective needs.
  • Take requests from your team members as to what requirements they have to help them perform as best they can. Some of these requests you’ll be able to resolve immediately. Others, you may need to get budget or outside help. Do what you can to make it happen.
  • These are your first steps to becoming a true servant-leader.
  • Consider organizing some appropriate training in the concepts and techniques your team are choosing to adopt. This is the best way to ensure all of your team, even stakeholders, are on the same page and get the same message. Work with a supplier organization that can tailor their offering to your needs.
  • Be prudent. Nobody will be an Agile ninja after a few days in a workshop learning how to become Agile. Your path will be long. The word “become” is quite defining. Only when you truly embrace Agile will you see its value. It should excite you. If it excites you, then go excite others too.
  • Now that your team has agreed the concepts and techniques, had their wishes fulfilled and in Agile training, turn your team’s attention to themselves and what they expect from you, the business, and each other.
  • Define some Ways of Working (WoW) within and by the team helps build trust, relationship, and expectations. The WoW is no War and Peace. It should be short and to the point, between 7 and 10 bullet pointed sentences. These sentences state clearly how people behave, communicate, collaborate, support, deliver, and perform together. It should also state what the team expect from the business.

  • Agile is as much a mindset as it is guiding principles and concepts. It helps you develop in the way you behave, think, negotiate, interact, communicate, perform, and improve. It relies on motivated individuals supporting each other to reach a common aim, together as one. There is an African proverb:
If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
By now your team should be super excited, energized and motivated. Now engage them further with your backlog of User Stories.

Backlog

Have no doubt in your mind that there’s uncertainty involved in your project. You can’t possibly know exactly what it will take to build the right product for your customers so early in its life. You cannot gaze wistfully into a crystal ball and predict the future.

The “backlog” or “product backlog” is where your requirements live. Agile favors the writing of short pithy statements that capture the essence of a “requirement”. The backlog is simply a long list of entries, each entry defining a single, discrete “requirement” as a User Story. And from now on, we’ll be using the word User Story, and not “requirement”. You’re probably asking “why?”. That’s a good question. For life eternal, stating the features or facets needed in a software project by a customer, have always been referred to as a “requirement” (ah, i used it again! Last time. Promise) That word has an interpretation that has no value in Agile. The Oxford dictionary defines it as:

“A thing that is needed or wanted.” Or, “A thing that is compulsory; a necessary condition”.

And unfortunately, if we set out defining what our solution should be, stating that things are “compulsory”, we will end up in trouble. It’s too easy to say that all these User Stories are compulsory. If we take that view, we run the risk of running over schedule and over budget in the attempt to deliver all of a given scope. It’s not a problem to say that, for this product these stories are needed for the solution to be viable, we just want to avoid the interpretation of that particular word.

  • Always write stories from the perspective of a persona. A persona represents a user or stakeholder of the solution. It’s a good idea to develop these persona before you start a backlog.
  • At this stage, only write short simple statements that basically suggest a reminder to have a deeper conversation about the User Story when the time is right.
  • Real people think in terms of tasks that they need to get done to achieve a goal. Write your stories from the persona perspective and in terms of what they need to get done.
  • You don’t need to write the full backlog, just write as much as you can imagine your customers will need for your product to be viable.
  • You’ll discover later on through the life of the product that User Stories will change, become more or less important, or can be deleted completely. Releasing often, getting feedback, and assessing what’s a priority will inform this behavior.
  • Don’t write stories in isolation. Engage your team, stakeholders, even your customers. Stories can be updated at any time in the life of a project, but should avoid being changed once development work has started on them.
  • Some of your stories may be considered as “Epics”. These are large stories that cover a lot, and will be broken down closer to the time of delivery into smaller stories.
  • Consider using the INVEST model, a checklist for validating the quality of a good User Story.
  • Anybody can add a story to the backlog. It should be placed at the bottom, or in a specially created “Parking Lot”. This added story serves as a prompt to discuss with the team and the business. If the business and team support it, it can then be estimated and prioritized
  • You may also consider those parts of the system that are most risky. If you have a User Story or feature that is complex, new, or technically unknown, prioritize these to the top of you backlog. This way you won’t be attempting to deliver the challenging and critical parts of your product just weeks before your first release.

Once you have a backlog that fulfills your needs, you can estimate the stories in it, rank them in order of priority, and build a release plan.

Hi Level Estimation and Prioritization

Hi Level Estimation is the process of sizing your backlog. How “big” is the project, and what value does it deliver? Prioritization is the process of deciding which stories are most important to you, the viability of the product, and the interests of your customers. We want to deliver the highest value items earliest to deliver the most value to the business, get feedback from the customer, and to not sweat the small stuff. The output will be an ordered backlog that is ranked in priority and sized.

