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5 Benefits of User Stories

User StoriesUser stories make software requirements easier to communicate between the client and technical team.

In Agile software development, user stories capture the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ of a requirement in a simple, concise way. User Stories are designed to keep development teams focused on customer needs, and serve as the driving force behind quickly delivering valuable, high quality software.

Anyone that has used the Agile software development process has probably experienced communication issues between the development team and client. The issues become even larger in a remote or virtual team setting.

Creating user stories is a great way of opening discussion and bridging the communication gap between the client and development team. User stories created by the product owner (typically the client) are written in a non-technical format that fulfills a business requirement for the project. The development team then creates the needed tasks to satisfy the client’s business requirements. Creating the tasks of the project this way allows everyone to understand what is needed to achieve the requirements.

If you have worked with user stories before, then you probably understand the keys to writing effective user stories using the INVEST model. A Google search of the term will lead you to hundreds of good articles.

But from a client and business standpoint, you may be wondering what advantages user stories actually provide for a development project.  Here are 5 benefits that user stories provide:

Creating user stories is easy

User stories are easy and fast to write. Clients with no software development experience at all can write them easily to communicate their goals. Not a lot of time or money is invested in writing them; therefore, if they are changed or never used, the team has not lost a lot of time in developing them.

Written by the “user”

User stories are ideally written by the “user” or client in most cases. This allows the development team to spend time with the user and better understand the functionality that they want. If a client is not comfortable writing the user stories for their project, the development team can step in and assist them, enabling a better understanding of what the end product needs to accomplish.

Easy for remote development teams

User stories are simple enough that a freelance or outsourced team would easily be able to understand the end goals. Finding a productive team collaboration platform and a centralized area to communicate user stories will help the client easily communicate the stories to their remote team, no matter where they are located. This will help alleviate those communication challenges that come with trying to pass user stories along via email or on a conference call.

Creativity

The user story allows for the development team to be creative in designing the product. Clients give a basic outline of the needed functionality, letting the designers and developers run with it. This lets the development team create the product in a way that works on all platforms and is easy to integrate.

Faster and cheaper

Client user stories help development teams better estimate the development roadmap needed to complete the project. More accurate estimates and roadmaps lead to quicker development and faster delivery times, hence a cheaper project. Developing quality user stories through the project can help improve the project’s overall ROI by expediting the delivery process.

User stories help keep the client and development team on the same page for the requirements of the project. This leads to more productive collaboration between the parties to make the delivery process more efficient. Does your development team utilize user stories? How has it improved the client/technical team communication process of the project goals?

For more information on Serpico DEV and how we utilize user stories in Agile development, please contact us.

Posted: March 1st, 2013
Categories: General
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Daily Scrums Keep Your Team On Track

Daily Scrums

If I made the fortunes for fortune cookies, my next fortune would read, “You will be more successful when you hold daily scrums”.

Daily scrums are a valuable tool in keeping a team on track to achieve the goals they set out to do. They keep teams organized and “on their objectives and to help them avoid being thrown off track by less important concerns.” EffectiveMeetings.com outlines 9 rules to starting and maintaining productive scrums.

At Serpico DEV, each project’s day starts with a quick team meeting, or “scrum”. A scrum should last about 15 minutes and focus on what everyone’s goals and challenges for the day are. It’s a great way for everyone to get on the same page. Who joins the scrum? Everyone does. Project managers, developers, team leads, testers and designers. We believe that everyone on the team needs to be at the morning scrum. When everyone knows what everyone else is working on, a synergy unlike anything else is created. Projects get done faster and more efficient.

If you are working with a remote team, the morning scrum is not a “nice to have”, it’s a survival tactic. It’s a way to create a sense of accountability in the whole team, while at the same time getting people, who are spread out by thousands of miles, talking and communicating.

Start experimenting with daily scrums today. Learn more about scrums by contacting us.

Posted: January 11th, 2013
Categories: General
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Manage Remote Project Teams? Spotlight People & Project Manager Can Help

Spotlight Software will launch Spotlight People & Project Manager, a cloud-based application that merges Agile project management with social network communications to enhance collaboration among remote project teams. SerpicoDEV is proud to be the software developer for Spotlight People & Project Manager. Below is their press release.

Spotlight Software Boosts Communication and Makes Remote Project Teams More Effective with Launch of Cloud-Based Spotlight People & Project Manager

Project management has gone social. The launch of Spotlight People & Project Manager at spotlightppm.com solves the communication and collaboration issues that face remote project teams today. Spotlight merges the efficiency of Agile project management with the power of social networking to create a cloud-based project collaboration platform that increases productivity and decreases time to market for projects driven by remote teams.

