There have been some high profile instances recently of a Mobile App being “Retired”:

  • LinkedIn for iPad (they are retiring versions prior to 7)
  • Flappy Birds (yes, I know this link goes nowhere – it’s been withdrawn!)

Let’s take the second one first as that has even made CNN News and the pages of TIME as incredulous tech and gaming journalists speculate about the real reasons why anyone would voluntarily sacrifice over $50k a DAY in revenues by withdrawing an App from Apple and Google stores. Maybe Dong Nguyen just made enough money, or maybe he really was getting fed up with something that a lot of App Developers forget about – how to support your App in the ever-changing world of mobile. Or maybe he just wanted to create loads of publicity before cheap imitations like this took over.

In the former example of LinkedIn, like many of you probably,  I’ve been getting emails for a few days now encouraging me to change:

We wanted to follow up and remind you that we’ll no longer be supporting LinkedIn iPad app versions older than 7.0 starting February 18. This will help us focus on creating even better mobile products and experiences for you.

You currently have one of these older apps, but you can download the latest app anytime from the iTunes App Store. It’s a brand new app — we think you’ll like it! With the new app you can now search for jobs — plus like, share, and comment on what you’re reading.

Have questions? Visit our Help Center for more info.

Now, this is in spite of my having updated to version 7.1 of the App almost as soon as it came out as I regularly update my Apps. Why don’t they know that and stop spamming me? Oh, I forgot, that’s what LinkedIn does best…

“So what?”  you say…

Well, one common theme is that the “idea” to “retirement” lifecycle of mobile is fast – less than a few months in flappy birds (rather extreme) case and seems like LinkedIn have put some thought and effort into trying to ensure customers did not continue using their unsupported App version. This is accepted and understood by consumers who most likely downloaded the thing for free anyway but what if you’re the CEO of a company that just invested a few hundred thousand in developing some internal Apps for your employees?

Most people accept that the mobile development landscape is complicated and not getting any easier, in spite of cross-platform tools and web development paradigms so one of your pillars of your Mobile Enterprise is managing those Apps, supporting them, providing updates as operating systems update and, before long, retiring them completely. Have you thought through this before you launch your Apps on to your staff or customers?

We are seeing common trends, one very obvious one is that developing successfully for mobile within the Enterprise needs Agile methods to deliver value. So in a mature organisation a good choice for extending development to cover inception and longer term management could be an extended Agile delivery lifecycle such as provided in Disciplined Agile (DAD). The lifecycle extends your standard iterations to provide the initiation and support parts of the lifecycle.

extended-agile-mobile

The important points are not to stifle innovation, nor to slow down responsiveness to your users’ demands but to make sure you don’t waste your innovators’ time supporting out of date code and you also notify your users to get new versions in an intelligent way. Notification of users seems such a simple and common practice it’s amazing that Windows-8 Mobile doesn’t have common notification management yet although it’s rumoured to be coming soon as the Action Centre.

Having only just bitten the bullet and dumped my Android phone for a shiny new Nokia Windows-8 handset I’m finding first hand now a lot of these subtle differences in maturity between Android, iOS and Windows-Mobile, but Microsoft/Nokia are catching up fast and needs to be part of your mobile first strategy.

Smart421 2 core values

Smart421  core values

Executives tend to spend too much time drafting, polishing and redrafting mission, vision statements and values statements etc. and then spend nowhere near enough time trying to align their organizations with these values and visions. It is difficult (maybe impossible) to instill new values into people and the people are the company. The result is often a set of words destined to become an uninspiring poster on the wall by the coffee machine…..

My experience at Smart421 is different. Our values have grown with the company and are aligned to the way we operate day-to-day. This is reflected in the people we employ, the customers we attract and the trusted relationships that develop. Our company values really reflect the company ethos:

(more…)

Top of the City Room

Top of the City Room

Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May and other petrol-heads are obsessed with figures about performance from 0 – 60 mph in n seconds. For those who don’t understand why, the figures celebrate engineering design and manufacturing achievement.

So here is another performance figure for you…  from 0 – 400 members in 6 months.

Ignite talk presenters

Ignite talk presenters take questions and answers

This milestone number is significant and also deserves to be marked.

