Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The paperless and agile office

One of the most interesting books I've read about software development is "The laws of software process" by Philip Armour, which explains why we desperately need to be agile.

In the VoIP world this is more true than ever, since the ground whose our market is based tend to change in few months. We cannot foresee how the market will change in the next months, therefore any project that needs more than 6 months is to be considered unsuccessful -unless a gross amount of luck makes that project the one who preempts the right market path: better give a chance to lotteries, then!

Anyway, an early release of Sitòfono was originally given birth 4 years ago under a under-developed, too avant-garde to be understood version named "Push & Speak". But it wasn't the right time, the right place.

Now, Sitòfono has been boiling in the cauldron for a while, but we were waiting for the right start signal in the market. We think we've avoided early starts, and we avoided another common mistake in software development, named "the curse of creeping featurism". When we don't know exactly what to do with a technology, we tend to apply it in the more perverse forms and manners.

But in this case, we just kept it simple. And this time we are more agile than ever, and paperless.

We work on a week time basis, relying on a wiki, an online calendar, and a simple-yet-effective e-mail alias for the group. Most of our work is based on weekly "sprints" on simple tasks, and the management part of splitting "the.big.project" into smaller chunks is made cooperatively: every monday we build the weekly plot on a 1-hour meeting and sketch the rest of the month in a very simplified work breakdown structure.

On an every day basis we wrap-up our duties in a brief, essential stand-up meeting, and start working. Anybody who's missing the point can ask for an insight without the burden of a formal meeting. That's one of the moment we do brainstorming.

We then move to the coffee room, or smaller rooms we call "pensatoio" (it's like the pensieve cited in Harry Potter).

On friday we discuss about the process: what's working, what hasn't worked. All the relevant items are jotted down the wiki in some place, with some tags and keywords. The search box does the rest.

When we need to discuss about something -graphical-, we work on the white-glass panels that are conveniently placed in our 6-post rooms, called "the cells".

By the time we go home, the glass walls are full of sketches, sequence diagrams,
interface drawings, and so on. We take a shot of the relevant ones
with a digital camera and we store them on the wiki: we call them "efisio drawing files", mocking the Microsoft Visio software - Efisio is the
most common Sardinian first name. :)

Needless to say, the rest of Abbeynet follows different process and organization criteria, depending on the project they are involved into: different project scale, complexity and different timings need to be treated differently, but most of our documentation is paperless, and, most importantly, agile. For instance, the focus group on the multimedia streaming lives in a truly "research lab" environment: fortunately, they don't stink, as depicted in the stereotype of mad geniuses, but one of them resembles a blue boar and he's a gulch of ideas :)

(Obviously, the sky is not always blue, our work is sometimes a bit frenzy. But we always find the time to relax on some sunny seaside lunches at the poetto beach, eating sea-urchins, mussels and spaghetti with lobster-sauce)

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