Thursday, August 12, 2010

Does your daily stand-up stand up for you?

What’s a daily standup?
An important daily practice of various Agile teams is having a daily short team meeting. It is known as standup in XP terminology, or daily scrum meeting in SCRUM terminology. Well, it may be called anything depending upon the flavor of Agile methodology you use, the points which are discussed during a standup (we're going to use the term, standup, henceforth) are:
  • What you did yesterday
  • Problems you are facing at the moment
  • Your agenda for the day
Of course, you should jump in if you can benefit from or offer help to the person taking the turn. However, the most important part is to take it offline if you see it as a long and less-relevant-to-others discussion.

Why is it important?
This discussion helps form the basis for pair rotations considering skill sets of people, durations for the pair, and the objectives for each of those new formed pairs. A daily standup eases the intra-team communication, facilitates progress tracking, compensates for the lack of documentation, and also, it keeps a check on people who otherwise would sit idle entire day procrastinating the task at hand (Yes, there are such people present).

What are the challenges?
With so much of goodness of this indispensible practice, it is quite commonly visible that the projects don't get benefited to the entirety. Therefore, following few points make it very important for the team to achieve the benefits of a standup

Teams not understanding the spirit of the practice:
People fail to understand how the standup is actually shaping their lives if they individually haven't experienced its importance. This applies to many people, for instance, to those who have been working on a particular bit alone having not a lot of interference from peers, e.g. sometimes the API developers who work to the specs. In a huge enterprise application, few people work on view layer and need to have interaction with UI designers and sometimes with service developers. Similarly, the people working on Database design may have to interact continuously with architects and designers (especially if an ORM is being used). People who are working independently may sometimes falsely believe that they don't need to attend to standups since no one is going to help them – they are just working to specs.
Remedy: Educate people about importance of the practice or hire people who are suitable for agile. Any methodology can work only if its values and principles are well absorbed by its followers.

Long duration of a standup:
A standup is held having all the members standing on feet just to make sure that people finish their speech quickly, failing which they would be tired and would wish to run off to their desks. However, people having a lot to say sometimes seem to forget that their speech is tiring others out.
Remedy: Ideally, long discussions should be taken offline after throwing in enough clues into their standup speeches. Failing this, such discussions make others withdraw interest and stop paying attention.

Large size of the project team:
More people, more speeches, and more time spent during the discussion. Also, not all the people are always genuinely interested in listening to each single word everybody has to utter.
  • This can be avoided, limiting ourselves to say something like, "finished writing xxx() method to allow customer to view further details." People who are interested in this can speak to you personally after the standup.
  • In some cases, dividing the team into smaller teams can just help your standup achieve its goals.

Boredom listening to irrelevant speeches:
Again, occurs to people who are not much interested in others talks. E.g. the members of the business team are not into technology and can find technical talks very much boring.
Remedy: A smart project manager can avoid this making the talks interesting, stating the mapping of what the technical guy spoke with an appropriate business requirement, sometimes cracking few one-liner jokes and keep the odd men's interest alive.

Friday, July 23, 2010

6 Reasons Why a Wizard Is an Important UI Element

Among several ways to accept inputs from users, wizards are one of the popular UI elements. Not only the wizards offer simplicity of use, they are quite useful from the perspective of maintaining flow in a user interaction. Here are 6 reasons why you should consider using wizard when you need to accept a lot of input from the end user:

  1. They maintain the flow of user to reach a defined goal, e.g. installing a Windows based software. The objective of the entire wizard is generally (it should be) mentioned in the first screen of the wizard (as well as in the Help section if there is one). The idea is to make the users aware of the outcomes of their actions they should expect. This helps them decide whether they want to go ahead with it or not.

  2. Sets of related inputs are displayed on different screens. This avoids:
    • Cluttering of interface
    • Providing too much information on one screen and offering too much to read
    • Intimidating users with too many inputs to enter on one screen
  3. The smaller sets of inputs reduce possibilities of errors because of less information required at one stage, and because all the inputs to be provided are linked with each other. This also allows users to comfortably forget what they did in the previous screens.
  4. A wizard keeps the user engaged by displaying the progress being made in stages. Users often like to know the current stage they are at as well as any other pertinent information around their actions by that point.
  5. The most obvious and common information is already populated across screens. Therefore, a user can keep clicking the next button on most of the screens and still reaches the goal defined for the wizard.
  6. Importantly, the capability to click Cancel at any stage in the wizard and not letting any changes take effect unless the user wants, is what ensures that user can have a demo of all stages of the wizard without changing anything. This is particularly important in case of wizards on the Web pages. Quite often, you see websites requiring you to fill forms before you move on, but alternatively, you can navigate all the way through the wizard, view every stage, and then, decide if this was what you actually wanted. This results in a great user design in many cases!

Like all other UI elements, using wizards also suffers from its own downsides, and should be used with a careful consideration of alternatives.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Driving Forces for an Indian I.T. Professional

Wonder, what the driving forces are for an I.T. professional. Okay, I give you choices and the choices are:

  1. Zeal to learn and innovate something technical
  2. Delight of contributing to society in a high-tech fashion
  3. Hope to develop personally being in a professional environment
  4. Urge to follow footprints of software tycoons like Prem Ji (Wipro), Narayan Murthi (Infosys), or even, Bill gates
  5. Earn a handsome salary to enjoy lavish life

I believe, the most honest answer is number 5th. Do you agree? If yes, topic doesn’t deserve to be discussed any further.

In all the other cases, I’ve further questions, the first question is:

  • Are we getting enough opportunities to create something innovative?

