In-the-SPIN: Newsletter of the Boston@SPIN
Issue 58 Spring 2009
Editor: Abby Fichtner 
Hello, Boston SPIN Members and Guests!
This In-the-SPIN brings you tips from our presenters and faciltiators to help us apply the great things they've taught us at our recent SPIN meetings:

• Rick Brenner teaches us how to ask brilliant questions
• Rick Wahlberg gives us adventures in collaboration
• Peter Toudjarski helps us overcome common mistakes implementing agile
• Bill Weimar helps us manage our requirements, because we still need them!

We also have some exciting news, including a new Needs & Leads Roundtable to provide you a forum to network and discuss issues of your own chosing with others in the industry. And, our elections are coming up for the SPIN Steering Committee and we'd love to have you join us! Read on to learn more.

Remember, the Boston SPIN is all about you, our members, so please don't hesitate to email us what you'd like from your SPIN.

Signed, The Boston Spin Volunteers
Rick Brenner The Politics of Meetings
for People Who Hate Politics

Presented by Rick Brenner on January 20, 2009

One of the discussion points raised in January's SPIN was the value of having people in our meetings asking the really brilliant questions. And so, Rick has graciously followed up with these tips on how you can ask those brilliant questions yourself...
Brilliant Questions
Copyright © 2009 Richard Brenner

Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.

Relax assumptions
Make a list of the assumptions the group is making, but which are outside their awareness. What if one of them weren't true?

Question the facts
Next Meeting
Beautiful Teams
Andrew Stellman &
Jennifer Greene, 04/21
April Roundtables
Running Effective Scrum Mtgs
Dan LeFebvre

Needs & Leads!
A chance for you to network and pick your own topics
What Are You Saying?
Are you blogging about our meetings or roundtables?

Let us know and we'll link to you in the next In-the-Spin!

@ Email Us Your Blogs!
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Deep Agile 2009:
Agile for Embedded Systems

Agile Bazaar, 04/25-04/26

Agile Requirements
Ellen Gottesdiener
Agile Boston, 04/29

Test Data Management Challenges and Solutions
Derek Kozikowski SQGNE,05/13

Learning Agile via Agile Games
Michael de la Maza
Agile Boston, 05/27
What if the facts aren't really facts? What's the evidence that something actually is fact?
List the facts, and for each one ask, "How do we know this is true?"

Distinguish facts from explanations
Sometimes supposed facts are actually explanations of facts.
For instance, some might believe that because the system fails only when the new module is installed, the problem is in the new module. But that's only an explanation, not a fact.

Play the "As If" game
Try formulating a question that presupposes the group's goal.
For instance, ask, "If we did have a process for turning lead into gold, what would we have to know?"

Go "meta"
Ask yourself what you aren't asking questions about. What are the characteristics of the things that the group isn't looking into? Can you explain why the group bounded its inquiries in this way?

Watch for "silver bullet" thinking
Sometimes groups focus on single-concept solutions. They assume that a single innovation will produce all of the desired results. Can we achieve the desired result using different approaches for different situations?

Decouple causes and effects
Some of the cause-effect associations we "know" might be wrong. Imagine that what we think of as an effect isn't an effect of the cause(s) we think it belongs to. If so, what then?

If you could ask brilliant questions more often, what would you ask?

» View Rick's Presentation
» Read more of Rick's articles on his site or in his newsletter at Chaco Canyon Consulting
New "Needs & Leads" Roundtable!
We're excited to bring you a new roundtable called "Needs & Leads" to help you make professional contacts and discuss your questions and challenges with industry peers. As you may know, each of our meetings begins with a facilitated roundtable to give members a chance to discuss a selected topic in software process improvement.

