Reads: On skills for Product Management

This morning’s read tried to capture the job of a PM into 4 words: “Figure out what’s next.” I think in the work we do in building software (regardless of what your role is in your Agile project), we have to do a lot of figuring out. Coming with ideas or solutions independently is so important, and so is working collaboratively to further refine those solutions. Although it’s important to differentiate when it’s collaborating from spoon-feeding or unnecessary hand-holding.

Anyways, the post also enumerates 7 core skills to build for the Product Management role (actual text from the post are in bold, elaborations that follow are mine). But regardless of what role you are in the project, I think these contribute to being a good team player.

1. Taking any problem and being able to develop a strategy to resolve it — When you’re in the business of building software, figuring things out (preferably independently, with little to no hand-holding) is a critical skill.

2. Executing, getting shit done*in any role, this is valuable*

3. Communication — *same… in any role, you need this*

4. Leadership through influence

5. Making decisions, informed by data

6. Building great products, and having taste — As PM/PO/PPO/BA, you work closely with your designers. I think you also need to brush up on UX so that you don’t undo any of the good work your UX designers present to you for your feedback.

7. Always be prepared — *important for any role* I like the quote the author shared.

[Great PMs] say what they’ll do, and then do what they say. Their follow-through is impeccable, and they don’t let details slip. When they join a team, quality and pace seems to dramatically improve overnight.
— Noah Weiss

And I couldn’t agree more with his recommendations for developing your “I got this” aura. Over the years, I’ve worked with a few folks who would sound like they’re so unsure of what they’re doing. It just doesn’t bode well — it doesn’t give the team (or worse, their stakeholders) confidence that they’ll get the work done. I mean it’s OK to admit that you don’t know everything, because no one does — even “experts!” And it happens, I’ve gotten into countless of interactions where I really have no idea on what to do. But I guess my confidence (or my display of not panicking) stems from knowing that I have the capability and means to figure it out. (And that it’s not the end of the world if I don’t.)

So anyways, I’ve rambled on. Go check the post for the recommendations!

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Something to google: Sprint 0

There was an interesting topic while a couple of colleagues and I were on our way to buy coffee. It was triggered by a question about Sprint 0. Based from my limited working experience, Sprint 0 is like an initiation phase wherein the project gets set up. Dev environments get set up. First set of epics and user stories are created. Some initial designs get created. Project team members get on-boarded. Working agreements get defined. Collaboration tools like where to capture user stories and clarifications get finalized. Etc, etc. Basically, the team buys itself some prep time so that they can hit the ground running by the time Sprint 1 comes — ideally, by then, the team could commit to completing user stories and actually have features working at the end of the sprint. But then I thought, we don’t necessarily release anything after Sprint 1, so would calling Sprint 0 “Sprint 1” make any difference?

Idk. Maybe there’s this extremely high expectation about being or switching to Agile that makes it feel like you’re doing it wrong if you don’t have anything visible to some of your stakeholders by the end of a Sprint N. Being part of the development team, I know that infra setup is important, design work is important, all those other prep work are important. I know how 2 weeks could so easily fly by without seeing something that an end-user could potentially see. But to someone outside of the development team who might not be so familiar with Agile, they might have this extreme notion that “Hey, you’ve just completed 2 weeks! Where’s my working software?” And so maybe project teams resort to having a Sprint 0 to “protect” themselves or the concept of Agile to better manage expectations. Idk.

I went out of that conversation thinking that’s something I’d google. Just a few of the interesting stuff I found, and I’m sure I barely scratched the surface:

  • Sprint 0 (forum topic) – there’s mention of using Sprint 0 as a crutch
  • Scrubbing Sprint Zero – apparently, there’s no official “Sprint 0”; there’s the idea that it’s an anti-pattern; it’s been discussed by Agile Manifesto signatories all way back in 2008. I loved the Alistair Cockburn (often pronounced like “Co-burn”) quote:

I have a sneaking feeling that someone was pressed about his use of Scrum when he did something that had no obvious business value at the start, and he invented “Oh, that was Sprint Zero!” to get the peasants with the pickaxes away from his doorstep.

… and then others thought that was a great answer and started saying it, too. … and then it became part of the culture.

  • Sprint Zero: A Good Idea or Not? – there’s mention of the “project before the project”; and it links another post about using scrum for an analysis project whose output is not necessarily immediately working software
  • Antipattern of the Month: Sprint Zero – Lol, that quote: “Sprint 0 is like Casper, the friendly ghost. Well-meaning, but creepy.”

