Distributed Agile

I know well what agile development is.  Nothing in the world gives better working environment for creating marvelous new systems, than a well formed XP team – your pair programming buddy will definitely tell you if you are on a wrong track. The atmosphere is great, the team is One. Match that with a rigoristic approach to testing, visibility and user involvement, and you have a bullet proof recipe for producing word class software.

But distributed agile – whats that? After having met the dutch-indian company Xebia at JAOO 2008, which claims to have mastered the tricks and secrets of Distributed Agile Development, so that a team can be distributed around the globe, and still experience this very special atmosphere of hyperproductivity, I was intrigued and determined to find out.

Co-location

I happened to bump into the Indian Holi Holiday while co-locating

I happened to bump into the Indian Holi Holiday while co-locating

This should be obvious – you need  in the beginning of a project to see  each other in the eyes, the team has to be formed – thats called co-location.

We have a small project, 3 developers in total, so I buy a ticket to Delhi, and get a business visa in the passport.

The first thing that strikes me is the long office hours.

Second experience is the xtreme service.  For a poor european, used to ‘self-service’ the indian way of delivering service feels overwhelming. I counted over 100 people employed, just to make my morning commute to the office painless.

Third experience is a quiet yoga studio, with drop in-classes all the evenings.

I am thrilled to meet the team, we have been conversating a couple of times previously via Skype – it is such a heart warming feeling finally to meet them. After day 1 we have a good overview of the architecture, have filled walls, whiteboard and glasspanes with the mandatory UML diagrams, updated the electronic backlog and are ready to start work.

People are smiling, engaged, inquisitive. I am surprised by their level of proactiveness, and intelligent inquiries, foreseeing possible problems weeks in advance.

The team spirit starts to soar – yes, we can do it.

XP over the wire

All good, we have been co-located, but the whole idea behind distributed agile is … well, distributed.

Back in Denmark, days are passing by in a productive buzz.

I see a message blinking from Sunil. He is stuck and needs help on some configuration issue. We exchange code snippets back and forth, after a few minutes the problem is solved. Next day he has generalized the solution, and helped unstuck me.

Skype chat is on all the time when we work.

Each morning we have a video session on Skype to get updates, and plan next days work. The time difference gives the Indians a head start on the days tasks.

After a couple of days we discover, that we have accelerated development speed, and actually surpassed the sprints goals.

You wouldn’t be able to tell from velocity charts, that this team has been distributed.

Learnings

  • Things take time.
  • Accommodate for Sprint 0
  • Set up good facilities for Skype calls … yes, Skype makes it possible
  • Try!

Flying home … :-(

The departure day did come, and we had to go back home from Nepal. After 6 week of travel, just me and my kids, time to get back to the real life. Crammed into a bumping car, headed in the direction of Kathmandu Airport. All luggage, and ourselves carrying white silk scarfs for goodbye from the people who in a couple of weeks have becomen so good friends. The most important scarf, tied tightly around my neck.

First, thunder and heavy rain in Kathmandu Airport. Almost all other planes got cancelled. Ours to Delhi was circling above the airports for 3 hours … almost cancelled, but in the last minute there was a clearance in the sky and they could land. I was looking at the dirty, weeping sky and agreeing – I felt the same. The kids were busy reading Tinkles in the dull emergency lightning (of course, there was a power outage). One of the fellow passengers, a man clad in white, asked if it was my prayers that kept the planes away? I don’t know – did I look this way? Definitely, head had to go home, kids had to go home, but my heart wanted to stay.

Great entusiasm when the plane finally landed. After hours of waiting, hectic activity, people lining up in the rain, ready to board the plane. And so we got to Delhi with 4 hours delay.

In Delhi, we didn’t have a multiple entry Indian visa, which meant we were transit passangers – a lesser caste, not allowed to roam freely around the airport. We had a choice of sitting on the floor BEFORE the security gate (and before chairs, waiting lounge and so on), or go upstairs and pay for a stay in one of the business longues. We tailed some loud and unhappy french customers, who talked themselves into a free lounge stay. A couple of hours later, it was discovered that we were not part of the french party, but the nice staff agreed to give us a highly discounted price and letting us stay in the coach, where the kids were allready asleep. Next morning, I was found by the friendly staff from British Airways. We were not allowed to leave the designated area, so the staff had to find us, give us boarding passes, etc. Our plane from Heathrow to Copenhagen was cancelled, we were rebooked into a later flight. They brought us the new boarding passes, and they showed me the luggage, all 3 backpacks, and tagged them with new labels. We could without any more emotions board the Delhi–London plane, and 2 movies later we arrived in London.