You cannot fail to be impressed with the achievement made by the the five co-founders of SyncNorwich, the geek-friendly interest group which was only launched 5th July this year and which has already proven to be a big hit with start-ups, developers and technologists from many tribes..

Last week’s meetup in the Top of the City Room at Carrow Road (home of Norwich City Football Club) showcased all that is good about this particular group. For example:

  • The hospitality was warm and welcoming
  • The venue was courtesy of a great Norwich company, Aviva
  • The beer was free
  • The geek factor was limitless (and almost off the scale – no names, won’t tell)
  • The raft of presentations were varied and inspiring in the main, and humorous in all the right places
  • The standard was high
  • The networking was quality and relevant
  • The entertainment was… er, well, entertaining (table-top ‘robot wars’ went down well)
  • The spirit of collaboration and enterprise was genuine and strong

146 people made it. The place was buzzing. 

When it comes to numbers, it was the best turnout to date. And probably indicative of the interest levels surrounding this group.

syncdec (51 of 118) cropYes, of course the core members were there in force. I spoke to many of them on their way in. But I also spoke with people who had travelled from some distance to find out for themselves because, some way or another, they had heard about SyncNorwich.

For a recap on the evening, I can’t find a better the account than the one on Paul Grenyer’s blog so recommend you visit…  after you’ve finished reading this post.

Mark Page at Aviva deserves a medal for his part in helping to bring together so many people from Aviva. They have a big contribution to bring to a group like SyncNorwich and it would be tremendous to see more of them joining in as much as possible.

And so…

The future looks very bright for SyncNorwich and for the tech community in Norwich as a whole.

Rob Houghton of Aviva

Rob Houghton of Aviva

Already with a packed future calendar in place, starting 02 January 2013 with the January lunch and  24 January 2013 with the monthly meetup, and a full day conference lined up for 15 February 2013 (see SyncConf.com) SyncNorwich has filled a gap that has been vacant and needed for too long.

All we know is that it’s been our pleasure to support SyncNorwich with sponsorship from its launch in July. Supporting the initiative and the co-founders in the early stages has been the ‘right thing to do’. Getting support in the early stages is never easy but when it comes it means so much.  We know – once upon a time, we were a tech start-up (read our company history).

And we have been pleased to see how SyncNorwich’s magnetic personality has attracted a host of others. The roll call of sponsors is growing. Room for more too.

But the final word belongs to the people. It has to belong with the people because that where it all starts.

SyncNorwich, perhaps above all else, is a tech /dev group “for the people, by the people”.  The members are front and centre of everything. And that’s what makes it great.

And as “one of the people” we’re pleased to be a small part of it.

Table-top robot warsIf 6 months is all it took for 5 founders to ramp SyncNorwich from a standing start to 400 people, what does that tell you about the UK IT sector?

What this tells us about the UK IT sector is that it is bristling with talent and entrepreneurial ambition. It tells us that in the East of England there are concentrations of outstanding professionals. We work for some of them (not enough of them!). Some of them work for us  – and we’re still hiring).

Perhaps the SyncCity concept will be the shape of things to come for all tech start-up / developer groups? It certainly seems like a good model. We’ll find out soon enough.

Have you heard? – there’s talk of SyncIpswich coming in March 2013.

And on that bombshell… 

Related Links Twitter:  @SyncNorwich
Read the feed:  #SyncNorwich

All photos by kind permission of James Neale Photography

Please remember to Rate and Like this post. If you can, please leave a Comment.

Norwich Cathedral, from Fye Bridge StreetThe Blurtit office was crowded again with members of the tech community SyncNorwich in search of inspiration, information and …  Mr John Fagan’s (@johnbfagan) now infamous barbeques.

The cream leather chairs were back. Around 70 people huddled in to hear Andy Parker (@AndyParker_6) and Lauren Hine (@LaurenHine564) deliver a compelling talk highlighting their transition from being students at UEA Norwich Business School to becoming co-founders of tech startup Incredibli.com a new crowdfunding platform. I had a good chat with these two and their vision and determination was astonishing. Ones to watch, I think.