  • Stories at the top are considered most valuable. We want to deliver the most valuable items as early as possible.
  • There are many techniques for sizing and estimating, but at this point you just want to get a good indicative feel of the size of a story.
    • Use t-shirt sizes, relative sizing, ideal days, or story points.
  • You won’t have all the available information at this point either, and that’s okay. Just run with it.
  • Engage your business stakeholders or product manager if you have one, and the team that will be doing the work.
  • We want those that will be designing, developing, and testing the work to size it, because the best people to estimate are the experts.
  • The team may start to break stories down into smaller parts. If this happens, write stories that are more granular but discrete.
  • The team may also start to rank some stories, as naturally some things have to get delivered before others to support the technology or a given user journey.
  • Between you and the team, you may also start to find holes in the backlog that need to be filled. Just fill those holes with new stories and estimate and prioritize as appropriate.
  • Prioritization is most easily performed using a MoSCoW analysis. MoSCoW is a simple technique that helps you decide which stories are “must haves” for your product to be successful.
  • You may do a prioritization pass before estimation begins. However, the sizing of certain elements may also determine a decision on priority and real business value. So play estimation and prioritization off of each other, but don’t squabble over it!
  • No two stories can be as important as the other. The story at rank 1 is more important or valuable than the story at rank 2.
  • A great way to demonstrate the importance or value of a story is it to add a monetary value to it. If for example, story A is thought to bring in $5000 of extra revenue, and story B might attract $100, then story A is more valuable. Equally, if story C saves the business more than story D, story C is more valuable.
  • Once you’ve sized your backlog, you’ll be left with a number. When we come to release planning, that number will help us understand how much can be delivered by our team within a given timeframe.

Remember that you don’t need to know all your user stories up front. Also, remember that it’s not necessary to deliver all of your stories before a customer sees your product. You want to remain Agile – and that means only creating what you need to when you need to, wasting as little as possible, and responding to changes in customer needs and market conditions. A roadmap will help you lay out your product and plan your objectives for the next 3, 6, 9, and 12 months.

Roadmap and Storymaps

A roadmap is exactly as it sounds, it offers the same as a roadmap of a country. It details the relative position of cities (or in your case, features) to each other and the routes that can be taken to get from city A to city B, or feature X and feature Z. It doesn’t tell you which route you should take, or how you should get there. It doesn’t tell you which mode of transport to use, but it might illustrate options to take the Highway or the train.

In a city, there are many roads, buildings, parks, services, and facilities. All features of a city. This is also true of the roadmap for your product. At this level, your roadmap shows major goals or milestones to be achieved. A goal is a logical grouping of themes, features, and User Stories rolled up in a consumable view that demonstrates tangible value. The roadmap of a software product shares this view and communicates your intent. It doesn’t necessarily show you how or when features will be delivered, only the relative value of the goals and features to you and your business.

One great way to demonstrate a roadmap is to generate a story map. This tool indicates customer valued prioritization. It lays out the backbone, or essential building blocks of your product. The walking skeleton hangs off the backbone and illustrates the features that make it a MVP. All the other features are what add further value and importance to the system. The story map lays features in relative position to each other and is an awesome visual tool.

It’s worth noting that after carrying out a story mapping exercise, your backlog may need to be refined. This will be apparent where stories have been split into multiple stories, identified as redundant, newly created, or as a higher or lower priority than previously thought. The story map is another artifact that is continually revisited and revised.

The Initiation phase is typically performed once in the life of your project. However, many of the tools and documents you created will be revisited and revised throughout the project.

Release Planning

“At last”, I hear you cry, “finally some planning”. Well, you have essentially been planning all through the Feasibility and Initiation stages, we just didn’t call it as such. This is evidence of iterative or adaptive planning – the art of only planning enough to achieve your immediate and most valuable goals. We’ll see later more about adaptive planning, but for now release planning is our focus.

Your release plan may well be determined by external events. Perhaps there is a trade show you want to demonstrate your app at, or your customers will get most benefit using your app on the run up to Christmas. These are timeline events that your goals may be aligned with. You would most likely plan to deliver user stories or features that make the most sense to facilitate these events. If there are no external dates that you need to consider, then you can just go with feature prioritization and delivering earliest what makes most sense and delivers the most value to your customers.

  • If you created a story map in Initiation, this will help guide your release plan. Use it to identify your MVP, the minimum feature set that will get your product in the hands of your customers, start earning revenue, get feedback, and acquire more customers.
  • The story map will help you carve out future releases too. But keep in mind that as you learn, get feedback, inspect and adapt, future releases may change. So don’t plan in great detail.
  • You may have from 2 – 4 releases in a 12 month period. Don’t do less because your first release is your MVP and gets your foot in your door, after which you’ll want to iterate and release more features and fix bugs in a regular cycle. Don’t do more unless you’re performing well and have plenty of Agile techniques and tools in place to manage continuous delivery.
  • Each release is a timebox which is broken down into smaller iterations. An iteration is a timebox. The timebox is one of the most important control measures in Agile.
  • To size your release:
    • Divide your release timebox by 2. This will give you how many iterations you have. So if you have a release of 12 weeks, you get 6 two week iterations.
    • Then remove two iterations – you’ll reserve one for a “Sprint 0” iteration and another for a “Release Iteration”. This leaves you with 4 development iterations.
    • Work with your team and product owner to fill each iteration with stories, starting from the top of the backlog and working down. When the team thinks they’ve filled an iteration with enough stories they can realistically achieve based on their capacity in the 2 week time frame, repeat for the next iteration(s). Use the release plan and story map to guide what goes into each iteration.
    • Do not plan the next release yet. You’ll do that as you near the end of the current release.
    • Take the user stories from each of your iterations and add up the story sizes. So if your iteration 1 has 25 story points, but iterations 2, 3, and 4 have 10, 45, and 65 points respectively, you will need to refactor. Target an equal number of story points in each iteration. This becomes your anticipated velocity – the amount of valuable “stuff” completed for each iteration.
  • The team may not have worked together before. They are almost certainly working on a new problem or product. They will not perform at their best from day one. For this reason, your velocity may be volatile in the first few sprints. But as the team settles down, it should stabilize. Use this data to refactor your release planning which in turn helps you plan your product with a known velocity and confidence.
  • If necessary, break stories into smaller chunks and resize.
  • Your release plan, especially early in the life of a project and a new team, is only ever a guide. Do not treat it as a commitment or guarantee that all or these exact stories will get delivered as planned. As your team matures, work gets done and trust and confidence builds, so will the accuracy of your plans.
  • Never force your team to “commit” to more than they are comfortable with. Trust their judgement and their expertise.
  • Future release planning exercises will be simpler, because you’ll take the release size, multiply the number of iterations by your team’s velocity, and fill the release plan with the stories that add up to velocity x number of iterations.

