Category Archives: Bangalore

What are agile practitioners thinking in 2011?

Shortly before the yearend holidays, couple of us from product development companies got together to discuss how software development process philosophy and methodology is changing. We had representation from global embedded companies, healthcare products, internet domain, automotive, semiconductor – you name it. What was interesting was that irrespective of the type of software product being created, some common themes emerged in terms of practices that seem to make sense:

  1. Continuous integration: integrate early, integrate often seemed to be high on priority list for most.
  2. Test Automation was considered equally important agile practice
  3. Collocating cross-functional teams was found critical for end-to-end product development
  4. Being nimble to requirements was critical not just for customer-facing products but even in enterprise world
  5. Some (many ?) engineers are not used to reporting daily – they think it is an unnecessary intrusion into their work, and perhaps even a productivity impediment! Making them think otherwise is an important culture change
  6. Techies don’t want to become scrummaster – they would rather work knee-deep in coding! Some companies tried to hire ‘scrummasters’ – career project managers without specific domain skills but that was not very successful. The challenge is to find right set of people to play the role of scrummaster.
  7. Daily stand up seems to be a great way to make sure teams stay on the same page. I recounted my own experiences – way back in ’98 at Philips, we used to have daily stand-ups and it was highly effective.
  8. Simulating interface components was a high need for companies in hardware-software co-creation cycle. This especially became critical as the hardware was generally never available when doing software
  9. Can’t work from home in a truly agile world – have to co-locate teams. This seems to be a rather side-effect of using agile for teams – since teams have work closely and for things like daily stand-ups, everyone should (preferably) be in the same room. However, given the realities of modern day life, working from home is not only inevitable few days a month, but might actually be a productivity booster (ask those of us from Bangalore!). So, having a rigid agile discipline seems to be at crossroads to people’s ability to balance their work-life.
  10. Blank sprint after 3-4 sprints is a generally used practice. People felt back-to-back sprints would fatigue the teams, and make the work monotonous, and hence a blank sprint. A blank sprint was simply another timebox with housekeeping activities, vacations, etc.
  11. There seems to be an growing chorus for having internal agile coaches – however, no one in the group was using them. There is a general disdain for external coaches who might only give bookish prescriptions – after all, you need someone within the system to own the action items and not someone who simply makes powerpoint of the status. There was a great discussion that such agile coaches can’t simple be a single-axis professionals whether process guru, people manager, or techie. Rather, they need to be a bit of everything and then some more – project manager + process guru + people coach + techie + communication expert + …
  12. What is the role of manager in an agile world? This question has never been addressed well by agile community. How do people grow in their careers in an agile world. In the traditional system, whether good or bad, there is a hierarchy to aspire or grow into, but how do you acquire different skills that prepare you for taking on higher-level responsibilities in the career? If scrummaster is the closest role for a manager, then what next? Scrummaster or scrummasters? There was no clear direction or best practices that have stood the test of time.
  13. Pretty much no one believed that bookish or a biblical approach to Agile is the right thing – everyone seems to tailor agile as per the unique combination of business needs, nature of products and business and culture, etc.

This was definitely an interesting session that gave an opportunity take stock of some of the things that are working or not working. We also discussed the fact that Agile is really addressing a subset of the entire business problem – to address the entire problem, we need to embrace systems thinking and lean thinking.

What are you thinking in 2011?

Solution to Bangalore’s Traffic problems ?

We Bangaloreans love our city, its greenery and reasonably well-maintained gardens, its great weather, its wonderful people who are mostly peace-loving and gentle in nature, its attitude (“swalpa adjust maadi“), its food (simply too good !), its openness and warmth towards non-Kannadigas (thanks for making us a part of your culture), its intellectual capital and its generally understated elegance anchored by universal middle-class values like simplicity, respect, hard work and honesty. We also love its IT industry like a rare vintage wine, and its newfound romance with its vibrant enterpreunership eco-system that continues to attract best of the talent from all over India to its doors.

Of course, we don’t love its roads…and we simply love to criticize its perennial and ever mounting traffic woes.