Spotlight People & Project Manager

Remote teams are now able to communicate more effectively with the launch of Spotlight People & Project Manager, a SaaS solution that combines the efficiency of Agile project management with the power of social network communications. All remote project teams face the challenge of fragmented communication, which can result in a project failure rate of up to 50% (Source: Aberdeen Group). Instead of focusing solely on tasks like other project management tools, Spotlight takes the added step of focusing on communication among the team through a social network interface on top of a lean, agile task management system. Launched by Vincent Serpico, founder and CEO, Spotlight was born from a need to effectively manage his own remote development teams for his software development services company, SerpicoDEV.

Spotlight ingeniously addresses the currently troublesome communication problem through a dashboard of “Status Cards” that each team member calls their own. Built on the analogs of Facebook-like wall posts and Twitter-like Tweets, the Status Card keeps the project manager, client, and fellow team members apprised, real-time, of what each person is working on at any given moment via Spotlight’s exclusive free-form status and availability update. The Status Card empowers team members to chat with other team members and/or request status updates.

Because of Spotlight’s multi-channel communication focus, project managers also have the power to quickly initiate a phone or conference call directly from Spotlight if needed. The Status Card can be conveniently “flipped over” to reveal quick links and information for contacting the team member via Skype or their mobile phone; including immediate geo-location of the team member through a Google map. To enable leaders to see the path of activity and decision making, Spotlight also features a history of all status updates by every team member.

The social network-like interface is combined with an enhanced task management system that goes beyond other project management tools currently available. Team members update their status with the tasks they are assigned and the system tracks time spent on each task. Via Spotlight’s robust reporting engine, reports can be created that show the progress of a project, its estimated delivery date, and the progress of each team member.

Spotlight also has a mobile application for the iPhone and Android for those managers and clients constantly on the go. The mobile versions offer the same functionality as the web application and allow project managers to monitor their team from anywhere in the world at any moment. Team member status updates, availability, tasks, and project progress can all be accessed from the mobile application.

The combination of these features results in a product that allows remote teams to communicate and collaborate via the best of social networking, while tracking task management using the proven lean, agile method. Spotlight is true cloud-based, social project management that helps remote teams deliver their projects faster and more efficiently. Visit Spotlight People & Project Manager and sign up for one of our packages starting at $29.

Posted: December 7th, 2012
Categories: General
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Making Remote Teams Successful With Agile

Agile Remote Team SuccessElance recently celebrated its two millionth freelancer. What does this mean for the software development industry? Remote development and design teams are sticking around for the long haul. With access to lower cost talent worldwide at their fingertips, businesses will start incorporating the practice into their long-term strategy.

The recent rise of agile software development raises some questions about implementing it with remote teams. Communication, cultural challenges, and time zone differences all combine to make it sound like it’s more work than it’s worth.

But those who made it work have reaped some major benefits. Projects can be delivered faster while still maintaining high quality. Costs can be cut dramatically. The key to making this combination successful? Efficient teamwork driven by communication.

Good communication just doesn’t happen overnight with remote project teams. Several things in the Agile approach contribute to making the communication platform more effective, resulting in better teamwork. It’s sort of a chain reaction – maintain good scrum practices to ensure quality communication that improves teamwork.

Below are some tips that help a remote agile team be more effective. It may take some sweat and tears, but making it work will benefit project stakeholders at every level.

Teamwork Depends on the Agile Team

The abundance of low cost talent available remotely doesn’t mean you should just pick the lowest cost team with the best resumes. Pick people who fit your organization. Sure, you still must consider experience and education but also see that they fit the company culture and there aren’t huge language barriers.

Also, take into account the team members enthusiasm and readiness to collaborate. Good spirits and open conversations during daily scrums can motivate team members tremendously. It may also help relieve some of the pressure to contribute for those that are a little quieter.

In the end, the team members selected should always respect the project goals and do everything they can to reach those goals.

Consider Culture

Always consider the culture of your fellow team members dispersed around the world. Work hours and days, holidays, and religion can all play a major part in a team member’s schedule and availability. Be prepared ahead of time with this knowledge and communicate extensively to minimize the culture gap. This can save you a lot time and confusion.

If you know ahead of time the some cultural challenges are too difficult to overcome, try to work with countries that have traditions close to yours. Difficulties can also arise with already assembled teams. If this is the case, it may be worth it to find a person who better understands the culture and not go through the next few months trying to figure it out.

Keep the Daily Scrum (and other open discussions)

Just because your team isn’t in the same room doesn’t mean you can’t have a successful scrum. Our company does it all the time via Skype and Go To Meeting. Keep the same format with everyone speaking on the tasks they did yesterday, the tasks for today, and the problems they have encountered. But just remember, being remote makes open communication that much more important since facial expressions cannot be seen.