Consider this as an example. If you go to a restaurant to eat, you wouldn’t go ahead and order all the items on the menu and expect to eat it all in one sitting. You’d never be able to eat it all, you might not afford the cost, you’ll be sick of food, and the restaurant may close whilst you’re eating the 5th of 19 courses! You may not leave a happy customer, the restaurant may not find you to be a great customer, and the experience will be bad all round. More likely, if you love the restaurant, it’ll be because you enjoyed a lovely meal there once. You’ll decide to go back and enjoy a different meal. You’ll tell your friends, you’ll go there often. The moral of the story is:

  • Plan your releases in small chunks.
  • Consider your capacity.
  • Don’t take on more than you can realistically achieve.
  • Revisit the plan often to see what you can change and improve.
  • Plan, Execute, Inspect, Learn, Adapt – Repeat.

Release planning takes place often in a software project. Each new release requires a release plan. The release plan can also be refactored at any time during a project. Just take care to not overdo it and fall into zombified planning psychosis. At the end of release planning, you’ll want to prepare for the first iteration, which is where we’re happily going next!

Product Iterations

Your team is in place, they’re motivated, you have an engaged business, your initial planning is done – you’re now ready to build your dreams.

We’ve talked earlier about some of the tools, techniques, and concepts that Agile subscribes to. There are many resources already available that do a great job at laying the foundations for delivering an Agile software project. Pick one, keep it vanilla, and grow into your Agile journey. To help shorten the trauma in deciding the right Agile software development methodology to start with, I’d recommend Scrum. And only Scrum. The temptation will be there to use elements of other methodologies. Don’t do it yet. Save that kind of change until you have lived and breathed Scrum for 6 or 12 months. Then, if either you’ve determined it alone does not work for you or you want to mature as a team, steadily introduce new methods, techniques, or frameworks.

I choose Scrum as the recommended approach for new team’s adopting Agile because it has all the basics built in. It’s very popular and has many good quality communities and resources online, in books, or in the training room. It will serve you well, even for the smallest of teams. The rest of this post is dedicated to discussing some important aspects of software delivery that you, your team, and stakeholders should always keep in mind.

Adaptive Planning

Planning in an Agile project is an ongoing process. We do some initial planning up front, just enough to understand what we know at a given point. Our initial plans will be loosely defined and flawed. And then we iterate our planning, adapting to new information, planning in greater detail just before we enter into delivery, responding to changing scope. This is one way of minimizing waste – only putting effort into planning when we need to.

  • The team and the business, or its informed and authorized representative such as a product manager, actively plan together. The team because they are the experts that will deliver, the product manager because he is the expert who can guide the needs of the business.
  • Estimates for user stories will be less accurate the further out they are from being developed. For example, epics will attract high level estimates that will be based on a lot of unknowns. Well defined granular user stories that are estimated just before a sprint starts will be much more accurate.
  • There are many estimation “scales” you can use. Use the technique that feels most right for your team and the right stage of planning – wide band delphi, planning poker, ideal time, relative sizing, story points, or t-shirt sizes.

  • When sizing a story, one size really does fit all. All stories should be sized using the same technique and encompass all elements such as design, development, testing, refactoring. When you come to do iteration planning for a sprint, certain tasks can be created which all contribute to the completion of the story.
  • Always factor risk, unknowns, outside influences, your team’s capacity, and ever improving velocity in planning.
  • If user stories that were taken into a sprint were not completed, we do not extend the timebox. These unfinished or unstarted items are put back to the top of the backlog and taken into the next sprint.
  • Always plan to deliver the least amount required to achieve a given goal. Identify techniques to prune features. Reduce waste, find the real value that can be realistically delivered with your time constrained resources.

Story Creation

Stories get elaborated upon when you need them. You don’t need full story explanations for features that are 6 months away from being delivered. Writing them at the beginning may be wasted effort, when that need disappears from scope. Write your stories at most 2 iterations before they are needed. Reducing that timeframe to 1 sprint is preferable.

Let’s take your time in Sprint 0 to set the scene. In two weeks you’ll start development. It’s now time to take enough of the stories from the top of the backlog that could potentially get delivered on sprint 1. You might take 10 or 15 percent more if you’re unsure on your velocity. These one liners can now be expanded into truly valuable documents with scenarios, acceptance criteria, and wireframes. If the wireframes haven’t been created yet, now’s the time to do so. You might find as you review these candidate stories that they need to be broken down. Perhaps they were Epics that couldn’t possibly be completed in a sprint. If you break stories down, re-estimate them with the team.