We were just sooo tired … and looking into 7 hours of waiting … security, security and even more security, and we could enter the brand new Terminal 5 – the reason of our trouble. The staff from BA gave us a food coupon for 5 British Pounds as a compensation for the 7 hour wait … we went to an airport restaurant, and spent the coupon and some of my euros on the first european meal in long time … somehow the hours went by, and we found ourselves sitting below the big departure board, looking for the plane to copenhagen. Which gate? No gate yet, the plane is delayed. The kids sat for an hour, just looking at the board. I dozed of and on into sleep. Finally, the plane arrived, the gate was announced. With the rest of the stranded danes, we went to the correct gate.

In the last light of the day, we boarded the plane. Flying trough the dark sky, 2 hour passes, we all doze of into sleep.

Standing at the luggage carroussel in Copenhagen. Looking for our bags. One is there. Second is there. But, hey wait, where is the big one, with all our mountain gear and souvenirs? Missing. Terminal 5 in Heathrow is the main suspect. We fill in the missing entry form, and can leave copenhagen airport as some of the very last passengers.

My husband has been waiting in the airport for hours. The flowers he had brought were lacking water. We were so tired, no chit chat, just straight to the car, for the last 2 hour drive home. Kids fell quickly asleep on the backseat – I struggled to keep my eyes open. We crossed the long bridge to our island, and finally arrived at our house. Stumbling inside, half asleep, half awayke, we could take of the white silk scarfes, some have become torn and shattered, and hang them on a honorary place in our house.

And finally, go to bed, and sleep of this strange journey.

The white scarfes

Indian rail travel – Worst case scenario

I am travelling around South India alone with my 2 kids. It is quite fun and intensive. I would like to tell you about my worst case scenario regarding booking tickets. From home, I tried to book rail tickets for the train from Chennai (MAS)-Mettupaliyam (MTP) on the Nilgiri Express – an overnight train, and then from Mettupaliyam (MTP) to Ooty (UAM) – which is 5 h beautifull ride up the mountains with a century old “toy train”. I attacked the reservation page several times, without great success. I gave up when I after making a credit card payment got an e-mail that “your transaction was unsuccessfull” The problem is probably due to the new verification of credit cards by my bank – but nobody wanted to aknowledge the problem. Anyway, departure date was approaching and I decided that I will book the train tickets once in India. The first hotel we stayed at was in Mamallapuram, 50 km outside Chennai. The travel desk told me, that “no problem”, they will book the ticket for me. I was happy. Next day, the told me “no problem” they will book the ticket. Next day, they told me, that there were only waiting list tickets left. I think the 3AC class had a figure saying W20/W18. I decided to purchase a waiting list ticket – the bought it in the Tatkal quota. They didnt buy the toytrain ticket to Ooty – it was not necessary they said, I could just get it in Mettupaliyam. And told me there is “no problem”, I can just change the wl ticet it into a real reservation once at the station. So far so good, we arrived at Chennai, checked the luggage into the cloak room, and started looking for where to get a real reservation. The very helpfull station master told us to go to another building. We went to the office, waited in line. Come back in 30 minutes. We went back in 30 minutes. Come back in 15 minutes. We went back in 15 minutes. Then we were told to go to another office. We went there. They told us to go back to the first office. I tried to play the helpless foreign woman with 2 kids, by invading the office of the Station Master once more. Got a lot compassion, but nothing could be done – we should wait for the Train Master to give us seatings. The train arrived on the platform one hour before departure. It was so looooong, going from one end to the other (in search of the Train Master) took about 20 minutes. No, the train master could not do anything – the train was fully booked, we were on the waiting list as #3, #4, #5 respecitevely. He said, if we want to go, we have to go in the unreserved compartment. At that point, we were VERY determined to get aboard that train! So, we went to the other end of the loooooong train where the unreserved coaches were. Tried to enter one – but people were hanging outside the door. Tried the womens compartment – full. 5 minutes to train departure we decided to just PUSH into the train, hoping to sort things out. So we mashed, and squeezed, and were inside a very crowded carriage. The seats are organized in compartments in the open carriage, with wooden seatings for 2*5 people in each compartment, and 2*1 next to the window. Above all the seats,there is a luggage shelf. Every single space was full, people sitting on the luggage rails, and about 10 on each of the 5 man seats. I was standing on one leg, the kids before me, nobody could move. The train rolled away from the station. People shuffled a bit, a man offered half a seat to my 9y old daughter. she was able to reach it, and put her pack on the knees. Somebody whistled from the next compartments, and people waved at my 12y old son to come. He climbed up the luggage shelf where they made room for him, and had a great time. I was able to put the packs on the floor, and sit on top of them. What an entertaining night! People were singning,humming, playing, talking… I had a great conversation about capitalism vs communism with a furniture fabricant. The guy next to me turned out to be working as software engineer in Chennai, going home to see his newborn daughter. Not everybody spoke english, but they sought translation of those who did. As the train stopped at different stations, people shuffled and moved, and I even made it to a wooden seat Once in MET, the same problem. No seats left for us. We turned up in the “unreserved part”, people moved and made room for us. We rode with a bag of rice and garlig, an elder tamil grandma, and a tea fabricant, and a bunch of engineering students going home for the weekend from Chennai.

