Agile, Scrum, Waterfall, and CMMI Development

We are currently in the middle stages of the SDLC at work for a new application.  Our company operates under a number of different methodologies that have been merged together into a hybrid environment, (which is pretty common from what I hear).  There is no one perfect methodology – you have to take what you like from them and make it unique to how you want to operate.  The best way to describe our environment is Agile/Waterfall/Scrum/CMMI.  There is some disagreement on this subject.  Some may say that these are conflicting or opposed methodologies, while others find many simularities.

The largest influence over us is CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration), which is an approach for effective process improvement.  In order to be CMMI certified (we are currently level 3 and pursuing level 5), we have to adhere to and be audited on certain procedures and processes.  It requires that we complete things like project plans and risk analysis for each of our projects.  We also have to meet to approve each other’s projects, etc.

Although there are obvious difference between CMMI and Agile methods, they have a lot in common.  Agile requires us to complete activities such as requirements, specification, architecture, design, implementation, testing, deployment, and maintenance.  The CMMI tasks coordinate with and are incorporated with the Agile tasks.  Waterfall allows us to complete these tasks in a sequential process, with one step flowing down to the next.  We generally do not start on the next task until the first one has been completed.  (There is some overlap, but nothing goes out of order.)  For instance, we do not design while we are writing requirements.

Most recently, we have incorporated some of the Scrum (not to be confused with my hilariously embarrassing twitter typo “scum”) methodology into our process.  We started having daily, 15 minute long, Scrum meetings (or “Scrums”), with 1 person in charge, called the Scrum Master.  So far, we have noticed that these meetings are extremely productive and helpful to the team.  We created a wiki page on our Sharepoint site for the team to post their questions prior to the meetings and we have been going through everyone’s questions and answering them right there, on the spot, so that the developers can immediately incorporate the changes into their development (and me into my documentation).

As the lone writer at this company, I am an integral member of this team and I often have just as many questions as the application developers do.  I am writing the user manual as they are developing and even though we have written all of the requirements and use cases, I am still discovering things that need to be addressed while writing step-by-step instructions.  I find things like, modals that have not been mocked up, or incomplete processes in key functionality, etc.  I can’t imagine the tech writernotbeing a part of these meetings.

I like how we have the freedom to pick and choose the processes that we like from each of these different methodologies and create our own hybrid process.  I think we have taken the best elements from each and found what works for us.  We are a small company, and an even smaller software development team, so efficiency is crucial since some of us are wearing multiple hats.

Which methodology has your company adopted?  Are you in a hybrid environment like me?

Spring is in the air

Well, I’m back from my week in Florida and my week in Memphis and spent the last 2 weeks playing catch-up at work, at home, in my social life, etc.  I had a complete blast during my vacation and the conference.  It’s always so hard to come back to work and “the real world” after such a great time away.  I’m already trying to plan my next vacation and use the free flight vouchers that we got for switching our flight.  I’m thinking Vegas perhaps?  Any recommendations are welcome.

Since I’ve been back from the conference, I have been writing session summaries for Tech Writer Today Magazine, so I apologize, but I haven’t been blogging as much.  Things have been pretty crazy.  We just launched a new software release at work and we are in the beginning stages of development in a new application.  So much to do!

Since I am new to software, I am really enjoying seeing the entire product development life cycle.  This project is the first one that I will see start-to-finish.  I’m learning a lot about writing requirements and use cases, as well as doing wireframing (mockups) and designing the User Interface.  I love that since I work for such a small company, I am an integral member of the UI design team and get to have a say and an impact on what the application will do and how it will look.

I started using the program Balsamiq to do the mockups of the UI.  I’m finding the program to be incredibly easy and fun to use.  It’s a simple interface with a ribbon at the top that contains all of the UI elements and you just drag and drop.  It’s perfect for UI design because it isn’t so specific that developers will get hung up on the details of every little thing.

Aside from the fun new things I get to do at work, my husband and I have enjoyed some nice, unseasonably warm weather in Boston.  We had a few days in the 70’s and even 80’s (gasp!) before things cooled back down to the 40’s.  It’s given me hope that this Spring and Summer will be quite enjoyable here and will feel more like home to us.

Day 4 at the WritersUA Conference

The last day of the conference felt like the last day of school before summer vacation.  Everyone was buzzing around in a great mood, trading business cards (the professional equivalent of “sign my yearbook”), saying last-minute goodbyes to their newly forged friends, and taking silly photos.  It was obvious that we had a great time because everyone was a little sad to leave.