Besides the daily scrum, encourage open communication and discussions throughout the entire day. This can often generate new ideas or find a solution to a bug. After all, open communication is the cornerstone of a successful project.

Divide and Conquer

Divide your project into even smaller iterations and require regular software integration. This will give you more control of the real project progress and help identify where issues may arise.

Working in remote teams does come with an increased chance of misunderstandings. But by breaking the project down into smaller iterations, misunderstandings and problems can be detected much earlier. With clarification of requirements and immediate code fixing, the project can move forward in a timely manner.

Clean and Crisp

Clean, well-shaped source code can prevent headaches down the project road. Part of the agile framework includes constant updating and revising of existing code. Ensuring the code is clean, crisp, and commented can minimize the response time tremendously for requirement changes.

At the end of all agile software development projects, the code has to be handed off to the client in some manner. Well prepared documentation makes this knowledge transfer easy and cost effective. Because at some point, the client will be calling back for help.

The agile method with remote teams can indeed work and work well. There may just be a little more prep work ahead of time to ensure the project goes smoothly. Maintain proper agile practices throughout with wide open communication and you’ll be on the way to success. Borders no longer limit who we can work with so it’s best to get prepared now by embracing the trend.

For more information on SerpicoDEV’s software development services, please contact us.

Posted: December 5th, 2012
Categories: General
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Finding Value in Agile Software Development

Agile Software DevelopmentAsk someone the most effective method to develop software and you’ll likely get a wide range of answers. There really is no right or wrong way. It’s really just a matter of using what is most effective for your team.

Two of the most popular methods, Waterfall and Agile, both have their place in software development but in contrasting scenarios. Waterfall uses clear requirements gathered before the development starts. Agile uses incremental development in the form of short “sprints”.

Our development team has always found the Agile software development method to work best and we highlight the reasons below.

Waterfall vs. Agile

As mentioned earlier, the waterfall method is built around all the requirements being gathered before any development occurs. Detailed documentation of how the new software is supposed to look and act are agreed upon by the customer and development team ahead of time.

The software development process then goes through a number of stages from design all the way down to installation and maintenance. The reason it is called the waterfall method is that each stage follows from the previous one when it has been completed, cascading down like a waterfall.

This makes the waterfall approach somewhat inflexible. Customers are often unclear about their requirements initially and waterfall makes it difficult to change the requirements later on. Such changes require more time, and therefore, project cost increases.

On the other hand, Agile software development is based on incremental development. This means that you create deliverables early and refine them through several iterations with the customer. Requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration among customers and development teams.

Less time is invested upfront for documenting requirements when the development process uses Agile. Instead, successful delivery is in part dependent on customer feedback regarding new releases of the software. Customers often gain a better idea of their requirements as the software development progresses. This approach makes it much easier for customer requirement changes to be made on the fly.

Benefits of Agile Development

So what’s the benefit with using Agile? In the world of software development, the benefits are plentiful.

Reduces Risk

What business doesn’t want to reduce risk?

The Agile approach provides a far better opportunity to mitigate risks as they arise.  Being responsive to change instead of following a plan as with waterfall, risks can be addressed before spinning out of control.

This is accomplished by breaking down the development process into “sprints” or short, iterative time frames of development. At the end of each sprint, a working release of the software is provided to the customer. Sprints allow the development team to adapt quickly to changing needs during each individual sprint. This prevents the team from having to practically start over from the beginning to work any new requirements in.

Accommodate Change in Development

Changes in needs and scope have always been primary sources of trouble for a software development project. It often leads to late delivery, missed schedules, and unsatisfied customers. But the iterative approach takes changing requirements into account from the beginning.

Users are going to change their minds as the software is developed—it’s inevitable. And they have every right to do it. As they learn more about the technology, their own business needs, and see working releases of the software, new ideas and requirements are created. Forcing users to accept the system as originally imagined is not just unrealistic, but detrimental to the success of their business.

Higher Quality Software

With an iterative approach, flaws are detected and corrected earlier in the software development lifecycle. Performance and functionality issues discovered early can be reduced, as opposed to being discovered at project delivery. QA testing through each sprint, as opposed to executing toward the end of the project, results in a more thoroughly tested product. Since all these critical functions are tested time and again over several iterations, the result is higher quality software when handed off to the customer.

All these benefits combine to achieve what all businesses want – saved time and money. Each provides a small piece of the puzzle in speeding up project delivery times and thus, reducing cost. The benefit of having flexibility in a project, especially software development, allows a business to find higher project success rates.

Has your business adopted the Agile methodology? Tell us why or why not.

For more information on our software development services, please contact us.

Posted: November 27th, 2012
Categories: General
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