And, that’s all she wrote! Time for bed!

Reading up on Progressive Web Apps

So I’ve been working in a new project and what sets it apart the most from previous projects I’ve worked on is that our team is building Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). I got thrust into the project in firefighting mode, and I’ve pretty much managed to get by with my experience in working on web apps and hybrid mobile apps. Essentially, my simplistic understanding was PWAs are amped up web apps because they’re app-like [they’re just websites that took all the right vitamins.” – Alex Russell].

  • They can be easily be “installed” from the web browser without having to go through app stores or MDMs like AirWatch.
  • They can be available from your mobile device’s home screen.
  • When you open them, they look like an app — full screen, without the browser header and navigation bar.
  • When you switch apps on your mobile, they’re there along with other “normal” apps.
  • They’re responsive — the same app on my desktop Chrome browser has a “mobile-friendly” version on my mobile’s Safari or Chrome browser or when opened as an app.

But when you have to keep on throwing around the term “Progressive Web App” or “PWA” (people ask about push notifications which you then push back on with the reasoning that it’s currently a limitation for iOS), you want to have a better understanding of what you’re talking about. Well, at least I want to.

So I’ve read up a bit on what PWAs are or what makes a web app a PWA. Common to most of the results are some attributes of the PWAs and some baseline criteria to qualify as PWA.

Attributes

This list is a mix verbatim from Alex Russell (he used colons) and from Wikipedia (em dashes). These are the attributes or characteristics of PWAs.

  • Progressive — Work for every user, regardless of browser choice because they’re built with progressive enhancement as a core tenet. [This seems similar to responsive though]
  • Responsive: to fit any form factor
  • Connectivity independent — Service workers allow work offline, or on low quality networks.
  • App-like — Feel like an app to the user with app-style interactions and navigation.
  • Fresh: Transparently always up-to-date thanks to the Service Worker update process
  • Safe — Served via HTTPS to prevent snooping and ensure content hasn’t been tampered with.
  • Discoverable: Are identifiable as “applications” thanks to W3C Manifests and Service Worker registration scope allowing search engines to find them
  • Re-engageable: Can access the re-engagement UIs of the OS; e.g. Push Notifications
  • Installable: to the home screen through browser-provided prompts, allowing users to “keep” apps they find most useful without the hassle of an app store
  • Linkable: meaning they’re zero-friction, zero-install, and easy to share. The social power of URLs matters.

Baseline Criteria

This is more of implementation requirements — so might not be quite visible to business owners. Copy-pasted the 3 listed items below verbatim:

To be a Progressive Web App, a site must:

And apparently, there’s the Lighthouse tool which can run automated checks to evaluate whether a site/web app is a PWA or not. It’s easily install-able as a Google Chrome extension and generates a nice looking report which also could seem like a reference on what to improve for your web app.

Sample output of report (this is just the summary, there’s a breakdown that actually follows)

So after going over all those links and references, do I know how to define a PWA?  Idk, I’ll probably revert to: they’re amped up web sites which can be installed behave like apps. 🙂

References

Wondering how much it matters: initial load of page

Background: I found that when I accessed the home page of one of the apps our team was working on, there were around 1000+ requests and over 10MB transferred in a span of 10 minutes (and it was still going). On screen, what’s visible is just the login page.

After they’ve fixed it, I went ahead and checked our current apps in the test environment. Just a disclaimer though — I’m not a performance tester and I just gathered the info I got via Chrome Dev Tools.

AppRequestsTransferredFinishDOM Content LoadedLoad
App 1503.6 MB2.6 min28.4 s48.69 s
App 2301.9 MB19.06 s11.12 s12.35 s
App 3413.6 MB26.95 s7.52 s12.52 s
App 4181.7 MB9.41 s3.93 s9.41 s
App 514742 KB3.17 s1.36 s3.18 s

3.6 MB and all that’s visible is the login page?

That prompted me to then google what’s the average out there. I’ve come up with a bunch of interesting results that’ll most likely make up my weekend reading:

Feel free to suggest in the comments section if there are more relevant references I could also look into. Thanks!

Read: The Dance of the Possible

I’ve just consumed Scott Berkun’s newest book, The Dance of the Possible. As promised by the author, it was a short book intended so that we can get what we can out of it, get it out of the way, and dive into actually creating something. It was divided into three parts — each of which I consumed in one sitting of around an hour. You can breeze through it in less, but I liked reflecting on points raised by the author and recalling experiences where I can relate them (or could have related to them).