The train started to move, trough the lush country side. We went up, up, up, the mountains around grew taller. We had plenty of stops on the way for chai and water for the engine. The kids thought the steam engine was so cool! Like a caleidoscope, the landscape changed with emerald green tea plantations, high banana trees, steep cliffs. Our new tamil nadu friends didnt miss a single tunnel – each was greeted with loud whistles and cries.

The boys entertained my kids the whole way. Before leaving, this following conversation occured – I have been thinking about it since: – What do you think of the Tamil people? – They are so nice and friendly! – Well, if that is the case, what do you have to offer in exchange for their warmth and friendliness? So the worst case scenario for us was: not so much sleep, but a great experience, and so many new friends! And I promised the kids, that we will opt for a berth on the next trip.

The mighty steam engineNew friends on top row

Hosanna Childrens Home for Orphans

Our last night in Mamallapuram we went to visit Hosanna Children home. We have brought a big bag of used childrens clothing from Denmark, and I also wanted to donate some money to the organization. I think handing money out to beggars, especially children, is an evil circle – but we felt obliged to help somebody, and not just stroll past all the poor and unhappy we meet on our travels.

So together with Pawel and Magdalena, we took a taxi from our hotel … They gave us such a friendly welcome. The children danced and performed, we played games together, and went out for a village walk. It was wonderfull to see which warm and hearty atmosphere Mr Balasamy, his wife and the wonderfull teacher can create. Having so little, they can still create a family for the children, and give them a good childhood.

Mr. Balasamy told us they have 10 orphans, and a child of their own. The house is tiny 3 rooms and a little yard – perhaps 50 square meters all together – and a leaky roof during monsoon time. Mamallapuram was hit by the tsunami, and this has left many children without parents. The orphanage is run without much financial aid – local shops donate rice and other food items.

Magdalena was taken by the girls, they painted her hand with henna, braided her hair with flowers – she was beautifull as a priness! Pawel enjoyed playing games with the boys. They gave us a lot of hugs, a lot of smiles – and taught us a few tamil words. I bought ballons and a carussel ride for the whole gang – this was the warmest feeling of happiness you can experience.

We went home in our tuk-tuk, thinking about which wonderfull people we just have met …

The adress of the orphanage is:

Hosanna Childrens Home For Orphans

Door. No. 47, Annal Gandhi Street

Mamallapuram / 603 104

email: hosannahomehelp@Yazoo.com

phone: 9380813798

Have landed

Well we have landed – everything went surprisingly smoothly at the airport in Chennai – where is the befamed Indian beaurecracy?
We were met at the airport at 2 am by Chandram, a taxi driver recommended by the owner of a coffe plantation in Coorg where we head next week –  even the megasized bag with used clothes for an orphanage got into his car …
I must defend myself: we have packed tried to pack “lightly” … hm … well it didnt quite work out, had to bring both mountainboots, sleepingbags, winterjackets for our nepal trek … anyway, we got into the car.

Checked into the hotel at 3am, got a very clean room, with a big double bed – I got to sleep in the middle. Woke up, eat a great breakfast buffet. Time confusion was the main topic of the day … London is GMT, Denmark is CET, Chennai is IMT, which means you have to either substract 1 hour, add 1 hour or 5,5 hours … When Magdalena wants to know the time, she asks for it in all 3 zones …

Pawel had the sole attention of the manager and about 3 waiters – everybody tried to make sure that he will not go hungry despite his gluten/lactose free diet … the little card with hindi translations just worked wonders!

We spend the day extremely relaxing – in the pool, jumping big waves at the beach … which is by the way bounty landish, soft sand, palms, and the indian addition: a couple of cows, some fighting dogs, a steady stream of villagers that use the beach as a major pathway from one village to the next, carrying loads on their heads and all smiles.

A local fisherman invited us into his house – a so called “restaurant” … clean, colourfull – but definitely not an restaurant. We promised to come back tomorrow – he will cook a meal for us.

In the evening, when the worst heat faded out we went with a tuk-tuk to nearby Mamallapuram – a little village, where all of  its inhabitants were walking the streets simultanously … bought local light clothing for the 3 of us, and retreated to spend the rest of the day relaxing.
I am struck by the extreme friendliness of people – they can be annoying yes, the traffic is chaotic, yes we use desinfectant wet wipes before each meal – but I really like where we are.

Lets see if I can successfully persuade my daughter to get out of the pool tomorrow?