There is a lot of great information presented at the sessions, but probably the best part about attending conferences is the networking, side conversations, and personal connections made.  Sharing stories, venting frustrations and just getting away from the office and chatting with people who actually get what you do and what you go through is just fantastic.  I feel like I have found friends and mentors here that I will definitely keep in touch with and maybe even see again someday (another conference perhaps?).

I attended four sessions:

  • Improve User Productivity with Just-in-Time Advice
  • A Survey of DITA WebHelp Formats
  • Thinking About UA as Performance Support
  • All About Hyperlinks

I have to say that the first and last session benefitted me the most.  The middle two were really interesting, but ended up not very relevant to my current work (I’m not using DITA). The last session was led by Matthew Ellison from the UK and he was one of the best speakers.  I learned a lot about the origins, uses, and best practices for hyperlinks.

Just before lunch they had a fabulous peer showcase where 16 of the top industry professionals showed their innovative work.  I watched 3 of the quick, hands-on presentations and voted on them:

  • Creating Flash Rollover Images with Captivate and Snagit  –  Fer O’Neil took standard screenshots that when you moused-over the image, animations would appear in a flash video-style. Very cool!
  • Using a Web-based Product Lifecycle Roadmap and Customized Search to Increase Documentation Usability – Timothy Rosa used amazon.com-style “sticky searches” and roadmaps to help users find the info they need faster and easier.
  • Engaging Users with Documentation that doesn’t feel like “Documentation” – This was the best of the 3, my top pick, and the winner of the peer showcase contest!  Steve Stegelin illustrates his own cartoons and graphics and integrates them with very contemporary walk-through guides that make reading them fun!

After the showcase we had lunch at Automatic Slims which was really tasty.  The conference closed with another real-time audience-response session led by WritersUA President Joe Welinski.  He asked us to predict the future of the field of User Assistance and the results were surprising, but probably true.  Technology is rapidly changing everything – it is difficult to keep up with at times.

I ate a duck cookie (pictured below), said my goodbyes, and shared a taxi to the airport with several other writers. I came to Memphis excited and nervous, not knowing what to expect, and left with a head full of information and a pocket full of business cards.

To read my session summaries, visit the Tech Writer Today Magazine website.

Day 3 at the WritersUA Conference

Day 3 was the longest day of the conference with sessions starting at 8:30 am and running until 4:00 pm.  I attended 6 sessions:

  • Getting Started with UA for Mobile Applications
  • Best Practices for Working with Video and Compression
  • Influencing Product Direction
  • Needs Analysis for UA Professionals
  • Using Iterative Design and Usability to Create Intuitive Applications
  • Integrating Help, Technical Support, and Training Content

Some of the other really popular and “tweet-worthy” sessions were the one on Neuroscience Research, eBooks, and gamification and comics topics.  If I could’ve attended more sessions, I would’ve, but you can only attend 1 out the 3 that take place in the same time block.  I attended the ones that were most relevant to the work I’m doing now, but would’ve liked to check out those other ones as well (luckily they gave each of us a flash drive that has all of the presentation slides on it!).

The best session I attended yesterday was the one on Integrating Help, Technical Support, and Training Content.  I really liked his strategy for using a landing page like a “Help Center” where all of the help content and training material, tutorial/training videos are all in one place.  This makes it so much easier for both us and the user.  The mobile session was great, but unfortunately I don’t see myself working with mobile devices in the near future at my current job – our customers are government employees.  The video session was REALLY informative.  I learned so much about video file formats, compression, screen resolution ratios, audio quality, etc.

We had another great networking lunch with topic tables.  I sat at the Blog/Podcast table (naturally), and had great conversations with fellow bloggers.  Then it was on to more sessions and finally we headed out to the famous Beale Street for dinner and some people went on a Pub Crawl.

We went to Silky O’Sullivans, which was an outdoor bar/restaurant with a live goat pen with a sign that read “Beware of the Irish Diving Goats.”

I had a great time there because I met a lot of interesting people and had great conversations.

I met several people from Microsoft and Dell and found out some insider perspective on working for a software powerhouse.  The common thread:  they are surprisingly more restrictive and closed-minded that you would think.  You hear stories about Google and Facebook’s free and fun work environment and assume that all major technology companies are like-minded, but that is not the case.