If I were to describe the 3 different parts of the book, I’d say part one is about the generating ideas. Part two is when you’re already developing your ideas. And part three is when it’s getting extra challenging to keep going and you need that extra boost.

He captures in writing some of the things I personally go through in my own creative process which made me just virtually nod in agreement and think “Oh yeah, that was what I was doing!” And I guess in making me aware, I could be more intentional in applying them and accepting when I feel like I’ve hit some sort of slump (that I will get over, of course).

I’ve long been intending to read a book on creativity (among many other things). Having Scott’s book come along with the invitation to do a book review really pushed me. When he described one of the seven sources of fuel for why people create the things they do (i.e., “Deliberately put yourself in situations where you have no way out but through.”), I couldn’t help being amused and thinking “Yeah, that happened!” I think even without the book review aspect, I’d have enjoyed reading his book as I’ve enjoyed some of his other writings. It just adds another dimension and it feels like it’s full circle because the book on creativity actually prompted me to create!

[Edit: Same content is posted as an Amazon book review over here.]

Are you interested in software testing?

So yesterday I shared a link to 30 Things Every New Software Tester Should Learn in some other social network. Now I know it says “new” and I’m not exactly new anymore. But still, I don’t know everything so I’m sure I’ll pick up something new. Besides, whether you learn something or not depends on your willingness and openness to the possibility of learning.

Anyways, that post consisted of a series of tasks, and the first of which was to do an introspection. It asks this key question:  Are you interested in software testing? I guess it’s pretty safe to say that I am. I’ve been in testing for a long time now and I do enjoy it. I tweet and blog about it. I like finding bugs, figuring things out, working with fellow testers and the devs, and essentially just helping in making our product better (and maybe our project too).

Now this is something I also wonder about whether fellow testers are actually interested in software testing. I totally understand that for some it’s a 9–5 job, and for some their interests lie in their personal pursuits (be it art, sports, pets, other hobbies) — after all, there is more to life than just work! I don’t take it against anyone if they’re not in love with their work (so very few are and that’s in general) or so gung-ho with software testing pride (pumps fists up in the air). But interest is critical. It could mean the difference between just getting by with the motions and excelling or exceeding expectations. And it could mean the difference between drudgery and enjoyment. At the very least, I do hope people like their work and not just for the reason that it pays the bills.

I know there are some folks who fell into software testing by chance — it happened to be an opportunity that was available, or they had to shift from another part of software engineering to testing. Some folks got into testing because they took a programming course in college but aren’t too keen on doing coding. And inversely, there are some who got into testing with the hopes of shifting into coding. But regardless of how you got here and whether you’re still testing the waters to figure out if testing is really for you or not, please exercise diligence. Testing might turn out to be something you can excel in so give it its fair chance.

And maybe to be interested in software testing, the first step is to make a conscious decision to be interested in it.

“The very first step towards success in any occupation is to become interested in it.” – William Osler

Read: Leading the Transformation

Our product owner is one of the rare few individuals I know at work who actually still reads books. Last month, he recommended that we read Leading the Transformation: Applying Agile and DevOps Principles at Scale by Gary Gruver and Tommy Mouser. It’s a thin book with only 112 pages on paperback and around a 3-hour read. It’s intended for leaders/executives so it gives a high level overview of the changes teams and the organization need to make and the benefit of those changes, and it repeatedly emphasizes management’s role in pushing for those changes. In particular, the changes that they want to drive at center around Agile, DevOps and Continuous Delivery (CD).

At work, small teams have now been shifting to Agile, our own team has been in this Agile project since January of last year, and I’ve heard of proposals wherein the methodology they suggest is already Agile instead of Waterfall. But then, I pick up from the book that trying to scale up Agile adoption across the board with small teams as the starting point doesn’t quite work for large organizations. Whoops. The book suggests that if you want an enterprise-level change, you have to plan for it and drive it from the management level down to us lowly minions. A key difference though is that within our organization (at least locally that I know of), we don’t really have hundreds of developers working on the same product or code base. And in our case, we’re only under 20 in the team, but even so the book still offers a good introduction to a lot of mature development practices that we need to look into.

Key items highlighted in the book that I’d like to reiterate further:

Importance of having quick feedback loops

Unit tests and static analysis tools can already weed out a lot of problems so that defective code won’t even get committed to the repository to begin with. And having those fixes done even before passing it to the test team — instead of fixing them only after the code has been deployed and testers found issues that were caused by those defects — will definitely help reduce the turnaround time.