A good story follows the following rules: – Written in a common format, e.g. AS A I WANT SO THAT . – Includes acceptance criteria that the story must meet to be considered acceptable to the business for sign off. – Uses language that the business and your customers understand. – Follows the INVEST model. – Includes all supporting documents to inform the developer, designer and tester: wireframes, technical design overview, other assets. – Meets your standard Definition of Done criteria.

Sprinting

Whether you call it a sprint, an iteration or a timebox, each incremental delivery of your Agile project is time constrained. The timebox doesn’t shorten and it doesn’t lengthen. Focus on 2 week iterations at the beginning. You might find that 1, 3 or 4 weeks suits your business model better. Once you choose a length, don’t change it. You want to maintain a regular cadence, or a sustainable pace. This means the team and business focus delivering regular software without mad dash overtime being employed to get the job done and releasing potentially shippable increments every two weeks.

  • Working in small increments has a huge benefit. It means you’re only focusing on the immediate future of delivery; and with new input, feedback and learning, you can respond to change within a short iterative cycle.
  • At the beginning of a release, perform a sprint 0. This lets the team, the business, and your project release get geared up and sets the mindset for successful delivery. Draw out the base technical framework and architecture that will support the foundation for the release. Setup environments, accounts, and tools. Perform spikes to understand difficult or unknown problems. Elaborate your user stories in readiness for sprint 1. Sprint 0 is about getting prepared.
  • During a release, keep refining the backlog. As you understand more or learn something new, your priorities may change, new requirements may unfold, and what you previously thought was a great feature may get removed entirely.
  • Don’t start work that has no chance of completing within a sprint. If it can’t, break it down into smaller chunks. And don’t start new work when previously started work has not been completed. You create no value by starting lots of things that can’t be considered complete. Further, avoid context-switching. This is the activity of starting one task, getting disturbed, starting another, and at it’s most problematic not completing either.
  • Limit the amount of work that is in progress by the team at any one time. For example, if you have 3 developers and 1 tester, you may put a WIP limit on the developers and on the tester.
  • Never add more work to a sprint after it has been planned. Never stop a sprint part way through. The exceptions to this are:
    • If you performed faster than expected, consider taking the next story from the top of the backlog, as long as it is suitably prepared.
    • If the sprint is performing so badly that it will not complete. This usually only happens where there has been a catastrophe of some description.
    • If the sprint objective can no longer be supported due to immediate changing needs of the business.
  • If you do cancel a sprint, do it gracefully, take time to refocus, and start a new sprint as you would any other.
  • Toward the end of a release, consider a final release sprint. No new features are written, some bugs can be cleaned up, and preparations can be made to actually release a new version of your product to your customers. That’s not to say you can’t make incremental customer releases in the meantime – it’s just that this is a controlled, measured, and sustainable release mechanism.
  • At the end of a release you might consider a one week sprint. In this sprint, you might work with the team to breakdown some new ideas, figure out some new technology. These are great tools that benefit the business and it gives the team some briefing space to think and be creative. It’s not for goofing off, it will still create value. Equally, everyone needs a break. Taking a vacation at this time helps keep your cadence and velocity in good shape when you’re mid-release.

Defining Done

Defining what “done” really means is very important. There are many versions of “done” within the life of your project – what it means to be “done” with a story, release, or whole project. It all boils down to what you, your team, and business will consider as complete to the right level of quality to satisfy readiness to ship.

For your team, the definition of a “done” story will be something like all code complete, peer reviewed, meets the defined acceptance criteria, unit tested, UAT’ed, and pushed to your code repository. To enable the passing of a story from designer to developer to tester, will have definitions of “done” to be accepted by the next person in the chain. Your product owner will have expectations as to what this means to her in order to release the product increment to your customers. In any case, everybody must be aware of what “done” means and be a responsible party in ensuring it’s meaning is met. Define your definition of “done”, communicate it, agree upon it and, evolve it. Done done.

Continuous Measurement

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. The same goes for improvements. The need to gather empirical data in an Agile project is almost as vital as having blood course through your veins! How do you know what needs managing, correcting or improving if there’s no data? Well, simply put, you’ll be relying on gut feel and unsubstantiated guess work. Which falls apart pretty quickly under scrutiny. And depending on who’s doing the scrutinizing, this can be a rather uncomfortable place to be. So from the outset of your project, ensure you know how you are going to demonstrate progress and by what measures others are going to view your success.

Fortunately, Agile comes loaded with useful tools and techniques. The first thing to do is go back to the Agile Manifesto, type the following words into your favourite word processor, blow them up to 96pt, print, and apply to the wall for all to see :

Working software is the primary measure of progress

Your greatest demonstrable power in delivering software is to show it to people working, doing what it’s supposed to do. Not only will this make your customers happy, it will earn your team great respect and grease the wheels for greater adoption through the business.

