CMMI and Agile Blog

December 27, 2014

Essence: What’s New and Different?

In November of this year, 2014, I gave a talk on Essence at Binghamton University to a group of Computer Science students.  You can catch the highlights of Part I of the talk on YouTube.  This is a great video to watch if you want to learn what is new and different about Essence, the new software engineering Object Management Group (OMG) standard intended specifically for software practitioners.  If you don’t have time to watch the complete Part I– which is about 44 minutes– you can find a cross-reference at the end of the video to where in the video you can find the following 23 key topics:

http://youtu.be/uDELOAAFVlA

  1. What is Essence?
  2. The Difference Between Scrum and Essence.
  3. What Does Essence Contain?
  4. Why Did We Create the Strange Alpha Word?
  5. What is Different About Essence?
  6. The Essence CARD Deck.
  7. An Example Demonstrating How Essence is NOT Waterfall.
  8. A Question About Essence Versus Scrum.
  9. How Essence Can Power Whatever Approach Your Team is Already Using.
  10. About the Problem We Are Trying To Solve With Essence.
  11. How Does a Team Use the Essence Model?
  12. How Essence Checklists Are Different.
  13. How Do Teams Apply the Essence Checklists?
  14. On the Importance of Knowing When You Are Done.
  15. A Question on How a Team Can Fall Back.
  16. On the Order You Address States, and Decisions on Checklists that May Not Apply.
  17. An Example of a Team Deciding if a Checklist is Applicable to them.
  18. On Activity Spaces.
  19. Competencies Within Essence.
  20. How to Figure Out if You Have a Leadership or a Management Competency Issue.
  21. What if a Team Can’t Meet a Checklist Item?
  22. Why Isn’t Risk an Alpha?
  23. Why is Hardware included in the Definition of the Software System Alpha?

As always, your comments and feedback are encouraged.

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September 1, 2014

Quantifying the Value of Using SEMAT’s Essence Framework

In a recent Google Tech Talk given by Ivar Jacobson and Ian Spence (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNlERrVxYjs ) questions were raised regarding measured efficiencies when team’s use Essence versus control groups not using Essence.  Capers Jones also recently asked me if I had any benchmark data showing the effect that SEMAT’s Essence Framework would have on productivity/quality factors (e.g. impact on work hours).    

Although the new OMG Essence standard is only a few months old we are already starting to see hard evidence of the value of this framework.   As an example, in a recent field study using Essence conducted at Carnegie-Mellon West ( http://works.bepress.com/cecile_peraire/31/  ) the following value of using the Essence framework was found:

“While most styles of Agile retrospectives tend to focus on known issues, Essence reflections tend to make unknown issues apparent by covering the project holistically and reminding participants of critical areas that might be overlooked. These differences make Essence reflections and Agile retrospectives complementary. This is illustrated by the following student quote:

Though the team was holding retrospectives every week already, having Essence discussions be a part of it allowed the team to touch on important aspects of the project; aspects which would otherwise be ignored’.”

 

What I find most interesting about this study is that the findings are not so much directly related to efficiencies gained, but rather related to improving the team’s understanding of unknown issues, or risks.  This is the same observation that was made by a senior experienced engineer in a major USA DoD organization when first exposed to the Essence framework.  One of the Essence framework’s primary strengths is that it can be used with any method to help an organization uncover risks early and take appropriate action before those risks do serious harm to your endeavor.

 So how do you go about quantifying the value of Essence from a risk reduction perspective?

 According to the Carnegie-Mellon Software Engineering Institute:

 “Data indicate that 60-80% of the cost of software development is in rework”.

 

Rework is the result of not doing the task right the first time and is often caused by issues that were unknown at the time the work was originally done.  Rework is preventable by reducing unknowns early, and it costs an organization in more than just labor hours. It costs in schedule delays, and lost customer confidence.  It is therefore reasonable to conclude that anything we can do to reduce risk– such as using the Essence framework together with whatever your organization is doing today– can potentially reduce the cost of software development by 60-80%.

 So, with such a great potential upside, what is the downside of using Essence? 

Personally, I don’t see a downside for the following reason: Essence is not another method.  It is not an alternative to what you are doing today.   It is relatively inexpensive and easy for team’s to get started using the Essence framework in a way that complements their current approach.

 To learn more about how the new Essence Framework can help your software development teams refer to:  https://leanpub.com/15fundamentals or http://amzn.com/099045083X or take a look at the Google tech talk referred to above (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNlERrVxYjs ). 