Quick feedback loops will also help the team work and resolve issues while the code or user story is still relatively fresh in their heads. It’s more difficult for both the devs and testers to fix and retest an issue on a behavior that they’ve pretty much forgotten about.

Having builds as release- or production-ready as possible

With regular and stable builds in place, it’ll be easier to identify when a commit breaks the build. Since you don’t have to backtrack through days or weeks of commits, it’ll be easier to narrow down and identify the problematic commit.

Having dev/test environments as close to production as possible

One problem that we’ve personally encountered in not having a test environment in sync with the production version was that whenever we encountered an odd behavior in the test environment we had to double check whether the issue was also in prod. We also had to be mindful of issues that were already resolved in prod but not in the test environment. But I guess this problem is a combination of why it’s good to have the test environment as close to prod as possible and the next item related to why it’s good to have good deployment procedures in place.

Having repeatable build, deploy and test processes

From experience and the example above, having a reliable and repeatable deployment process could’ve saved us all effort and heartache. It could be so frustrating to test the same build (supposedly) but then get different outputs even if you’ve done the same steps using the same test data. In the same vein, you’d hate for a feature not to work in prod even if it had already been thoroughly code reviewed, tested and signed-off in UAT/PO review.

And last, but not the least, having test automation

You simply will never achieve the full benefit of Agile development until you get your automated testing properly built out and integrated into the development pipeline.

Test automation is key to the first item I mentioned since it enables quick feedback loops. It also allows repeatable tests to be executed across the different environments, and it allows repeated execution of the regression tests which you might not be able to afford to do so manually.

Having test automation, by itself, will not suffice. Tests have to be designed such that it’ll be easy to localize the cause of failed tests should any be encountered. Maintainability of the automated tests also have to be considered. Otherwise, the benefits of test automation won’t be realized since the team ends up ignoring the test results on account of being not sure whether the issue encountered is a code issue or a test issue.

One last thing… it’s a cultural shift

You can’t just invest on tools for CD or test automation or announce “Let’s do the Agile thing”, and expect the benefits to magically follow right away. This kind of thing takes time because there’s the technical learning overhead, plus shifting to a new way of doing things requires discipline and resolve so that folks won’t revert to the old habits that they’re trying to change.

It is important for executives to understand early on if the organization is embracing this cultural change, because if it doesn’t, all the investments in technical changes will be a waste of time.

It’s not going to be enough for the project team alone to be invested in the changes. The management and executives need to be aligned with this. In fact, they should help drive it. Otherwise, they might give demands that would bypass the adoption of change and instead force people back to their old habits (just because it might appear faster but only in the short term).

The book, after all, isn’t entitled “Leading the Transformation” for nothing. Management’s presence and push isn’t merely a suggestion; it’s a necessity. Sure, the project teams are the ones making the technical changes; but management needs to understand and support the changes. Essentially, people need to be in the same page in order to move in the same direction.

Finished reading: Managing the Test People

It’s a quick and easy read as it promised to be. I’m not a manager and it’s not something I’m planning to be. But I am somewhat in a position of leadership so the book is still quite relevant to me. Judging by how much I’ve highlighted in the book, it’s undeniably quite relevant.

I’m also working with younger folks who I believe have great potential to be leaders. They can be even better leaders than who we have at the moment, but only if they’re positively influenced by the right mindset on both leadership and technical aspects.

I’d go recommend this book to them since the author really paints a great picture of a leader (or manager) to aspire to be. And with its focus on testing teams — or technical teams in general — it’s a perfect fit for us. Reading the book raises the bar for our expectations on managers but only as it should be because we can’t expect nothing less than for our managers to lead and empower their people. You also get insights on how managers should (better) deal with things. But more than that, and I guess what’s most important, you also get to pick up and be reminded on how you should be as a leader (even if not by title).

In closing, the author shares:

Stay on the right path by frequently asking yourself, “Am I being honest? Am I being consistent? Would I want to work with* me?”

*Originally “for”. But since we’re not bosses or managers, “with” seems more relatable.

Maybe that simple level of introspection — especially on that last question — is what we all need to remind us to be first and foremost good colleagues or team mates before even rising to becoming good leaders.

On valuing your time, Maker’s and manager’s schedules

Time and again, my hate for useless meetings seems to keep on drawing me to Paul Graham’s essay “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule”. (And also, I did tell a friend I’ll go share this link with her). Every time I read it, I couldn’t help but agree to a lot of the things he said. So much so that I find it hard to cite just one particular line to quote here in this post. You really just have to read the whole thing yourself.