Starting in April, we're adding a second roundtable to each meeting that uses an ad hoc, open discussion format to allow you to network, learn about each other's companies, and get help with your questions. Topics might cover process questions such as how to perform good GUI test coverage, how to keep daily stand up meetings to 15 minutes, or recommendations on requirements tracking tools. Or, use the format to request contacts at a particular company, or networking sources for a particular field. The new format is not meant to be a sales forum or to find jobs, but rather to help each other out. We'd love your feedback and suggestions on the new format.
» Find out more about Boston SPIN Roundtables

Want to become a part of the Boston SPIN?
The SPIN Steering Committee members' elections are coming up in June! You can run for any steering committee position and we really need you to volunteer to serve this organization. SPIN continues to offer many services that are vital and/or interesting to our membership and all of them are the ideas and hard work of your Committee. We need "new blood" to serve on the Committee so that we can continue to have a healthy organization that grows terrific leaders and provides what our membership desires. Contact Tom Woundy and put your name on the ballot!
» View Steering Committee Positions (see Section 5.1)
From Our Roundtables
Adventures in Collaboration for Applications Development
Facilitated by Rick Wahlberg, PMP on March 17, 2009
Applications development is by nature a collaborative process. For many years collaboration consisted of writing something down and throwing it over the wall to the next in line! We've come a long way. Sophisticated tools we now take for granted like teleconferencing, email, and document management systems all facilitate working more closely together. And the tools keep getting more sophisticated -- Second Life, Sharepoint, Wiki's and integrated project management tools. Instant messenging and social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook.

Still, the basics of collaboration remain the same. Here are some words of wisdom gleaned from our discussion:
• Collaboration is a human process that is enabled by trust, respect and empathy for team members
• Don't focus on technology. Focus on the people, process and deliverables
• Have a mindset prepared to collaborate
• Be willing to share
• Check your ego at the door

Agile techniques in particular draw their strength from collaboration. They support the necessary mindset by providing structure on who, when, where and how to work together. But even if you're not using agile, you can still benefit by structuring deliverables into cohesive clusters of work to be done by small, closely knit teams.

Common Mistakes When Implementing Agile and Scrum
Facilitated by Peter Toudjarski on February 17, 2009
We have all heard horror stories of failed agile implementations. And we have, perhaps, wondered if there might be characteristics of an organization that make it more or less likely to succeed in agile...

Motivation. It might be handed down as a management initiative, or pushed up from highly motivated developers. However, in order to succeed, there must be ample support and motivation from both above and below.

Organizational Culture. Are the individuals driven - willing to accept the increased level of responsibility required by agile? Do the managers expect to dictate all decisions, or do they have skills in facilitation and servant leadership? Does the team structure change for each new project, or are the teams kept together?

Technical Practices. How agile are current technical practices? Is the team familair with, if not using, agile technical practices such as automated testing, emergent design, refactoring and continuous integration?

Release History. Does the organization have a track record of successfuly delivering software? On time? How long are the typical release cycles? Will short release cycles be welcomed or shunned by the organization?

Project Management. Does project management actively work to remove obstacles? Does the organization have a Project Management Office? Do they collect metrics that can be used to demonstrate agile improvements?

The gap between a traditional and agile organization can be substantial. But, with awareness of those differences and a willingness to take the steps necessary to bridge them, any organization can successfully transition to agile.

Managing Software Requirements
Facilitated by Bill Weimar on January 20, 2009
Too many companies ignore requirements management. Yet, it's a critical part of project management and processes and the cause of many a product release failure. Particularly for organizations that do frequent production releases, requirements management is critical to ensure proper testing so that only validated requirements are actually deployed into production.

There are some newer products from application lifecycle management vendors, like Accept Software, that take requirements from the beginnings of business case, design, voice of the customer and market drivers with full traceability through to end of life. This ensures quality development, release, and maintenance are adhered to. Most importantly, we feel there is room for better understanding the cost and priority of requirements because this is the key to creating releases that actually map to the strategy and business needs being fulfilled.

Software Engineering Institute | Carnegie Mellon
SPIN | Software Process Improvement Network
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