I don’t think when we are a force of more than 0.16 Million alike I.T. professionals in just top four companies (TCS, Infosys, Wipro, and HCL) of India, we all can get equal opportunities for developing something as a result of hardcore R&D.

  • Can the CMM certified companies survive without having many of us filling benches?

I again don’t think it’s possible. The solutions-based companies have got to prove before the client(s) that any software-crisis condition can be defied with such large a force of techies (yes, so called techies.)

  • Aren’t we ignorant and careless about catching up on the new things including technologies, profit-making and/or useful software products? Have all of us ever applied our own mind to the betterment of the existing and working systems?

My opinion here may not be general, but in my view, Yes, We are that ignorant! That’s the reason why not many Indian products like Tally, orderbox, etc. are heard of, so often.

  • Are all the managers able to handle the real techies?

Again NO! The managers, who are into HR don’t possess technical skills to manage techies, and the managers, who are technical or functional either don’t choose to care or cannot care about individualism of every potential subordinate. This even helps the growing spirit fade off inside real techies’ minds and finally makes them yet another trail-follower.

The ultimately what I conclude myself is that we don’t allow ourselves to do anything better for ourselves, except in terms of money-making. What all we allowed to do and set up our minds to do, is just money-making and earning bread and butter.

I too believe that everyone cannot be an innovator, no one is an Einstein. However, if this is what everyone agrees to, I advocate not to just run after what’s hot in the market (like I.T. in the current scenario), rather allow ourselves do some efforts to make our likings hot in the market.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

GridMove: Boost Up Your Productivy With Windows

I have seen people struggling with the multiple open windows, especially when all or more than one windows are visually important. For example, consider yourself as a graphic designer who has just seen a catchy design on a Website and wants to use the inspiration with your own bit of creativity in your own work. Being a designer in this cheap-hardware era, you are likely to have a 19" or 21" monitor. Of course, it is definitely troublesome for you to keep switching windows from browser to Photoshop to your favourite word processor.

The easier solution is to snap all or important windows to fit into that huge desktop area and do not spend those annoying milliseconds just clicking the windows away and moving back onto them. There are number of tools available for allowing you to do it, GridMove being my favourite amongst all. The software is very handy if you care about productivity and are annoyed at the things which are there but not in their optimum forms.

With all the advantages of this windows management systems available, you can multiply your productivity making use of the customizability it offers. It allows you to define hotkeys and change the UI as you desire. Virtually all the features of the application are at your fingertips without having to move your hands away from your keyboard to the mouse, thanks to the full keyboard support it provides. The cherry on top is the exhaustive and comprehensive help that comes bundled with the application, which makes this software a worthwhile addition to your toolkit of productivity-centric nifty tools.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

P2P Could Be Good At It!

Yesterday was a record download day for Firefox 3. Of course, it exactly was how it was expected. The Firefox3 browser seems to be much faster in user experience. However, there seem to be few problems, such as, many of the old Firefox extensions seem not to work. I simply see it as a problem due to its infant stage when the extension developers haven't still got time to make their products forward-compatible :P

...Umm..Not going into further problems, it's after all a sweet release, except in the fact that wait time for the FireFox3 download seems to be real pain. Although, for obvious reasons it is; the servers despite of (hopefully) being pretty good at load-balancing cannot serve entire world at one time.

I happened to think of making formal use of P2P (Peer-to-peer) sharing for taking the load off the servers hosting the installers. As widely known, the P2P sharing and related things are better known, rather infamous for allowing illegal sharing of copyright material, such as music, video, various sorts of artistic stuff and even, pirated software.

What occurred to me was, if the developer and users communities of various products (especially open-source considering the less feasibility for commercial apps) join hands with the project (or product) owners to help reduce the issue of availability, it may actually come true, and thus, it might be a better and formalized way of performing launches where high demand is expected.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Windows Embedded NavReady 2009 launched as a boon to PND OEMs

Whenever Microsoft launches a platform, it's always a big event. Even this time, when they have launched, Windows Embedded NavReady 2009, they boast of the utilities the users-on-the-move can avail.

The show begins with an announcement of news, Microsoft Introduces First Embedded Operating System Optimized Specifically for Portable Navigation Device (PND) Manufacturers, yesterday, June 16th 2008. As they say, the futuristic platform boasts of having number of features that enable OEMs to make Microsoft again their favourite choice producing their next-gen handheld navigation devices.

Of course, the market opportunities for such an operating system do look bright, and therefore, it is being conceived as a brilliant and useful product. The OEMs into manufacturing of Portable Navigations Devices (PND) can straight way start building on top of the platform. As Microsoft Corp. announce the list of the product features, they really sound impressive, being capable of making use of the most widely used wireless connectivity technologies, including, Live Search, Bluetooth (and almost all useful Bluetooth utilities), user-friendliness on the move with MSN Direct, and Window SideShow functionality.

It seems to make life easier for the private labeled manufacturers of PNDs. However, at the same time it is going to increase the user base of MSN, remember, Microsoft's search engine, that has always been struggling in the competitive battle of the search providers on the Web.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Official Google Blog: Google India Women in Engineering Award 2008

Google India Women in Engineering Award 2008

An initiative by Google, to encourage Indian women to show off their I.T. skills. Google announces an award, Google India Women in Engineering Award, for the Indian women who are still an aspirants to be full-time into I.T. The eligibility criteria is also not a show stopper for academically excellent computer science students, though it rules out many applications.

Well, this is definitely a brilliantly planned way by Google to publicize themselves as great company to work with. Also, this is a step that will enrich Google's HR database of quality profiles and everyone who is into resourcing, knows that it's worth it.

Information Source: Official Google Blog: Google India Women in Engineering Award 2008