To me, this essay is a pretty good reminder of what we should all be doing (just in case I’ve lapsed, and have been setting meetings or following up like there’s no tomorrow), and that is to respect my own time and other people’s time. In doing that, you make a more conscious effort to (well, if i can help it):

  • avoid interrupting or disturbing people unnecessarily
  • express gratitude when someone obliges you with their time
  • be present in meetings where your inputs or feedback are actually needed
  • set up meetings with the implicit target of not wasting people’s time
  • decline meetings I’m pretty sure I won’t be engaged in
  • decline meetings when they’re in conflict of personal commitments — Those are just as important (and sometimes even more) as work commitments
  • honor commitments to yourself — Ages ago, I had to block of time just for my lunch or dinner, and I even missed that because of work. That just isn’t healthy. Also when you block off time to work on something, then use that time to be productive.

Discipline on how you manage your time or own your own calendar starts with one’s self. And how badly your time gets mistreated by others (and even by yourself) highly depends on how much you’d allow it. So for your sake, start respecting and managing your time.

Reads: Creating a Modern Mentoring Culture by Randy Emelo

I finished a couple of books last week, though I’m not sure if the 20-page “infoline” counts. So anyways, one is this infoline I read on “Creating a Modern Mentoring Culture” by Randy Emelo over at Books24x7. Here are just some of the stuff that I’ve highlighted for myself and for sharing:

Modern mentoring is connecting people across an organization to share critical knowledge and skills. Everyone has something to learn and something to teach, regardless of age or title, and people can be both mentees and mentors at the same time.

Key Pillars of Modern Mentoring

  • Open and Egalitarian
    • everyone has something to learn and something to teach
  • Diverse
    • different perspectives within mentoring communities and relationships help novel ideas and approaches arise in answer to organizational problems or issues people are facing
  • Safe and Judgment-Free
    • people don’t want to show perceived weaknesses by asking for a mentor
  • Independent and Autonomous
    • no need to try to control the amount of time people spend engaged in mentoring, the topics they connect around, or the people with whom they connect.
    • Too much rigid control will only create unwanted barriers to knowledge flowing from those who possess it to those who seek it.
    • Once you have created an enabling structure for modern mentoring, let your employees take the reins of their own learning.
  • Asynchronous
    • technology-enabled communication (email, online communities of interest, business social networks, mentoring and social learning software) is only on the rise and is a key enabling structure that supports modern mentoring
  • Self-Directed and Personal
    • Self-directed learning also allows individuals to learn what is applicable to them right now, gain skills that can help them with their unique work context, and make them more productive.
  • Technology-Centric
    • means to connect with others and a space to collaborate and communicate
  • Flexible
    • allowed and encouraged to shift in and out of your mentoring program and of the mentee-mentor roles themselves, as learning needs and knowledge strengths evolve

If the open nature of modern mentoring is compromised by too much organizational involvement, the quality of mentoring connections and the caliber of learning that takes place as a result of these connections will be degraded.

Creating a Modern Mentoring Culture

  • Re-Educate Leaders
    • need to help organizational stakeholders understand the expanded and broad vision of modern mentoring and its associated benefits
    • must be re-educated to understand that modern mentoring is a productive activity that won’t detract from employees’ effectiveness, but rather will help to strengthen it.
  • Get the word out
    • webinars or e-briefings, various media (podcasts, webinars, or newsletters), brief “commercials” at other training events
    • Sponsor roadshows or lunch-and-learns where mentoring participants share their experiences. Offering a venue for mentoring participants to meet and mingle can help energize your program and provides another opportunity for people to network and make learning connections.
    • Leverage employee resource groups, town hall meetings where a brief presentation could be followed by a question and answer session, Leverage your program’s evangelists.
  • Modernize Current Mentoring Programs
    • expanding your current mentoring programs and making them modern
    • Onboarding – new hires
    • High-potential development
      • brightest talent pull from an array of mentors and knowledge resources [instead of just one mentor]
      • allow high-potentials to be mentors themselves and share their knowledge with others while concurrently learning how to be a leader
    • Augment your formal training initiatives with mentoring cohorts
      • alumni of training programs mentor and advise a group of people currently going through training
      • Peers going through the same training can also connect and share stories around application of concepts learned in class to help cement the newly attained knowledge.
  • Amplify Using Technology
    • Let employees use technologies you have available to communicate and collaborate.
    • Make online employee directories or other skill profiles available to help participants see who would be a good mentoring connection.
    • Allow people to join your mentoring program at any time.
    • Acknowledge the efforts of those in the program.