MVP: The Zen of Software Development

Guest blogger, Toby Morris, is back with his take on the importance of Minimally Viable Product (MVP) in Agile.  Toby, known around these parts as “The Amazing Toby”, is a software developer at Valpak.  Enjoy!

When it comes to agile learning, development and growth, one concept rises to a level of importance few, if any other, concepts rise. With this one concept, if you grasp it, you will grasp the very heart of agile. If you can’t, you will struggle to reach the level of efficiency you should be able to reach.  Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the soul, wit and zest of agile.

To me, agile is about maximizing the value and speed of delivery of the products my customers need and want. It’s about cutting waste and inefficiencies out of the development process. MVP is the deliverable with the absolute least number of features that will satisfy your customer’s needs. Period. Anything more or less isn’t good enough. Not enough features and the product may not be useable. Too many features and you’ve wasted resources and delayed getting the product to the people who need it most.

Minimum Viable Product is a concept that wraps up many agile principles, and it’s a tool for slicing through extraneous features. When looking at any user story, a first thought should be “how much of this is needed for a working product?”. Use the MVP blade to cut away at fluff and “wants” to get to the heart of the product. Try defining the product in a catalog blurb. If a feature isn’t in that blurb, then it’s probably not needed. Every feature that isn’t a core feature of a product is a wasted time in not only development, but also support.

Use the MVP blade to cut those extraneous features out of the current user story and add them to the backlog. If they are valuable, they will make it back into the sprint plan and into the product. If they never make it into a sprint plan, then they weren’t valuable. You just saved yourself, your company and your customer the time and resources that feature would have cost.

We’ve had customers at our company that ask for every possible feature during the early stages of a product’s development. They share a belief that if they don’t get everything in the first round, we’ll put features they want on the backlog, only to never find the time to get back to them. And that’s true. And that’s how it should be. If a feature belongs in the product, MVP will force you to include it. If it doesn’t belong in the product, MVP will relegate it to the backlog, where it will die a slow, cold death.

The Minimum Viable Product concept applies to anything you create. Anything you do. It’s the Zen of software development, and every other creative process. Whether you’re applying it to an entire application, a single feature of an application, or even a component of a feature, if you let it guide you, you will be surprised at how efficient you become.


OnAgile is On The Way

OnAgile 2015 Banner

Some of you may be wondering what I’ve been up to lately.  Besides my day job, I’ve been busy, busy, busy.  As part of my responsibility to the Agile Alliance board, I’m working with Declan Whelan to put on their first ever virtual conference — cleverly named “OnAgile” — on May 14th.  The theme for 2015 is “Navigating the Future: Emerging Technical Trends and Practices”.  Check out the Save The Date blog post on the Agile Alliance web site for more details.

I’ve planned a wedding (well, two weddings to be honest), I’ve planned an Agile Open (Agile Open Florida, that is), and now I get to plan a virtual conference.  And yes, we are being agile about it, employing not one, but two Kanbans from the start.  Super exciting!  I’m sure this is just the first of several blog posts on my experience in putting on OnAgile.


Musings of a New Agile Alliance Board Member

The Agile Alliance board gathering for the start of our meeting in Bellevue. From near to far, Declan Whelan, Samuel Crescencio, Pat Reed (slightly hidden), Linda Cook, Ola Ellnestam, Rebecca Parsons, Phil Brock (Managing Director, and our facilitator is the one standing. Missing from the photo are Shane Hastie, Juan Banda, and me.

From near to far, Declan Whelan, Samuel Crescencio, Pat Reed (slightly hidden), Linda Cook, Ola Ellnestam, Dr. Rebecca Parsons, Phil Brock, and our facilitator (standing). Not pictured are Juan Banda, Shane Hastie, and me.

Some of you may recall that I was nominated to the board of the Agile Alliance for the 2015 to 2017 term.  Well, 2015 is upon us and I am officially on the job.  This month, I traveled across the U.S. from sunny Florida to cold, rainy Washington for my first official board meeting hosted at the CenturyLink Cloud offices in Bellevue.  What a lovely quaint downtown Bellevue has to offer and OMG! … the restaurants and pubs are unbelievable (I highly recommend Lot No 3) … anywho, I digress.

Bellevue was my first official board meeting but not my first board meeting.  I had met most of the board at Agile 2014 in Orlando (except for Samuel) and was asked to attend the Chicago board meeting in September to “observe” which means I didn’t have a vote yet.  In Bellevue, I finally got to vote! … Not once, but many times.  Oh the power! … MUAHAHA!

What I found in Bellevue, and previously in Chicago, was that you can always learn a thing or two from the board meeting experience.  The board brings in a professional facilitator for the thrice yearly face-to-face meetings and they always come with a bag of tricks.   In Chicago, I was introduced to the Lean Business Model Canvas.  This time in Bellevue we performed two very engaging exercises: 1) Future Trends and 2) Customer Persona Expectations.

  1. The Future Trends exercise had us looking towards the future so that we can determine what opportunities to pursue or what risks to mitigate.  We kicked off the 3-day meeting with this exercise.  It really opened minds to all the possibilities before us.
  2. The Customer Persona Expectations exercise was used to identify all our various customers and what they expect of us versus what expectations we are delivering on.  Very eye opening in terms of over-served and under-served customer groups.