 Why not give Essence a try and let your software development team’s decide?  What have you got to lose?

 

July 17, 2014

Turning a Weakness into a Major Strength In My New Book “15 Fundamentals…”

I just released a new book titled, “15 Fundamentals for Higher Performance in Software Development.”  You can learn more about the book at www.amazon.com (paperback book or kindle store) or at www.leanpub.com/15fundamentals.

In this, my first of a planned series of blogs about the book, I want to share some background information about how the book evolved and how I was able to turn a weakness into a major strength of the book.

If you have been following my blogs over the past few years you probably know I have been involved since 2010 in the SEMAT (www.semat.org)  initiative.  SEMAT, just last month, achieve a major milestone with the Object Management Group formally adopting the Essence Specification as an OMG standard.

When I started to write my just released new book close to 4 years ago I did not plan for it to include any discussion on SEMAT or Essence.  My intent was to describe a problem that the software development community faces that I felt needed to be discussed more openly.  You can learn more about the problem at:

But as I moved forward in writing the book in parallel with my work on SEMAT I started seeing more and more areas where SEMAT’s Essence framework could help to solve the problem I was talking about in the book.

At first I was unsure how to address this because I did not want to disrupt my  planned flow of the book, so I decided to interject sidebars in the book explaining how Essence could help to solve the problem I was describing.

I had twenty-one reviewers of this book who reviewed multiple versions over the last three years. Only eight of those reviewers had any knowledge of SEMAT/Essence before reviewing the book.  Unfortunately, many of my reviewers gave me negative feedback on the new sidebars with comments such as:

“I find the sidebars distracting,”

“I don’t get this Essence thing,” and

 “The alpha idea makes my head spin”. 

Multiple reviewers suggested that I break the book into two books – taking all the Essence material out of the first book, having a second book just about Essence. Clearly these sidebars had  become a weakness of the book that I would need to overcome.

One reviewer who was a real practitioner and knew nothing about SEMAT or Essence suggested that I take all the  SEMAT/Essence specific material out of the first two parts of the book (first 12 chapters/ about 150 pages), and replace the sidebars with a more general “framework vision” that explained in simpler terms what was needed to solve the problem I was talking about.

He suggested that I use no “process-freaky” words in the sidebars.  This was a project manager in a large US Defense Company who is a very practical oriented manager.  He then said I should keep the Essence framework discussion in the book, but present it late in the book showing how it meets the requirements of the framework vision and how it can help to solve the problem I had discussed in the first two parts of the book.

This is the path I took, and most of my reviewers not only agreed with this approach, but some even went so far as to say they thought the new framework vision was now one of the major strengths of the book.  It was particularly good to hear that the reviewers were able to easily grasp the vision and agree with it, as it now was being presented in the new way.  I now think of this framework vision presented in Parts I and II of the book as the requirements and Essence, as presented in Part III of the book, as an example of one way to implement those requirements.

One reason I wanted to share this story with you is because in Part III of the book where I do talk about Essence I do so from the perspective of how it can help to solve a major problem the software community faces today.

As it turned out, taking this approach achieved another goal as well. Whenever I have spoken at  Universities or Conferences in the past about Essence, there always seemed to be at least a few people who would ask:

“Why do we need Essence?” 

Or

“What problem is Essence going to solve that the other aids we have today like Scrum, CMMI and Lean Six Sigma don’t already handle?” 

By presenting the framework from the perspective of how it can solve a real problem the software community faces, answering those common questions becomes much easier.

This leads us to an important question.

Why is it so difficult for many people to grasp the value of the Essence framework when first presented to them?

Some have observed that it could be because Essence requires a paradigm shift not unlike what was needed when object oriented design was first introduced in the software community.  I would love to hear your thoughts related to this question.

You can learn more about how Essence can help to solve the problem that I talk about in the first two parts of the book at:

In future blogs I intend to share more about how this book evolved including a story related to how the book achieved its final title which was based on a  polling of many of my reviewers after I had literally written down more than 100 possible titles.  I will also share the top 4 candidate titles, and I will tell you why they all would have been great choices, and I will tell you now my initial personal favorite was not the final choice.

The book is available in ebook and paperback format from http://www.Amazon.com.  It is also available in multiple ebook formats from www.leanpub.com/15fundamentals, and www.apple.com/ibooks.

 

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