Scrum of Scrums

Most of the developers on my team are in India, which means we're a little less than co-located. Yet we use scrum because it is still better than waterfall.

Early on, our strategy was to organize ourselves into two teams, and have the Austin-based team work on feature A while the Bangalore-based team worked on feature B. That way, we could reduce the impact of our globe-spanning timezones. (There are no normal working hours that overlap for either group. 11.5-hours difference.) We would stay out of each others' way and hardly need to talk at all.

...Hardly need to talk at all? Yeah, that should have caught my attention right away.

But we do learn—this is why we have retrospectives. Exceeding any conference-call discomfort was the pain of not knowing what our teammates were doing, not being involved in additions to our code, not collaborating on a shared, emergent design. So we set both groups to work on the same feature, and scheduled more conversations.

We have two conference calls a week, one in the morning, one at night. Morning-aligned people take the early one; night owls attend the late one. The calls are just for developers, to talk shop. Some of our topics include:
  • What we've done so far and what we're doing next;
  • How we'll structure our database tables;
  • The business domain;
  • Suggestions for improving the code.

I've started to enjoy these calls. Not only are they useful (essential, even) for building a coherent application, they are forming the social glue that allows us to collaborate and argue about the design, pulling us together into one effective team.

Presenting to Managers

From Edward Tufte's one-day class "Presenting Data and Information," my key epiphany is this:
Your audience is not dumb; they are busy.

There's a common "wisdom" that we need to dumb-down presentations to managers, but this is a hindrance to your message.

No, instead, imagine you are really busy, and you have a lot of demands on your time and, more importantly, your attention. In that mindset, what information do you need, and presented in what order, so that you can make a decision?

As technical people, we like puzzles. We like climbing over multiple steps to discover an answer. We are at times prone to structuring our presentations this way, too: Here's a neat problem, and here are all of the things I tried before finding an answer.

This is a waste of time.

Professor Tufte's argument architecture is this:
  • Problem
  • Relevance (why it is relevant)
  • Solution
Note that there is no time spent on how we came to the solution. Note also that there is no step for dumbing down the problem or the solution.

Your audience is smart, but busy.

My Kind of Cleaning

In answer to my previous puzzler—that was a real cliffhanger—here's the walkthrough for cleaning my route. Recall that this was my first time, so I'm describing what it was like, not giving instructions. Learn to climb from a qualified guide. I mean it.

First, think through the whole scenario and collect the gear you will need. Realizing you are one biner short when you are up in the air is too darn late. I needed two slings of webbing, each with its own locking-gate carabiner, plus an extra biner. For each sling, I used a girth hitch to attach one end to the front of my harness, then clipped the loose end with a biner into a gear loop at my hip. I hung the spare biner in a gear loop, too.

Next, you climb on top-rope back up to the anchor, and ask your belayer to "take" (take your weight; hold your rope locked off). You clip each sling into a hanger, to set up your personal safety system, and screw shut the locking gates of the carabiners. At this point, you should be held to the rock by your slings and not depending on the rope. Test this by asking for some slack, and noting that, as the rope goes slack, your slings become taut and bear your weight. Then you can ask your belayer to take you "off belay."

Now that you're set to hang out here all day, tie a backup knot to make sure you don't lose that dang rope: Grab a bight of rope and tie a quick knot and clip it into the spare carabiner. Because you're about to do the exact opposite of what your frightened little monkey brain would want you to do—you're going to untie the rope from your harness. And if you drop it, you will get to hang out here all day.

So, yes, untie the knot. The umbilical figure 8 from which you so often hang your precious hide. Untie it.

Remove the rope from the quickdraws and run it through the bottom links of the chains. We use the chains for lowering from the final climb out of necessity, but avoid using them all the time in order to minimize the erosion we subject them to. Retie your figure 8, untie the keeper knot, and retrieve your quickdraws.

Hoist yourself up a bit and ask your belayer to take, so that you can confirm that you are back on belay and the rope will hold your weight. Unhook your personal safety slings and clip them back to your gear loops to keep them out of the way. You are ready to be lowered to terra firma.

In addition to being a MYST-like brain teaser, I found route cleaning to be a good barometer of my mental state. Late in the afternoon, I'm hanging from the slings, and I think, "Okay, I have no idea what to do next... Must be time for dinner."

And it was. So we three girls drove back into town and ate three cheeseburgers, and they were very, very good.

Climbing Logistics

Great day of climbing yesterday with SheClimbs on Zoe's Wall at Reimer's Ranch--never too hot, patches of sunshine and blue sky, great company. I cleaned a sport route for the first time, and this was really neat. It's just like a MYST puzzle. I'll set up the challenge for you...

Goal: Before your climb, a teammate lead-climbed the route and set up an anchor for you at the top, using some of your equipment. Now you need to climb up there, retrieve your equipment, and get safely back down.

Setup: At the top of the sport route, there is an anchor system. This system comprises two hangers, bolted into the rock, and a few links of chain hanging from each hanger. Your lead climber clipped a quickdraw into each hanger, and ran the rope through the bottom carabiners of the quickdraws. (Here's an anchor using a rope instead of two quickdraws.) This allows many climbers to use this rope and anchor while minimizing the wear and erosion on the chains. But you want your quickdraws back.

Constraint: You're 25 or 30 feet in the air. You climbed that high using your own muscle power, and you've been climbing for hours already. You're tired. You don't want to fiddle with ropes and clips and slings while hanging by the tender fingertips of one hand above the rocks and trees below.

Solution: What to do? (Open the spigot to drain the water from the chest, close the spigot, fill the tower with water to make the chest float up...) I'll let you think about it for a bit. Perhaps if you look around, there might be some more gear here at the bottom that you could click on.

The problem-solving challenges is one of my favorite things about this sport. Hanging with great people and the sense of accomplishment are two more. You really make a connection with the woods when you're that close to the rock.