By the end of the 1st day, we got to meet Pam Dyer, the new Agile Alliance Chief of Marketing, and grill her on her plans for the brand and the website.  And, let me just say, Pam said a million right things just within the first ten minutes.  Under Pam’s leadership, 2015 is truly going to be the marketing awakening for the Agile Alliance.

On the 2nd day, we got to connect with the guys of Agile Alliance Brazil over Skype and hear how things are going on that side of the world.  Agile Alliance Brazil is fairly new but making great strides in growing and developing all-things-Agile in their country.

Then, there was the usual board-ish stuff, namely the budget review, the voting of new Officers, and the review of new and active programs.  While this board-ish stuff might sound more like bored-ish stuff, it was absolutely thrilling for a first time board member.

  • Budget  … What can I say about the budget? It was … umm … the budget.  Linda Cook does a fine job as Treasurer, so the budget review was pleasantly uneventful and went by rather quickly.  And, I got to vote!
  • Officers … The January meeting means voting for 2015 Officers, namely Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer.  For 2015, Rebecca Parsons remains Chair, Shane Hastie will take over as Secretary from Ola Ellnestam, and Linda Cook will remain Treasurer.
  • Programs … Agile Alliance works their mission through this thing called “programs”.  If you don’t know about programs, well you should.   Any member can propose a program and that includes me.  Mark Kilby, Ryan Dorrell, and I submitted a program focused on local user groups and I got a front and center seat (literally) to the proposal review.  What an experience, to say the least!  I’ve got some great notes in hand for further developing and refining our program proposal for review at the next board meeting.

So, what’s next?  Well, we’ve got our next face-to-face board meeting in Wellington, New Zealand, hosted by Shane at the Software Education offices, along with the Wellie Agile Open.  Meanwhile, I’m on the nominations committee for selecting at least two new board members plus heavy involvement with at least two new programs.  Oh, and let’s not forget the Agile 2015 conference in Washington, D.C. this year where I hope to see and meet some of you that have suffered through my blog from the start :)

As I embark on my first year on the Agile Alliance board,  I only hope that I can contribute as much as I will learn.  I am well aware that I am among an elite group of Agilists and technologists.  The positive vibes that surrounded the Bellevue board meeting has, no doubt, left me hopeful of what’s to come in 2015.  It’s going to be an epic year!

Oh, and I didn’t waste a good trip to Washington on a just meeting.  My husband, Sean Davis, accompanied me and we stayed an extra day to explore downtown Seattle and Pikes Place Market.  Also, on the first night, our friends Amber Osborne and Nate Brown had us out to Kirkland for a rock opera which was a crazy-wild experience (I’ll leave it at that).  We also took time to go see a couple movies, American Sniper and The Imitation Game (which I highly recommend both).


Shaping Our Next Agilists at East Tennessee State University

Photo Jan 22, 5 03 09 PMLast night, Bob Damato (Valpak’s Software Engineering Director), Terry Winslow (Agile Project Leader), and I had the pleasure of Skype’ing with a graduate class at East Tennessee State University on real-world Agile. Terry also happens to be an East Tennessee State University alum so that made it extra special.

This is a capstone class for graduate students who are completing a project to build a mobile app using Agile. The students provided a list of questions and Bob, Terry, and I divvied them up and answered them one by one.  It was great opportunity for us to shape and influence our next Agilists by sharing our real-world experiences.

The backdrop you see in the picture is our new Agile boards area where we hold stand-ups each morning.  It consists of 360 degrees of magnetic whiteboards we call “The Park”.  The Park is home to up to 8 Scrum or Kanban boards and also has portable TVs for display of digital boards.


Management Behavior that Will Make or Break a Robust Agile Implementation

Stephanie Davis:

This is seriously one of the best blog posts I’ve read this year. So much truth to this! Bottom up Agile transformations are extremely challenging and prone to failure. The top has a very valuable and necessary role in a successful Agile transformation. I just hope the people at the top of companies on the verge (of an Agile transformation) will read this and heed it.

Originally posted on Project Management in Real Life / Projektledelse i virkeligheden:

A couple of months ago the following statement was made at a conference by a business manager: “We want better projects, so the management of our company has decided that everyone will start working agile from January 2015”.

I was puzzled. Very puzzled. Did he honestly believe that the whole company would wake up one Monday morning in January 2015 realizing that a whole new era had begun, and everyone would leave all their old habits, attitudes and approaches behind and start being agile?

It made me wonder. Several things, actually:

“If the decision is already made, why don’t they start their agile journey today?”

“Do people really think that transforming a business from a traditional to an agile approach to projects will happen just like that?”

“Have they realized that the decision to work agile means that the management will also have to change their ways?”