Quick beer break then straight into a talk by Juliana Meyer (@JulianaMeyer), co-founder of  SyncNorwich and founder of mBaSo.com a new platform positioned as a VIP backstage pass for superfans and for the musicians and artists they follow. If you get the chance check out the short video on YouTube.

A final potty break then the last talk of the evening was given by veteran property investor-turned-author Mark Alexander (@iAmALandord). At first, his talk seemed a bit tangental to the stuff we get at SyncNorwich. But quickly, his humourous delivery won everybody over and we excused the unashamed sales pitch for the £97 book – well most did anyway.

The evening was topped and tailed by developer and DJ Pete Roome (@zoltarSpeaks), who did a brilliant job on the decks. Pete’s mix seemed to cheer everybody up and thankfully was just loud enough that we could enjoy the music and still get some great networking done. Nice going Pete.

For example, I was pleased to get an introduction to Anders Fisher (@atleastimtrying), founder of Front End Suffolk (@FESuffolk) the browser based user group that brings together techs for regular meetups in Ipswich. I had heard plenty of good things before about this group and so it was particularly timely that our paths should cross. Anders certainly came across with instant credibility, approachability and real savvy.

Regulars to SyncNorwich will know that whenever a monthly meetup is held at Blurtit then it is invariably concluded with a stroll down the road to The Woolie for a swift half and some extended conversations and networking.

SyncNorwich November meetup will be remembered for its eclectic mix of presentations and good networking.

NEW: the SyncNorwich organisers have put together a new 1-day conference. This is scheduled to take place at the Open Venue  in Norwich on 15 February 2013. In case the word hasn’t got throught yet, an early bid price applies, so do make a point of visiting  the website http://syncconf.com/

The lineup of speakers is very impressive and the event comprises a Tech track and an Agile track.

SyncNorwichIt doesn’t always have to be a huge gig at a big plush venue that draws good speakers and skilled attendees curious to learn.

Quite often, user groups and locally-run events can be such rich sources of education and inspiration. I found Agile East Anglia to be one such group. Started by Paul Grenyer (@pjgrenyer) their deep dive sessions on aspects of Agile has been excellent. These have included Agile User Stories, Dialogue Sheets and, most recently, Behavior Driven Development with speaker  Liz Keogh (Twitter @lunivore ).

Developers from IT teams in huge corporates and developers new start-ups have been rubbing shoulders at this group which has all helped to add colour to the subject area under discussion. Content is pragmatic, realistic and nobody is looking to make a big name for themselves; all attendees have gone home the richer by learning from each other. How refreshing.

It’s good to learn that other regional groups have twigged that there is lots of good stuff happening, and a decision has been taken to merge Agile East Anglia with Norwich StartUps and Norwich Developers Community to form a group with wider reach and deeper appeal. The new group has been branded SyncNorwich (Twitter @SyncNorwich) and the inaugrual event is scheduled to take place in Norwich on 05 July 2012. Details and registration : http://www.meetup.com/SyncNorwich/events/68577412/

Meanwhile, Smart421 has engaged itself because of its hunger to fuel its deep use of Agile on numerous engagements for several enterprise Customers. For those with an interest in learning about our Smart Agile Development Process (SADP) please check out our Agile page.

Oh, and you’ll also discover a neat Android app available free for download.

On Monday night I attended my first Agile East Anglia meeting at the Assembly House in Norwich (hosted by Paul Grenyer a Smart421 associate and sponsored by Smart421) where Rachel Davies from Industrial Logic Europe Limited was guest speaker talking about user stories within agile deliveries and the benefits they bring.

Having worked on numerous programmes that have adopted and used agile delivery methodologies and practices (mainly from SCRUM and XP) and have used user stories (“As an X I want to Y so that Z”) to capture the  wants and needs of the programme I have found these to be very successful and effective so was keen to learn more; as seemed to be the case of many others with all of the allocated spaces being booked and an extra 2 people turning up for the event despite the blast of Siberian weather that has hit us over the weekend.

Rachel delivered a very comprehensive presentation based on her experiences gained over the last 11 years of using agile methodologies and provided a great introduction on capturing and using user stories effectively that went down well with the audience, who in the majority were fairly new to agile principles; she even had us all working in pairs defining and capturing our own fictitious user stories and defining our own acceptance criteria, which I think  all the attendees appreciated.