After living in Bangalore for last 14 years, and paying all my taxes to Karnataka government on-time, I feel I have earned the coveted rights of being called as a ‘Bangalorean’. It is with this self-endowed right and pride that I share my view of what ails Bangalore traffic.

I think the real problem in our country behind unmanageable traffic in big cities is GOI-sponsored sixty-year old policy to only create mega-facilities in select cities. This self-appointed eliteness and preferential treatment, even if highly irrational even back then, of national capital and other so-called metros has ensured a huge and irrconciliable chasm between ‘India’ and ‘Bharat’ and has caused mass-scale migration of economic labor across all socio-economic strata of the society. For example, up until 10 or 15 years back, for every damn thing, you had to go to Delhi because that’s where the real ‘power’ was played. Similarly, by not doing any development in North East (and graciously supported by commies), we have a time bomb in Calcutta with some 11million+ population (and events like Lalgarh are only the beginning). Today you go to any state in India – I think more than 70% of economic output is generated by its capital city and except another 2-3 cities, other cities have virtually no industry or miniscule economic contribution. The only source of income in over 90% of such cities and towns is government jobs and small trading. Take UP – systemic misgovernance over last several decades has ensured there are today virtually no industries in UP. Commies have ensured there are no industries in WB and Kerala. The horror stories continue in almost all of the top 5 or 6 most populous states, with other states being only marginally better off. 

All this is forcing people like you and me to travel to such megacities in search of livelihood – this is not only the white-collared salaried professionals hailing from Lucknow or Baroda or Vizag or Madurai, it includes the carpenter from Kanpur, the mechanic from Patna, the plumber from Ujjain, the kirana shopkeeper from Kota, the jalebiwala from Ambala, the cabbie from Dharwad, the cash counter girl from Salem, and the Watchman from Nepal or Darjeeling – look around and you will find those are people who have also come to Bangalore and other big cities along with us. Why? For the first time in their several generations, they have all got an opportunity to do something bigger in life – move up the pecking order, so to say. With opportunities to make a decent living dried up in their hometowns, all they carry is hope in their souls and reams in their eyes to take a small sip from the fountain of newfound prosperity that a modern India has to offer – but unfortunately, only available to a select few in some big cities. Who are we to stop them from buying their first mobike (even if second-hand) or their first car ???? Just because we have enjoyed all that an urban life in such a wonderful city had to offer, do we have the right to stop others from having the same ??? I think that is a very selfish thought. So, whether we like it or not, economic labor migration is a reality that has always been there ever since human beings started settling down, and will continue to – it is as simple as water finding its own level. You and I can’t stop it.

Then people complain that all these migrants are the real reason behind traffic problem – they are causing undue pressure on a city’s public transport system that simply can’t scale up anymore. And when these people arrive in life, they upgrade to personal mode of transport and then once again add to the already overcrowded roads.

So, off we go thinking for a solution. Since we are not Singapore (though we aspire to be like Singapore but don’t have the guts to put in decades of hard work and no-nonsense governance before we become Singapore), we can’t stop people from buying vehicles. We don’t want to levy a city decongestion tax like in London. And since we are not China, we don’t want to control a city’s population by ‘regulating’ who all can come to a city and who can’t (90% of China’s wealth, top jobs, internet users, businesses, etc. are all in 5 cities – and yes, no common citizen who doesn’t have the skills to contribute to the economy of these 5 cities is allowed to just like that enter and live like a parasite). So, we neither have the stomach for tough decisions nor the wherewithal to implement hard measures. Some people say use public transport, some say use two-wheelers instead of cars, some say Metro will solve the problems…..

