Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Johnny goes to Harvard

Last weekend I attended the Deep Agile 2009 conference at Harvard University. This two day conference was put on by Agile Bazzaar, an ACM Chapter dedicated to the improvement of all things agile. Approximately 90 attendees participated in the conference and I thought that this was a very well run production. Kudos to the Agile Bazzaar volunteers and especially Nancy Van Schooenderwoert who chaired the program. 
The links above give the highlights from the events and I only want to add my own observations:

Jack Ganssle represented the non-agile development community and gave several presentations on his approach to embedded systems development. He favors object oriented development and follows Bertrand Meyer's Design by Contract process.

James Grenning was one of the original signers of the Agile Manefesto  He says he attended that event for the skiing but I suspect he had more involvement... He is a strong advocate of Test Driven Development, Pair Programming, and SCRUM. He showed all these elements to the audience but in some cases they were the regular versions without a significant embedded twist.

Russell Hill is a development manager at Key Technologies. He is an advocate of Test Driven Development for embedded and thoughout his presentations talked about his experiences at Key building a reusable set of boards for the various products Key manufactures. This system includes hard real-time behavior developed for an FPGA connected to a Motorolla micro processor handeling the UI and control logic. He brought a valuable perspective to the conference on what is achievable for embedded development using agile.

Here are my notes from a panel session:

In practice how can a HW based system be delivered incrementaly?
James - I don't do a lot of HW dev BUT "is it working?" is a good test.
Russel - Our HW is based on FPGA and has some flexibility. But boards would be developed incrementaly.
Jack - There is a lot of religion in agile.... HW tends to be late and broken.... and we don't anticipate that for SW

Do you expect to modify an embedded system on a 2-3 week sprint cycle?
James - would like visable progress without neccessarily being deliverable
Russel  - Key Technology can turn around a HW change very rapidly (2 days!)

When an embedded system is used for a consumer product who is the product owner?
Russel -  We have thousands of customers, Marketing dept, Field Serices represents the interests of the customer. Nancy - any problems with that. Russel - Sometimes. Only in last couple years has marketing been strong participant.
James - this is an organizational problem (of getting participation)

How to reconcile "HW requires long lead times" vs "Agile is incremental" ?
Russel - Board was not available for a couple years. SW was written to spec and was able to deliver 2 weeks after HW release.
Jack - Up front commitment to HW features and to the schedule is different for embedded.
James - At the beginning of an agile project one needs a vision of both HW and SW.

How do you handle scheule constraint.
James - in agile nothing is negotiable until it is late.
Russel - when we are late our internal customers now about it real soon. Visibility to decision makers is important.
Jack - This is not unique to agile. Quality, Schedule, Features pick any two. Jack thinks features should be unconstrained while keeping Quality and Schedule fixed.

Any experience including HW engineers in the SCRUM.
Russel - intersted but not active daily 
James - integrate early and often. Some teams use HW engineers as customer. One client in Finland does overnight board turns.

For an embedded system can a product backlog include User Stories that target either HW or SW? If so, what does a HW User Story look like.
Russel - We have not done that.
James - if you try it write a paper.
Jack - I think it would be very difficult.

I am concerned about the lack of upfront design. What if a User Story requires a big change?
Russel - we just experienced this with a project that required a substantial redesign. The requirement was given a year ago on an eight year project.

In classic agile the key to development is decomposition of the epic story into slices. How do you decompose in embedded?
Russel - Frankly we struggle getting our HW engineers to think agile but it is getting better. We had one example where a story to eliminate a spurious image required both sensor, hw platform, and sw.

What role if any does architecture have in agile?
James - we work on it every day. Every time a sprint is completed there is an architecture that supports SW completed to that date.
Russel - Some of our architecture is harder to change. 
Jack - Architecture and Design in embedded world is a lot less maliable. Up front design is very important.
Nancy - Some companies have a culture of detail which is driven by politics.

My question was the one about HW User Stories.... I am still looking for a way to weave the EE participation into a high tempo devlivery using agile approaches. I will take James up on his suggestion to write a paper when I have it all figured out.

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