Here are some other tools:

  • The daily standup: There are a few variations of this ceremony, but the essence is to have all team members talk to each other face to face, keep it short, keep it focused, and keep it light. If anything needs discussion at great length, park it for a longer conversation between those needed after the standup. If impediments are raised, write them up like a story, add them to your backlog, and get them addressed asap. Anything that is impeding your team slows their progress and will be demonstrable in reduced velocity and software that does not meet expectations.
  • Velocity: Is a historical tool. It’s a little like those financial warnings you get that says past performance is no guarantee of future performance. But in Agile’s case, we do hope to achieve a team velocity that is largely smooth. It’s velocity that allows us to project future performance and confidence in our plans. There may be influences outside your control which might lower the number of story points output for a given sprint. If this happens, you’ll probably be able to recover. Never use velocity as a stick to beat your team with, it will win you no favors. One thing for sure is that velocity will be erratic for the first 2 – 4 sprints. Somewhere in that timeframe thought you should start to see consistency and stability. If your velocity is wavering from one extreme to another, you’ve got a problem which you’ll need to fix with your team.

  • The burndown chart: Now this measure of progress is a thorny one. For that reason, I haven’t given a link to go find out more, you’ll have to do your own research and agree as a team and business which works for you. The reason it’s thorny? Well, not one resource out there tells the same story! One thing agreed is that it will show how, within a sprint or a release, how you’re performing against your timebox. If maintained daily, it will show if you’re on track or deviating. Some teams use it to represent how much value is left to be created, more often than not, others use it to show how much work is left to be completed. The former is a celebration of success and value generation, the latter is less inspiring and motivating.
  • The burnup chart: If you must show work completion rates, use the burndown chart for that. But using the burn-up chart allows you to show how much value has been created and how much more value you’re planning to create by the end of the sprint. A much more motivating tool for a team to both demonstrate to the business what has been done (or little if things aren’t going so well…), and what they still have their sights set on. In any case, use the charts to spot where progress is not tracking as expected, look for patterns or deviations and get on top of them to fix the underlying problem as soon as possible. Update them daily for sprints and once at the end of a sprint for release version charts.
  • Task boards: These are great visual radiators for demonstrating value being created. When updated daily, or at any point in the day, they immediately show progress being made. If combined with Kanban, they’re also great tools for visualising flow and blockages in the system. If you can see that loads of development is completed, but testing is not as productive, you can see the problem happening and respond appropriately and swiftly.

Other tools to consider are Agile Earned Value, cycle time, and Cumulative Flow Diagrams (CFD’s).

Keep these measures, charts, and other tools visible, preferably loud and proud on a wall for all to see. The team, stakeholders, and other interested parties can immediately see the status of a project. It’s transparent and serves as a valuable communication tool. If you can’t put these artifacts on a wall, use tools that are sharable and collaborative and make sure those that want access have it.

Continuous Improvement

Throughout your Agile life, seek to identify and learn where improvements can be made. Lessons are not captured and learned at the end of a project. It’s like passing your driving test and tentatively taking your first drive without an instructor. You’ll know what works and what you’re supposed to do, but over time you’ll tailor your driving skill and capabilities, learning new techniques. You’ll even pick up bad habits. Look for them, understand them and find ways to improve.

There are many opportunities for identifying what does not work and applying remedies. The built-in approach to this in Agile is the retrospective. This is the primary tool for reflection and adjustment. At the end of every sprint, take time with the team to improve how work gets done, how quality is delivered, how efficiency can be maximized, how waste can be minimized and how capacity is increased. When you identify measures for improvement, don’t be tempted to fix all your problems right away. Identify the ones that will have most impact and can be implemented in the next sprint. Measure and observe. If it had the desired impact, lock it up, write it up into your ways of working and definitions of done. If it doesn’t work, think again. Any lessons learned that don’t get put into the upcoming sprint can be parked and prioritized for attention in the next sprint.

Tailor the process. Remove anything that does not work. Remove impediments. Your maturity as an Agile team will know no bounds if you let it.

Beyond Agile Project Management

It’s important to know what happens after the project is delivered. Support & maintenance are key to ensuring that once the project is in customer’s hands it remains performant, customer feedback can be factored into future releases, and customer issues are dealt with appropriately. A project is a unique, time constrained endeavour. The product it delivers has a life after the project team has been disbanded. Ensure you are capable of supporting the product once it is live.

Agile projects co-exist with more traditional approaches. Balancing the requirements for budgetary control and stakeholder visibility with the Agile aims of flexibility and responsiveness.

A governance framework or Agile governance model is used in conjunction with a standard Agile processes, such as Scrum. They work in two specific ways:

  • They provide a wrapper for an Agile project by clarifying the processes that occur outside of development iterations (sprints). This includes providing clear criteria for the successful completion of project initiation and proper validation of the decisions and plan.
  • They shift the emphasis of specific parts of the standard Agile process and highlight particular principles and techniques that need governance or support governance.

In today’s ever-changing world, organizations and businesses are keen to adopt a more flexible approach to delivering projects, and want to become more Agile. However, for organizations delivering projects and programmes, and where existing formal project management processes already exist, the informality of many of the agile approaches is daunting and is sometimes perceived as too risky. These project-focused organizations need a mature agile approach – agility within the concept of project delivery – Agile Project Management.

Learn and grow with your adoption of Agile. Only ever do what your team is comfortable with, ensure their voice is heard, and act on their requests. Encourage your team to adopt new and more valuable techniques when the time is right. Negotiate with the business and encourage them to understand what it means to be an Agile organization.

Enjoy the journey.

This article originally appeared on Toptal.

You Need a Hero: The Project Manager

This article is for you, the plucky entrepreneur with an app idea in your heart and a bit of cash in the bank. The diagrams that you’ve scribbled on cocktail napkins will disrupt the entire world, and dump trucks full of money have already been dispatched to your house. To ensure that they arrive on time, here’s some simple advice for making your production cycle run smoothly.