Day 2 at the WritersUA Conference

Today was the first full day of WritersUA conference.  They had a nice breakfast buffet for us (provided by Adobe) and then we went straight into the opening session, led by WritersUA President Joe Welinske.  They had a lot of audience participation in a quiz using real-time response pads that immediately aggregated results on the screen.  Many of the questions related to our everyday work and personal lives, while some were there just for fun.  Fun Fact: Did you know that Memphis was named after a city in Egypt?

I attended the following 3 sessions:

  • Embedding User Experience in the Product Development Life Cycle by Michael Hughes. Read my session summary published by Tech Writer Today Magazine here!
  • Improving Your Online Help with Topic Type Patterns by Linda Urban.
  • HTML5 and CSS3 to the Point by Scott DeLoach

They were all very interesting and directly related to my everyday work, so I would say that things are off to a great start.  Probably the best one for me was the first session on UX in the product development cycle.  Michael Hughes’ presentation really hit home for me and provided a lot of excellent advice for ways that UA professionals can add value to the product development cycle.

After that session we took a break for lunch, which was in the grand ballroom that made me feel like I should’ve been wearing an evening dress and gliding across the floor dancing to classical music.  Like this woman pictured below in the ballroom…

The tables were designated by interest areas.  I sat at the DITA table and learned a bit about the uses and benefits of DITA from some leading experts.  I’m trying to decide if switching to DITA would be beneficial for me or not.  Jury is still out…

Just before sunset, we attended a cocktail hour mixer on the famous rooftop terrace of the Peabody Hotel (where the opening scene of the movie The Firm was filmed). The weather was perfect for the occasion and the view of downtown Memphis and the river couldn’t have been better.  They served fresh fried green tomatoes and other hor dourves, which were delicious.  We also visited the ducks in their “palace,” which was nicer than my first apartment in college.

Photo by Andrew Thomas

After the mixer, me, Al, Connie, and Keith walked to the highly recommended Flying Fish restaurant.  We each got a different kind of fish and I was dared to get the banana pudding so I could try all of the banana pudding in Memphis and declare the best (a welcome challenge). So far, Central BBQ still takes the cake for the best banana pudding I’ve ever had!

I will be writing more detailed session summaries on TechWhirl so be sure to check them out (and subscribe to the fabulous email listserv).

Day 1 at the WritersUA Conference

I arrived in Memphis today (after a 6 hour flight delay and 2 time changes) and checked in at the Peabody Hotel for the Writers UA Conference. From the minute my taxi pulled up to the golden front doors (held open for me by doormen in bright red uniforms), I knew I was about to enter a historic and opulent landmark.  The main lobby has the charm of the south mixed with the grandeur of a historical museum.

Twice daily, the famous Peabody ducks parade from the rooftop to the main fountain.  These ducks set the tone and theme for the entire hotel.  Almost everything inside my room has a duck on it (including duck-shaped soaps in the bathroom).

After getting settled into my beautiful room, I met the Tech Whirl (Tech Writer Today Magazine) team face-to-face for the first time (I am covering the event for them with a team of other writers, as you will have learned in my previous post).  Having video chatted with them a couple of times online via skype and google+ hangout, it was really easy to tell them apart from the crowd. We went to a local bar, called “Local,” for a drink and to get to know each other a bit. Then we went to Central Barbeque for delicious pulled pork sandwiches, ribs, and life-changing banana pudding.  It was a nice way to end a long day of traveling.

I’m really looking forward to the sessions tomorrow! Good night!

Preparing for the Writers UA Conference

This week I am preparing my trip to Memphis for the Writers UA Conference.  I leave tomorrow for a week in Florida for a friend’s wedding and to visit family.  Since we didn’t get to come home for the holidays, we decided to extend our trip for the wedding so that we could sneak in some time with them.  At the very end of our trip to FL, I will be leaving for my trip to Memphis.  Packing for this trip is quite the challenge.  I will be going to the beach, theme parks, a wedding, and a professional conference (and I’m trying to do it all in 2 small carry on bags).

I have planned which seminars I am going to attend and cover for the magazine, researched some local restaurants and bars in Memphis, and even found out about the famous Peabody Hotel duck parade.  I’ve never been to a conference like this before, so I am very excited and nervous.  I’m not quite sure what to expect, but I think it will be an incredible learning experience.  My goal is to someday present at a conference like this, so I’m sure I will also get a lot of inspiration on this trip.

I will be blogging about the conference here as well as writing session summaries for Tech Writer Today Magazine. So stay tuned for the latest and greatest insider info on what’s happening in Memphis!