Thursday, 10 November 2011

One week is just right

This goal of this post is to outline some good reasons why one week iterations are a very good idea for most software development teams.
The suggestions and conclusions below are based on my experience with one week iterations across 3 teams on a major e-commerce project.
Before seeing one week iterations in action I believed they could be too stressful and with very little time to prepare requirements or even complete something useful and potentially end up with nothing to demo most of the weeks. I have since changed my opinion based on almost 50 iterations of evidence so let's start with the reasons

1. It is tough! What I thought before turned out to be true! There are so many things that need to happen for a week and yes it is tough. It is tough for the analysts to prepare requirements, meet with QA and refine them, meet with devs and refine them, get answers and slice and descope as necessary. It is tough for the devs to ensure requirements are small enough to develop and meaningful enough to present, reject requirements that aren't ready, estimate and tech design and implement those that are. It is tough for the QAs to participate in acceptance test specification for new requirements, acceptance test writing for those in progress, functional and journey tests, exploration tests and demo preparations. You get it I believe. Yet even though it is tough it is also very useful that it is tough because it is a built-in pressure that ensures people switch on to disciplined mode because to get through all these you have to be disciplined. So reason number one is that the busy schedule increases discipline and discipline is the best friend of competence.

2. There is stuff to demo! - with over 50 iterations of evidence I am confident one week iterations will not impact teams ability to show progress. Quite the opposite, the ability to show something that isn't just working but actually in most cases ready to go into production is the best way to win the customer over and over again. You could say in most companies the stakeholders would be amazed if you are able to deliver quality meaningful features every week.

3. You really are more agile/flexible. Actually seeing the impact of one week iterations I am starting to think that anything more than 2 really isn't much help in terms of flexibility. Shorter cycles let you fail faster and improve faster. They also allow the business to adapt faster and significantly reduce any change concerns. Shorter cycles also enforce good engineering practices like emerging design and architecture, continuous integration and deployment, true shared code ownership and refactoring.

4. These guys are great! Even though I already touched on credibility in point 2 I think it deserves a separate section. Your ability to deliver every week will impress people, especially if you're the first team in the organisation to do such short cycles. Along with your CI tools and your ability to deploy anytime and I am sure these will prompt even more amazing practices and tools it is very likely that you soon will become centre of attention and people would want to associate themselves with your team and even work for you. Granted this may happen without one week iterations but I believe they improve your chances.

5. It is all or nothing. If you've ever heard a business owner saying "they're all must haves really" then you know what I mean. What one week iterations combine well is positive feeling about delivering all the time and a shorter release planning cycle. And in case you're wondering yes I do mean looking at the release plan with the business owner every week or as often as possible but never more than 2 weeks between the sessions. The combination of high business confidence in your ability to deliver with the regular realisation what is possible with the current capacity and what not will virtually ensure the business owner's buy in into fixed date/flexible scope idea. (I would not really want to go for fixed scope/flexible date but that is for another article).  And that is one of the most important hurdles to making your release successful simply gone.

So in conclusion - I believe one week iterations are just right. Of course based on the environments that I've seen but also based on feedback from 20+ colleagues about the environments that they've seen.
So I'd say it is a pretty good bet that it would help you if you're thinking about doing shorter cycles. And I hope you won't forget to have fun ;)

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