The time flew by which meant that I wasn’t able to get to cover all of the items that I wanted to such as running effective planning poker sessions, software tools available to support user story capture and management of the delivery of the user stories. I am hoping though that there will be future sessions run by the Agile East Anglia group to cover these items and more aspects and principles within the Agile delivery methodologies.

Leading analyst Brian Burke talked persuasively about Hyperconnected enterprises in his presentation “Return-to-Growth Strategy: Architecting the Next-Wave Business Model” at the latest Gartner local briefing on Enterprise Architecture in London this week

Gartner’s view is that organisations are becoming more horizontally structured and more interconnected with other organisations and with their customers. To such an extent that the hyperconnected organisation will be unable to deliver without its connections.  I suspect that this is part of the continual evolution of businesses such as adoption of Just-In-Time and the exploitation of e-commerce.  Is the vertically integrated organisation a dinosaur?  Are there any left? Some of Smart421’s clients are actively pursuing strategies of horizontal integration and removing their vertical integration.

It all makes sense; changes in the environment create opportunities to be exploited, so it is natural that the Internet and fast reliable and cheap communications will be fuelling new ways of not only doing, but creating businesses.  The explosion in software services and cloud computing, which is just around the corner will accelerate this trend.  In fact it may well be that these two developments will drive much of the growth in the next economic cycle.

Brian Burke was also talking about “emergent strategies”, that is those strategies that happen outside of the corporate strategies – strategy on the fly if you like.  Gartner are suggesting that the emergent strategies are becoming more important, diminishing the effect of the more ponderous corporate strategies.  This is a wake up call to organisations with centrist attitudes.  The more distributed the organisation, the more distributed the strategies and governance need to be.  The British found that out some 200 years ago, a lesson learnt from the colonies.

What EA needs is a strategy to deal with and adopt the emergent on-the-fly strategies.

Luckily for me ticking off all the new and emerging ideas from Brian’s presentation, I found that Smart421’s EA proposition and in particular the “Sustainable EA” stance ticks all of the boxes for the hyperconnected organisation complete with an agile strategy to deal with on-the-fly strategies.

Hyperconnected organisations also reminded me of a project that I first heard about from a colleague at Smart421 on the subject of Linked Data. The project is being run out of the University of Southampton. What is particularly interesting is that Messrs Berners-Lee and Shadbolt are looking very carefully at this whole area.

jbehaveI spent a really interesting hour the other day with a colleague of mine, Steve Cresswell, going through his recent work to integrate natural language capabilities into a popular open source web test tool.

He’s been integrating JBehave with Selenium.

JBehave is a framework for Behaviour-Driven Development, and takes test-driven development (TDD) for agile to the next logical level, where instead of your business reps looking at your JUnit test with you (and hoping that the comments that explain them are up to date and consistent with the code!), you create and then execute your tests in the ultimate natural format – in English.

A simple test scenario might look like this…

Given I am logged in
When I enter an order for 10 books at a price of £2.10
Then I should see an order confirmation

Selenium is widely known in the agile community – the killer features of the Selenium IDE are that there’s very little barrier to entry for QA’s and Product Owners (customers) and unlike some of the alternatives it runs in the real browser rather than a partially simulated environment. What Steve has done is to put Selenium and JBehave together in a way that the authors hadn’t expected (i.e. having Selenium “drive” JBehave, rather than JBehave drive selenium) using AJAX + JSON to make the process more seamless…and then created a simple web app which dynamically discovers the JBehave’s “given” steps and lets you invoke them.

It’s a fascinating area and one I’d like to spend more time getting into – but heh, you can’t cover it all. But I love the idea of sitting down with your customer and creating definitions of success in English language, then building the app and those tests become your regression test suite – it takes away another barrier between the developer and customer worlds which can only mean better, quicker deliveries.

An Agile climber

A nimble climber

I managed to make time to attend a talk on Agile Development and it was a pleasant surprise to hear an Agile practitioner speaking from first hand experience, advising to tread carefully when implementing Agile (perhaps I paraphrase a little aggressively) [see http://eastanglia.bcs.org/, "Agile Development. What must go right, what can go wrong (and what you can do about it)" by Giovanni Asproni]. The presenter was not so much suggesting any difficulty with Agile, per se, but cautioning, rather, that making any change to the way people work can be challenging, and it is something that requires careful consideration. Consideration, not just of the change itself and the team that will work it, but also of how it fits into the wider business context.