Why You Need A Project Manager In The First Place

“Computer programs are the most complex things that humans make”, says Douglas Crockford. You may not have heard that name before, but he’s pretty famous for a programmer. He’s currently a senior software architect at Paypal, and he has pioneered all sorts of cool technology that is beyond the purview of this article. He is someone who knows a great deal about working on large projects.

As for myself, I’ve been programming for 13 years, and even now, at some point, every project takes me into uncharted territory. There are so many different technologies out there, and new techniques are being devised at such an alarming rate that I never feel I’m completely on top of what’s going on. While every project has its unique challenges, there are some constants:

  • The project has time pressure.
  • The budget is smaller than I would like.
  • I am a more expensive than the client would like.
  • I do not listen as perfectly as the client would like.
  • The client does not explain things as perfectly as I would like.

Clearly, we need a babysitter. Someone has to step in to establish the ground rules, keep everyone honest and make sure that we’re not forgetting anything important. Someone has to facilitate communication between all parties.

This someone, this hero, is the project manager.

The hero of our tale, the product manager!

Why is the product manager in a box? He’s a cat. Cats love boxes.

Toptal did not offer contracts with project managers when I began writing this article, but they do now. Synergy! I can only imagine that the powers that be read the following advice and realized that they were missing a great opportunity.

Why A Programmer Does Not Make A Good Project Manager

Certification by the Project Management Institute aside, the most important thing that a project manager can bring to the table is experience. As a result, many programmers would make pretty decent project managers; we have more experience with technical projects than anyone else and our analytical minds are adept at cataloguing information and setting concrete goals.

Goodness knows, you’re paying us enough, so it seems reasonable to expect that we could manage ourselves rather than force you to pay for someone else’s time as well, right?

Well, for starters, you’re paying us to code.

When we come out of our programming daze to make decisions about what to prioritize, or to argue about how much is actually going to get done this week, code is not being written. It then takes at least 10 minutes to get back into “the zone”, especially if we’re stressed out by the conversation that we just had, which is likely if we’re arguing feature priority. Boo hoo, I know, but this is all about making the most efficient use of costly resources.

Most importantly, we really can’t see the forest for the trees. If you take nothing else away from this article, please understand this: When I spend all day staring at a few specific bugs, my brain loses track of the bigger picture.

My brain rewards me when I fix those bugs, and I assume that I’ve done great things and can go play video games now. When someone reminds me that the home page is still broken, it comes as a complete surprise because I have spent the day filling my brain with very detailed knowledge of a very small piece of the overall project and sort of forgot about the rest of it. That’s just how my brain works, and a lot of other programmers have a similar psychological make up.

Grumpycat the programmer does not make a good project manager.

When we come out of our programming daze to make project decisions, code is not being written.

Why A Client Does Not Make A Good Project Manager

Well then, if we programmers don’t want to take the responsibility for getting project managerial things done, then it must fall to you, the client. It’s your money. It’s your vision. You’re ultimately responsible for the whole thing, anyway.

You, however, also have a lot on your plate.

Many clients are mere mortals with day jobs like the rest of us, and some have even been known to suffer from procrastination or forgetfulness. Although this certainly does not describe you, please entertain the idea of having a Professional Rememberer around so that you can get back to the important work of keeping the whole project alive.

If you have worked on, or overseen, a technical project of similar scope, you may indeed make a good manager for your project. If you have not, please don’t underestimate the value of someone who can predict the issues that may arise. Time estimates are always just estimates, and bugs tend to pop up at the least opportune times. It’s worth the cost of another (if only part-time) employee to have someone around who knows which parts of the process need, or are likely to need, the most attention.

Take quality assurance (QA) for example. Proper QA is essential for getting what you want out of any project, and it never ever gets the attention that it deserves. A good project manager will make the most of limited QA resources, and also quality-assure your programmers for you. Sometimes, we get out of our depth, and sometimes we make mistakes. You need a technically-proficient person in a supervisory role to determine whether your programmer is just having an off day, or if he or she is, in fact, a bad fit for the project. Heading off personnel problems early could mean the difference between life and death for your project.

Lastly, even you, oh glorious client, sometimes need a little check and/or balance. That’s hard for me to write since we computer programmers are not well known for our outspoken natures. Suffice to say, I have worked on many projects where the client was adamant that everything was top priority and absolutely everything needed to get done. While I have no doubt that this was absolutely true, these clients, sadly, did not have control over the number of hours in a day. They did not end up with the positive result they desired and/or deserved, and I feel that this outcome could have been avoided had the client entrusted a project manager with the authority to assess the workload and tactfully, yet firmly, keep things in check. It’s difficult to make the dispassionate judgment calls that most technical projects require when it’s your idea and your money on the line and the computer doesn’t care if you or I cry and scream at it. (I know this to be true because I’ve tried it many times.)

An Incomplete List Of Techniques For Managing A Technical Project

Whether you’ve decided to ignore the previous 1,000-something words and manage your project yourself, or whether you are going to hire someone but want to be more knowledgeable about the process, this list will help you. I have never (officially) been a project manager, so I can’t say which tools any given project manager would use, but I’ve had good success with all of these techniques:

Milestones

When beginning a new project, most people intuitively know that it’s important to split the project into slightly-more-manageable chunks, with each chunk ranging from a couple of weeks to a couple of months worth of work. At the beginning of the project, it’s good to have a kick-off meeting to establish these milestones. It’s OK to be a little vague on how you’ll reach them, the most important thing is to keep checking in after each milestone so as to benefit from everyone’s enhanced understanding of the project, and to make sure that the project’s milestones are still (roughly) the same size as initially believed.

