Why didn’t I think of this sooner? Schedule my review posts

Twenty-nine metal CDs
Twenty-nine metal CDs

In June 2012 I replied to a post on a local Freecycle mailing list offering “hundreds of metal CDs”. When I got them home I’d been very kindly given around 195 (give or take a few). I’ve been more or less reviewing one CD a week ever since on my 195 metal CDs blog.

Some weeks are easier than others for finding the time to write a review. For albums that I particularly like I sometimes cheekily listen to it for a further week before scribbling down my thoughts.

I’ve been blogging now for well over ten years, so why has it only just occurred to me to get at least one week ahead of myself and review an album at least a week or two in advance?!

That would clearly take the pressure off. I could write the review whenever I wanted and schedule it for the appropriate Monday. As you can see from this image I plan my reviews well in advance using Trello:

Trello list showing what's coming up

So that’s what I’ve done this afternoon. I had a run of albums by Italian black/gothic metal band Opera IX scheduled for the next few weeks so I’ve just grouped them and reviewed them in chronological order this afternoon.

It will be interesting to see what difference this makes in terms of finding the time to review the albums and how much I enjoy them given that the pressure has been relieved a little.

New ‘nee naw car’

Yesterday afternoon and this morning Reuben, Joshua and I have been making a “nee naw car” from the box that Isaac’s new Baby Jogger City Classic pushchair arrived in. Here is the almost-finished article.

Front

Fire engine car made from a cardboard box
Front of the nee naw car

The car was made from a Baby Jogger City Classic pushchair box, painted with Wickes one coat matt emulsion “Victorian Red” (the same colour as our kitchen and dining room).

The word “FIRE” was cut out from a roll of big labels (a little larger than A5) that we bought at the Borders Scrap Store in Selkirk years ago. As were the lights and radiator.

The ladder was made from cardboard from the box.

Rear

Rear of the nee naw car
Rear of the nee naw car

The wheels were made using Microsoft Publisher 2010 and coloured in by Reuben and Joshua. The Pontypandy Fire and Rescue Service badge was sourced on the Web and printed out on our laser printer. I was going to draw it but was being climbed on at the time.

Close-up of front

Fireman Sam sitting next to Reuben and Joshua in the cab of the nee naw car
Fireman Sam sitting next to Reuben and Joshua in the cab of the nee naw car

Close-up of the front of the new, homemade Nee Naw Car (featuring Fireman Sam and Firefighters Reuben and Joshua).

The blue flashing light is made from a Robinson’s Fruit and Barley bottle cut off at the bottom and stuffed with blue tissue paper, with black gaffa tape at the bottom to cover the jagged plastic from my hacking attempt at cleanly cutting it off with a pair of kitchen scissors.

The number plate is “RJ 999” for Reuben and Joshua. The radiator and headlights were also coloured-in by Reuben and Joshua.

Improvements

Improvements to be made based mostly on consumer feedback and rigorous user-testing:

  1. Strengthen area beneath windscreen as Reuben and Joshua hang on to it to climb in and out.
  2. Add a second steering wheel (to stop the fights about who is driving).
  3. Improve the inside of the windscreen / dashboard.
  4. Add silver gaffa tape… not necessarily an improvement, more a request from Reuben and Joshua.

Agile planning poker

For a few months we’ve been starting to use Agile, and specifically Scrum, methods in planning and managing our Web projects at work.

This week we adopted a new practice: planning poker.

Agile / Scrum iteration planning board
Agile / Scrum iteration planning board

Like many teams starting out with Agile practices we didn’t just jump in feet first and adopt every Agile method going; that would have been too much to take in. So we began with a few methods:

The photograph above, taken a couple of months ago, shows the planning board in our office — an information radiator — that shows us at a glance how many tasks are left to do, what’s currently being worked on, what’s in testing, what’s done and (unlike, I would guess, most other Agile boards) what we’re waiting for.

Multiple projects

By definition Agile really should be used by teams working on one project at a time. It’s simply not efficient working on more than one because as soon as you start switching between different projects you lose time. One reason is that it takes time to get back up to speed with project B after working on project A.

However, some of us have no option but to work on more than one project at a time, as well as juggle support emails, telephone calls and the like. In which case you simply have to adapt the principles of Agile to accommodate more than one project, and essentially run them all in tandem as though you were working on multiple threads of a single project.

Karl Scotland, formerly Development Team Leader with BBC Interactive wrote a really useful paper back in 2002 entitled “Agile planning with a multi-customer, multi-project, multi-discipline team” (DOC, 225 KB) in which he explained how he ran things at the BBC where they would regularly work on three projects simultaneously.

We currently have 19 projects on the go at the moment. Which is far, far too many and we need to do something about it. So this week we revisited our project backlog and introduce a new Agile method to the mix: planning poker.

Planning poker

Planning poker cards
Planning poker cards

The idea behind planning poker is very simple: “planning poker is a consensus-based estimation technique for estimating, mostly used to estimate effort or relative size of tasks in software development” (Wikipedia).

Each member of the team had a pack of cards (I made our cards using Microsoft Publisher 2007 and a handful of skills) which have a sequence of numbers printed on them. They are quite often close to a Fibonacci sequence to reflect the uncertainty in estimating larger items. Our pack uses the sequence: 0, ½, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, 100, a ? (unsure) and a coffee cup (I need a break).

We then took each item in our project backlog and after an explanation of what was required we all took a vote on how difficult we thought it would be as a project, placing the cards down on the table at the same time so as not to influence another player’s estimation by laying your card earlier than them.

Once voted, unless the group has a consensus the person who laid the lowest-value card and the person who laid the highest-value card explains why they thought it was easier (they’ve done this before, for example) or harder (what did the others miss?).

Votes are taken again until a consensus has been reached and then the team passes to the next task or project on the list.

We found it a really useful exercise because it actively encourages everyone to speak and gives everyone an equal say in the decision-making processes associated with managing projects. We really quickly got to the core issues related to each project and at times an interesting spectrum of scores (13, 20, 40 and 100 for one project).

Planning poker cards (PDF)

Our conclusion

Our next stage is to complete the scoring on the remaining <cough> 60+ projects, and work with our boss to prioritise projects. That should give us an overall score (estimate x priority) which will enable us to more accurately plan when we should schedule these projects and in which order. For example, you don’t really want to be tackling three really taxing projects at once.

Oh, and it makes the task of planning much more fun.

If anyone wants a copy of the cards I made (in PDF format) drop me a note in the comments and I’ll upload them for you.

More resources

Luis Goncalves, co-author of the excellent book Getting value out of Agile Retrospectives has written a really useful article about planning poker:

Planning poker and scrum poker: everything you need to know