So – introduce stand ups, user stories and continuous integration after careful consideration (there are many more practices, of course); don’t introduce them all at once; and don’t introduce them just because an Agile Coach says you have to. (I maybe made up the last one.)

This is great advice: no matter how important software delivery might be in a business, it is rarely the only part. It resonates with me, and perhaps others of my ilk. I like the idea of being able to be Agile, without having to – checkbox-style – implement a prescribed set of practices, yet having the flexibility to implement those that make sense.

Yet on reflection, it leaves me feeling a little lost. I’ve found that Agile works when driving a pure software delivery: the tight feedback loop Agile offers is an incredible sight to behold. (At least, it is for compsci grads like me that grew up with university professors teaching the latest Waterfall technology has to offer.)

But scaling out beyond the development phase of a project to encompass analysis, design, integration, etc., I have found Agile to be a very challenging proposition. For sure, it “works”. But it can be hard – very hard – work. In an environment where your software makes up just one system in the picture, where other system changes are not using Agile, and where your business representative perhaps sits the other side of a contract and customer project management team, the need to consider the context the project operates in goes without saying, but more guidance is desperately needed: I wonder if checkbox-style templates are actually called for.

How does Agile “butt up” against those traditional aspects of project delivery such as requirements capture, integration and acceptance testing? What does Agile have to say about subcontracted deliverables and how should Agile be used effectively in a bid scenario? What aspects are compatible, and what are not? Does, or should, Agile ever form part of a larger Waterfall-style (or Prince 2, or …) project? These are questions that take Agile far beyond pure software delivery. But Agile is being adopted by many a large corporation, and not just for software development: whether it is ideal or not, those checkbox-style prescriptive templates will come out.

So how does Agile scale out? I don’t think we know. Many of us will get tied up in the checklist bureaucracy, and some of us will get tied up inventing it. As an Agile community, we need to start talking more about how Agile interacts with the world outside, and what we want those checklists to look like. If we don’t talk about it, those that “just use” Agile might reasonably expect we’ve talked about it and solved it. Unless I’m mistaken, that is not yet the case.

policeOf the agile coaches I’ve encountered so far, the general pattern of behaviour seems to be one of displaying aggressive, almost bullying tendencies. This has been quite a surprise to me, as you’d expect them to be the very model of the agile ethos made flesh – respectful, co-operative, managing timescale pressures through prioritisation and tuning team velocities and the like.

Being a firm believer in the inherent goodness of human behaviour – i.e. in general people are pleasant, what to do a good job, want to be liked and so on – what is is about agile projects that makes people behave in a manner completely at odds with the philosophy that they are employed to uphold?

For me I think it just all comes down a few things:

  • It’s not clear what experience/evidence you need to become an agile coach – but as with many things in our industry (and probably lots of others – plumbers maybe?) you have to wonder about what evidence of your skills you need to get a gig as an agile coach. Also, the skills that make a really good agile coach are quite intangible and so are difficult to measure at interview. Good references and evidence of experience can compensate for this during the recruitment process – but how many people explain the bad projects on their CV ?
  • I suspect that most coaches come through the development route, i.e. lead developers who can’t resist sticking their head up when it’s all going wrong around them (which is not a bad trait). In my experience this can lead to an over-emphasis on the developmental aspects of an agile project as these are ‘home turf’. Important as they are, if the business involvement isn’t right, then your sophisticated automated testing isn’t going to rescue you.
  • Some companies say they want to embrace agile methods – but organisationally they just can’t make the commitment required (and even worse think that they are), so the agile coach is already done for before he/she starts.
  • All the above conspires to create a great deal of pressure on the coach – and then what does he/she do? Well, it’s time for one of two classic responses – either fight or flight – and seeing as they are being paid to deliver a project flight is not usually an option! Hence it’s time for a scrap…

So – take a moment to pity the agile coach – they are often a victim of circumstance :)

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