“Do they know that doing agile is not…

View original 663 more words


Another Year Behind Us … Valpak’s 2014 Agile Year-In-Review

Another calendar year has gone by  and we are still truckin’ along in our Agile journey here at Valpak.  Let’s take a quick look back at 2014 …

  • In October of this year, we celebrated our 3rd anniversary of Agile!
  • Stephanie Davis (that’s me) was elected to the Agile Alliance board for the 2015 to 2017 term.  I got to attend Agile 2014 as a board member elect, meet my fellow board members, and (coincidentally) witness the birth of Agile Alliance Brazil.  I got to know my fellow board members so much better when I attended the September board meeting in Chicago. It was in Chicago that I really got to see what the next three years might be like serving on the board of the Agile Alliance.  Super excited for what’s to come!
  • Three more Valpak-ers earned their PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP) credential this year, bringing the total to eight across the company.
  • IT piloted a Lab Day concept with 2 Scrum teams to allow for greater focus on sprint days by relegating non-sprint work to a single day between sprints.  The results of the Lab Day pilot will be further evaluated in 2015 and a separate blog post is planned on this topic.
  • I continue to organize Tampa Bay Agile with my partner-in-Agile-crime, Ryan Dorrell and both our companies, AgileThought and Valpak, remain major sponsors.   Since Ryan and I have been involved in Tampa Bay Agile, our membership has grown by 700% and I think we are at just over 700 members about now.  In 2014, we hosted 12 meetups including a kick ass holiday party sponsored by Serena Software.
  • Stephanie Davis (and several other loyal Tampa Bay Agile members including Becky Hartman and Steven Granese) sat on an Agile panel for a West Central Florida IIBA meetup.
  • Organized the first ever Agile Open Florida at the Valpak Manufacturing Center for over 120+ people.  The next Agile Open Florida is planned for Friday, June 19th.
  • Rolled out Target Process to almost 100 employees to replace Pivotal Tracker for our Scrum teams and LeanKit Kanban for Kanban teams.
  • Agile rolled out across the enterprise with the “Agile Enterprise Workshop” and also used to aid prioritization and cohesion efforts amongst the executive and director ranks. And now, Kanban (maybe even a bit more Scrumban) is on the rise with use by many of our our business teams including:
    • Strategic Partnerships
    • Diversity & Inclusion
    • Business Analysis & Reporting
    • Troubled Markets
    • Affiliate / SEO
    • Valpak Manufacturing Center CPI
    • Coupon U Workshops
    • Marketing Research
    • National Sales Support
  • Six Valpak-ers attended the 2nd annual Cox Automotive Agile Open in Atlanta.
  • As far as technical practices are concerned, we made great strides this year in the area of test automation with most of our teams having a strong suite of automated tests in play.
  • We learned that our Agile transformation case study will appear in a textbook titled “The Project Manager’s Guide to Mastering Agile” to be released in January 2015 by Wiley.
  • Agile leaders from across the sunshine state cooperated and collaborated to establish AgileFlorida.com, a single source of local groups that are active, upcoming local meetups, and planned statewide events.
  • A Valpak Agile Flyer was created as a pre-read for the Agile tours we provide to other companies and their VIPs.  This year, we provided Agile tours to several companies including:
    • Catalina Marketing
    • New York Life
    • Vology
  • Last but not least, we’ve had the pleasure to network and consult with several companies that are Agile or looking to transform including:
    • AutoTrader
    • Cox Automotive
    • Kelley Blue Book
    • Manheim
    • New York Life
    • Office Depot
    • Arbitration Forums
    • American Express

Another awesome year for us!  Here’s to livin’ the Agile life into 2015 as we continue our journey.


World Quality Month at Valpak

In recognition of World Quality Month and as it pertains to Agile (of course), I’m posting for you a write-up from Valpak’s QA Manager that was published in our weekly internal newsletter, “Monday Memo”.

See how quality is making IT better

We continue to celebrate World Quality Month in November, the inspiration of the American Society for Quality (ASQ). Here’s another example of how quality is making our company better. This one comes to us from Carl Paret (Quality Assurance Manager) in our IT Department:

Ever since IT’s formal adoption of Agile methodology as its software development model three years ago, there has been a recalibration of how all involved should view quality. Similar to what Juneau Colleur described in her segment last week in Monday Memo on quality at the VMC, we too had to find a way to embed quality into our processes.

The notion that quality should be owned by everyone — not solely by individuals whose functional titles bear the word “quality” — is a concept that continues to be evangelized. Stephanie Davis (Director of Agile Leadership) and Jim Gaines (Business Analyst III) led the effort of having Business Analysts and Agile Project Leaders get better versed about concepts of Agile Acceptance Testing — where the team seeks to identify gaps at the time the work scope is being defined.

Under the direction of Bob Damato (Director of Software Engineering), Development Managers have their Developers adopt well-established, test-first development practices. Under this paradigm, they include code-level tests as they add or modify code modules so as to get quick feedback if changes they introduce cause unexpected failures elsewhere in the system. Meanwhile, the IT Quality Assurance team is increasing its use of automation testing tools to help execute tests faster and more reliably given our short iterative cycles.

As with the rest of our Agile journey, this evolution of quality is a work in progress, undergoing refinements as we learn from misses, and embracing what is proving successful. This, in the long-term, should only make us better and allow us to delight the customers for whom these applications are created.


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