Time Estimates

We programmers absolutely detest estimates because we know they will be wrong and we know they will be used against us. It’s OK that they’re wrong because, by definition, they’re based on a handful of unknowns. It’s also OK that they’re used against us because our jobs are pretty cushy and it doesn’t hurt to have the whip cracked every now and again.

So feel free to ask for estimates every time work begins on a new milestone. You should expect a line or two for each major feature along with a rough estimate of how long that feature will take. I usually make an optimistic estimate, then double it. More often than not, this extra time accounts for unseen pitfalls.

User Stories

User stories are brief descriptions of a single piece of functionality within the app. They are useful as a record of important features and should be bite-sized, able to fit on an index card and often accompanied by a little drawing. More importantly, they serve as a bridge between what the client wants and what the programmer has to tell the computer. They are simple enough for you, the client, to knock out in a couple of minutes, but detailed enough for us, the programmers, to sink our teeth into.

For some quick info on user stories, I found these tutorials by Mountain Goat Software and Roman Pichler to be high-quality and succinct. For more information on the entire philosophy of “Agile Project Management”, try this Toptal blog post The Ultimate Introduction To Agile Project Management by Paul Barnes.

Compositions (mock-ups)

This is not an article about why you need a designer because I feel like most clients already understand that, but it bears repeating because you will see enormous productivity gains if you slap a concrete, well-considered design in front of your programmers. Every time we have to make a design decision we have to leave “the zone,” and every time we have to go back and change something because we weren’t provided with the final draft, well, you do the math… I’m not complaining because design is fun, but in my experience, this is the No. 1 source of avoidable, extra billable hours.

Most designers provide compositions, also known as comps, in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, or Sketch. If you are doing it yourself, you can use one of the countless online tools such as Balsamiq or InVision. The comp doesn’t have to have the same colors and styles as the finished product (since these can be easily changed later), but please take extra time to ensure that all UI elements are present and accounted for.

Stand-Up Meetings

Long meetings are sometimes unavoidable, but you really don’t want to overload your programmers or take up more of their time than is necessary. I’ve had clients who seemed to expect me to remember everything that was said during a two-and-a-half hour meeting; they were sorely disappointed. A stand-up meeting is generally limited to 15 minutes, and it’s customary to stand for the duration. The standing aspect is supposed to ensure that everyone is participating, as well as to keep the meeting short.

During stand-ups, everyone goes around in a circle to provide a brief status report, keeping all team members up-to-date on each others’ progress. You can find more about stand ups at ExtremeProgramming.Org. If you all work remotely and don’t want to get everyone on Skype every day, you could try a fun tool such as 15Five as an alternative to stand-ups. 15Five lets team members provide their input whenever it’s convenient for them, and it will prompt them with survey questions to tease out more in-depth responses.

Ticketing System

While anyone can maintain a system of sticky notes and Google Docs (with everyone’s tasks highlighted in different colors), it’s really not necessary; plenty of people have tried to solve this problem for you. Basecamp and Trello are famed for their ease-of-use, while Pivotal tries to encapsulate the whole “agile” philosophy into a very slick package. Whatever your choice, a good ticketing system will allow you, at minimum, to:

  • create tasks
  • assign priority and due date
  • link tasks and subtasks
  • assign different resolutions such as “completed” or “failed testing”
  • show all tasks assigned to a certain user

When a project manager shows you 40 bright red top-priority tickets all due on the same day, you will truly understand the value of this bird’s-eye view of the project.

Glassescat the client does not make a good project manager.

You don’t have to use sticky notes to track open bugs.

Source Control

You may never even look at the code in your project’s version control system, but source control (or versioning) is one of the most important tools at our disposal, the greatest backup system imaginable.

Most modern projects use Git, although sometimes you’ll run into Subversion (SVN) when working on projects that have been around for a while. Github allows you to host unlimited public repositories for free (plus, it contains most of the world’s open-source projects), while Bitbucket allows you to host unlimited private repositories and is therefore the favored choice for commercial projects.

Whichever version control system you choose, it stores our code remotely in case anything happens, plus tracks each time we “commit” code to it while forcing us to write a little message describing what we were working on. This prevents different developers from overwriting each other’s code, it lets us see all changes that were made over a given time period, and it lets us create new code branches to store features that aren’t going live right away. It even has a command called “blame” that shows who was responsible for a given line of code, and when it was committed.

Source control is the greatest.

Test-driven Development

This is a relatively expensive practice, which means it’s not frequently employed in projects where the budget is limited to a couple of freelancers. So you, as a start up, shouldn’t feel too bad for not doing this, but I must dangle the idea in front of you because it provides the ultimate defense against bugs. Basically, your programmers spend additional precious hours writing tests (small code blocks) that ensure certain parts of the app behave in specific, predictable and repeatable ways. For example, I might write a test asserting that when the “login” button is clicked, a popup opens with a username field in it.