I think all that is just nonsense. You tell me how safe it is being on a two-wheeler on Bangalore roads where BMTC drivers start, stop and drive buses at their whims and fancies, and almost after 8pm any day, every second car is driving drunk. It is very easy to advise people to give up their four-wheelers and use a two-wheeler – question is, will you do the same and compromise on your family’s safety ? If not, then you have no right to advise others to do it. Let’s take buses. Every day I pass by the stretch of land in front of Lido Mall (can’t call it ‘road’ howsomuch I try to imagine!) and at 8am, I see some ~100 people waiting for bus. Probably there are more people already inside the bus! This must be true of pretty much every bus stop. This is not the life I asked for. No, I don’t think it is a sustainable solution. Let’s take Metro. IF and WHEN it gets completed, it would be yet another frivolous experiment at the cost of taxpayer (just like the fun that will begun IF and WHEN Worli-Bandra sea link opens – there are problems of congestion at the entry and exit points waiting to happen the moment the sea link is thrown open). It won’t solve any real traffic problems in a meaninful manner. For one, it won’t be point to point. So, first I need to drive to my nearest metro station, then catch the metro, alight at the station closest to my office, and again find a way to reach the office. Many times it will be too early in the morning or too late in the evenings, or it might be raining, so I can’t always walk down to the metro station. I need either an auto or I need to drive. But if I drive, where do I park my vehicle ??? I think it is not difficult to visualize the problems that will come up. I am not overcriticizing it or dramatizing it for effect – doing something once or twice is easy, very easy, but sustaining it over a prolonged period of time is what tests a system. I don’t think most people who drive cars today will consider Metro as a viable option to commute to work. Secondly, if BMTC buses are NOT taken off road once Metro starts operation, then we are worse off then when we started. I don’t think Metro will ever have the extensive connectivity that BMTC buses offer today, and hence there will be too much public backlash if any of the existing routes are discontinued. Then there are thoughts of widening the roads – you would have seen those red-colored hand-painted signs like “+4.5 mtr” – tell me, if that compound wall has to be pulled in 4.5 meters, the commuters on the road will probably be within kissing distance of the building occupants! Is that how we want to build a modern city ?

Meanwhile, some people thought of another clever solution: carpooling.

I think of all these things, carpooling is a collosal waste of time becuase its hides the real problem and creates illusion that it is really a simple problem that can be solved by taking small baby steps. Do we all really think 10,000 carpoolers will change the real problems in Bangalore in the long-run in a sustainable manner ? Even if tomorrow we have 100,000 carpoolers in Bangalore, that will not have any meaningful impact on traffic snarls. The problem with such models is first of all they are impactical to be scaled up beyond a point and that they give you the illusion of over oversimplicity that such a model is scalable to address Bangalore’s traffic issues which are nothing but some youngsters with an indifferent civic sense wanting to drive their newly bought cars everyday to work, and take away focus from core issues that the city is simply not enough for us all, and today it is traffic that is choking – tomorrow it will be housing, then water, then schools – traffic is only its first visible symptom! We need to realize that traffic is not a problem – traffic is the first victim of a much bigger problem that is waiting to explode anytime in future – and not just here in Bangalore, but in every such mega city which is target of mass migration of economic labor.

I think the solution lies only in decongesting cities over time. Develop other cities. Make sure no new industries can come to Bangalore, or at least no new staff augmentation happens in existing companies. Create tax incentives so that people setup industries in Hassan, Dharwad, Mangalore, Mysore and like. Make really good highways that ensure even if you worked in Bangalore, you would not mind living in the serene Doddaballapur or some other such place because commute will be such a breeze. Make sure all future IIT, IIMs and any other new engineering and medical college only goes to a Tier3 city. Make sure their is great 3G connectivity so that I could actually work from my ‘hometown’ and not just from home. Change labor laws to make teleworking attractive (today some 25% of Australia workforces does teleworking of some kind a few times a month) so that people can live anywhere in India and still work for a Bangalore-based office. Make sure no one has to ever stand in queue for doing silly things like making payment for electricity bills (at least in cities like Bangalore) – ensure 100% e-governance. I think these are real impediments that are choking us, not the traffic.

Noble efforts by a few, like the carpoolers (and I have admirations for their efforts – just that I feel their efforts won’t bring in the results that believe so passionately in), will help us highlight the problem and raise civic awareness, but no sustainable solution will come out of them and achieve critical mass unless we attack the root cause. When faulty policies are the root cause, the solution also must be found within correcting them.

And yes, let’s not envy those lesser blessed countrymen who, for the first times in their generations, have the real opportunity to improve the living standards of their coming generation, even if they have to live 2,000 miles away from home and survive on bare minimum.