The beauty of tests is that once I’ve written them, I can run them all with a single command. If I have 200 tests written, I can run them after releasing a new version of the app to make sure that no bugs have been introduced into any of those 200 features. It’s not perfect, but it’s as close as we can get to guaranteeing bug-free (bug-lite, at least) apps.

Wrap-up

That’s about all I know about project management. I’m not sure how much of this would pass muster over at the Project Management Institute, but it’s all stuff that I’ve picked up by working on web projects over the course of the last decade. Of course, I recommend that you hire someone in order to get the benefit of his or her experience, but I hope you find this information helpful even if that’s not something that you’re able to do. You will be the ultimate authority on this project, so the more you understand about its inner workings, the more likely you are to lead it to victory.

This article originally appeared on Toptal.

Windows Explorer Hangs

Have you encountered an instance where your My Computer (or in Windows 10, the default name is This PC) just hangs out of the blue? When this happens, you will not be able to use the GUI-way of navigating through your files, although you can via command prompt. If you’re going to ask me why this happens, well, honestly I do not know. There’s a myriad of reasons why a program malfunctions. In this scenario, the “explorer.exe” is the problematic program.

As the famous line in IT Crowd says, “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”

it-crowd

This is also applicable to programs! But not all programs, so take caution when restarting a particular program in the operating system.

You may follow below steps at your own risk on how to “repair” explorer.exe. The steps below only applies to Windows 10.

  1. Open the Task Manager.
    1. You can run taskmgr.exe via Run dialog box.
    2. You can right-click the taskbar and click Task Manager.
  2. Click the Details tab.
  3. Find the explorer.exe.
  4. Right-click and click End process tree.
  5. What happens next is you basically cannot see anything but a black screen and your cursor. So what to do now??
  6. Press Ctrl + Alt + Delete. You’ll have the options:
    1. Lock
    2. Switch User
    3. Sign Out
    4. Task Manager
  7. Click Task Manager.
  8. Click on File > Run new task.
  9. Type explorer.exe.
  10. The desktop will show again as well as the windows.
  11. Try to access My Computer or This PC (or whatever name you named it). If it’s functioning properly now, then I think it’s already “fixed”. 😀

SD Card Reader Not Reading Automatically

So I had this experience with my laptop which runs Windows 10. Every time I insert my SD card, the Windows doesn’t seem to react, or maybe it’s the hardware’s fault. What I did is this:

  1. Go to the Device Manager.
  2. Find the card reader. In my laptop, it’s under Memory technology devices > Realtek PCIE CardReader.
  3. Right-click the particular card reader that you are using then click Disable.
  4. Wait for a second to completely disable. Then right-click again to Enable.
  5. At last! My SD card is now being read. 🙂

This works for me every time, although I do not know exactly the cause. I haven’t researched anything about it, I just thought of disabling / enabling it via Device Manager. 🙂

WebSphere Application Server 8.5.5: Changing the console session expiration

The idle period, before the administrative console session expires, is referred to as session timeout. The default session timeout value for the administrative console is 15 minutes. The timeout value can be modified by using a JACL script that is available at the information center. [From: WebSphere Application Server V8.5 Administration and Configuration Guide for the Full Profile]

Run this JACL script to set how long Integrated Solutions Console can be used until the login session expires.

About this task

The following JACL script serves as an example of how to set the duration that an Integrated Solutions Console can be used until the login session expires. Other scripting types, such as JYTHON, could be used.

Procedure

  1. Copy the following script into a file.
    set dep [$AdminConfig getid /Deployment:isclite/]
    set appDep [$AdminConfig list ApplicationDeployment $dep]
    set sesMgmt [$AdminConfig list SessionManager $appDep] 
    
    # check if existing sesMgmt there or not, if not then create a new one, if exist then modify it
    if {$sesMgmt == ""} {
         # get applicationConfig to create new SessionManager
         set appConfig [$AdminConfig list ApplicationConfig $appDep]
         if {$appConfig == ""} {
             # create a new one
             set appConfig [$AdminConfig create ApplicationConfig $appDep {}]
             # then create a new SessionManager using new Application Config just created
             set sesMgmt [$AdminConfig create SessionManager $appConfig {}]   
         } else {
              #  create new SessionManager using the existing ApplicationConfig
              set sesMgmt [$AdminConfig create SessionManager $appConfig {}] 
    
         }
    }  
    
    # get tuningParams config id
    set tuningParams [$AdminConfig showAttribute $sesMgmt tuningParams]
    if {$tuningParams == ""} {
        # create a new tuningParams 
        $AdminConfig  create TuningParams  $sesMgmt {{invalidationTimeout <timeout value>}}  
    
    } else {
         #modify the existing one
         $AdminConfig modify $tuningParams {{invalidationTimeout <timeout value>}}  
    
    }
    
    # saving the configuration changes
    $AdminConfig save
    
  2. Change the <timeout value> on the two lines of this sample to the new session expiration value. This number specifies the number of minutes the console preserves the session during inactivity.
  3. Save the file to any directory using, for example, the filename timeout.jacl.
  4. Start the wsadmin scripting client from the <WAS-install>/profiles/<profile_name>/bin directory.
  5. Issue the following command.
    wsadmin -f <path to jacl file>/timeout.jacl

Source: http://pic.dhe.ibm.com/infocenter/wasinfo/v8r5/index.jsp?topic=%2Fcom.ibm.websphere.nd.doc%2Fisc%2Fcons_sessionto.html