Software Architecture Club: 10-Aug-08 / 2nd meet

 

We had the second meeting of SAC last Sunday, 10-Aug. This time, we had five attendees, and except for Venkatesh and Tathagat, the other three came for their first meeting: Venkat (Philips/NXP), Bhaskar (Software AG) and Rafi (Alcatel-Lucent). As there were new members, we diligently invested a good amount of time on coffee, socializing and digging out old connections 🙂

Venkat shared his perspective from the semiconductor world, and how the software on chip is not only leading to high complexity of software, but also demanding higher performance. Venkat and Tathagat shared experiences from a previous product they worked on together (Digital Set-top Boxes) and how incorrect / bad architecture choices led to significant challenges for the product performance.Rafi brought in the perspective of how the principles of architecture can be applied in the context of existing product – and given that most products continue to get evolved, enhanced and extended, it perhaps is a very valid discussion point for SAC. If any of the SAC member is interested to lead a discussion on this topic, it would be greatly welcome.

Venkatesh, Tathagat, Bhaskar and Venkat engrossed in a discussion

Venkatesh, Tathagat, Bhaskar and Venkat engrossed in a discussion

On one of the points regarding adoption of Agile methods, Tathagat mentioned he is re-reading Fred Brooks’ “The Mythical Man-Month” and Chapter 5 of that book is a very relevant discussion on ‘Aristocracy vs. Democracy’ of having an elite group of software architects. There has been a previous discussion on this in SAC, perhaps unfinished in some sense, that could be continued to explore this topic further and understand the various issues involved in it better. Not that we must conclude this topic one way or the other, but we might be able to explain the issue better given a much broader understanding of the issue. Venkatesh explained certain nuances about daily Scrum meeting, which led to interesting exchange of thoughts. He was promptly requested be the bridge between Agile community and SAC and keep enlightening us with more thoughts on this subject, including through his own blogs on this subject. Venkatesh also shared thoughts on ‘incremental architecture’ based on a workshop he had done for a group at Philips sometime back. Venkat mentioned that the concept was well received by the project team. 

 

Bhaskar making a point

Bhaskar making a point

 

Bhaskar brought the perspective of enterprise software, and the challenges thereof. Tathagat asked if Bhaskar would like to lead a discussion on this topic in one of the future sessions. Bhaskar to confirm. 

Venkat and Rafi listeing to Venkatesh (not in the picture) explaining the 'why' behing daily Scrum meetings

Venkat and Rafi listeing to Venkatesh (not in the picture) explaining the 'why' behind daily Scrum meetings

 

 

Rafi suggested we should share more web resources and reading list among member to help come at a good set of resources on the subject. I would request all members to contribute their efforts to come up with a good source of knowledge resources on this subject. It was also suggested to all members that Google groups allows a wiki-type functonality to create pages and edit / develop them collaboratively. Though it is not a full-blown wiki functionality, at this point it could still serve us well. For example, interest groups on Embedded, Web 2.0, Enterprise Software, etc. could be some themes, while topics such Reading List, Certifications, Adoption of Agile methods, etc. could be some of the global discussion threads that could continue. Tathagat renewed his request for shared ownership of the discussion threads on the forum to make it most effective. To that end, any member of SAC is most welcome (and encouraged) to start any of the discussion topics !

The next meeting is planned on 13-Sep (Sunday), 10am. Venue will be confirmed later. The idea is to start more focused technical discussions from the coming meeting onwards. All ideas are welcome. If you would like to lead a discussion, let us know ! 

PS: Photo quality is not so good, thanks to Blackberry, but at least that will put faces to some of the names.

I am proud of my fellow Bangalorean’s civic sense !

I live on a main road in east Bangalore, which is meant to be a one-way street. From morning until late in the night, I see familied people (kids in school uniform on scooters), autos, call centre cabs, people with 18-foot long sedans – just about everyone violating the one-way rule ! Every single day ! What surprises me is how these citizens and grown-ups face up to their kids and teach them to become law-abiding citizens when they themselves break the law at every single drop of hat. I guess this is happening in every single lane of every single city in our great country. Why are we so insensitive to the environment around us ? If we can’t add to the solution, can’t we at least NOT add to the problem ?