Category Archives: Offshoring

8 Planning Poker Options for Remote Teams

The most common way to size user stories for an agile team is to use planning poker and fibonacci sequence numbers.  But sometimes doing this is difficult if you are not colocated.  I was a big fan of  But without much fanfare, they changed their tool to only allow 10 people into their estimation session.  Definitely hoses half of my team.  now i need a new tool to help me size my user stories.  Here are some web based tools that can help me out.

  1. The Original – Planning Poker – .  This is what I used for years.  But now, the free version is only available to 10 people on your team at a time.  To add more you must pay $25 per month.  Crazy talk.
  2. Pointing Poker – .  Simple, basic, very popular, and FREE.  That is all that needs to be said.
  3. Plan It Poker – .  I like their tag line.  “Completely free to use no matter how large your team.”  Sign me up.
  4. Planning Poker for Hangouts – .  If you or your team are fans of Google Hangouts, this is the tool for you.
  5. Scrummy – .  This one looks cool… but sounds like it was more of a technology proof of concept than a new product to be launched.
  6. FirePoker – .  Another popular estimation tool.  This one uses angular.js .  Give it a try.
  7. Planning Poker (old version) – .  This one looks to be a legacy install of the original planning poker before the change, and before the redesign.  This might be the answer to my problem.
  8. Agile Estimation for Jira – .  If you are a Jira user,and don’t mind spending money on a plug-in, this is for you.  Not how I would go… but maybe you will.

Which one do you use?  How do you estimate?  Have a tool I missed?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

Accenture India Visit – Wrap Up

There are a lot of takeaways that I have brought back to the US with me after such a great trip to see Accenture in Bangalore, India:

  • Accenture is a people-oriented culture. They have an enormous program to identify, train and retain the best talent in India.
  • The team members are young, energetic, and ambitious. The average age of the folks on the team is 25. Our job is to harness that energy and focus it.
  • A great idea might be to implement a grass-roots continuous improvement program. This will give team members a feeling of ownership and pride.
  • There are over 50 different Centers of Excellence (CoEs) that are available along 3 dimensions: technology, industry, and type of work. This is how Accenture manages knowledge. We need to take advantage of these more. This is particularly true for the Application Outsourcing, Quality, and Usability CoE.
  • The Technology Lab is exploring tools that will streamline Accenture’s process. What tools do they have that we can take advantage of?
  • Take your team lead with you to India. They need to meet the team too, and it is great for team-building. The whole trip I wished my team lead was with me.
  • One week was not long enough. The first week we got to experience Bangalore, and Accenture, and its organizational structure, but I did not get to spend enough time with my team leads and all the team members.

Overall, I had a fabulous time in India. My hosts were extremely gracious, the food was great, the traffic was always entertaining, and I learned a lot about Accenture and my team. I can’t wait to go back. I hope I get an opportunity to go back soon.

Accenture India Visit – Flight Home and Mysore Photos

Rahgu came out to the hotel for Sunday bunch with Laurent and me. He brought his beautiful wife and cute kids. We talked about work, and vacations, and next steps. It was a nice send-off to a very productive and action-packed week.

The flights home went smoothly. I sorted through my photos, and worked on a lessons learned and next steps PowerPoint deck. I also watched a whole bunch of movies to help pass the time. I decided to try to stay up the whole flight like I did on the way to India. I thought I would adjust to the time difference easier. It worked. The only problem is that I caught Laurent’s cold, so I have the sniffles now.

I have posted some of the better photos of the Mysore trip onto flickr. There are a lot of them, but that is because it was a long day, and we saw a lot of great things. I like flickr. Itis very easy to use, and the pro account has unlimited space. I also like the slideshow feature. Take a look at the photos, and leave me some feedbackwith what you think.

Accenture India Visit – Mysore

The drive to Mysore was a bit longer than expected. We were told that it would take anywhere from two to four hours, the most common answer being two and a half hours. It took us about three and a half. One thing I did notice is that the space between cities is more urbanized than I expected. We did encounter some more rural areas, such as rice fields, but much less than I expected. India is growing very quickly.

Our first destination in Mysore was the Sri Chamundeshwari Temple. We parked the car and hiked up a huge stone staircase. We walked through a few side streets liked with simple houses, and watched the “free range monkeys” climb all over the rooftops. We turned a corner, and all of a sudden there was this huge temple in front of us. It was very impressive. We took a number of photos, decided we did not want to wait the hour to get inside, and went into a smaller side temple. The Hindu religion is not one that I know very much about. Laurent recommended a number of books that would be good for me to read.

Next stop was a brief photo opportunity at the Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel. Our driver said that this used to be the home of one of the Princes, and that now it has been turned into a hotel. We took a couple of snapshots, admired the beautiful sunflowers, and moved on to the zoo.

It had been a long time since I have been to a zoo. I have been to the drive-through safari with my nephew earlier in the year, but walking through a zoo is much different. It seems much more personal, and allows you to connect to the local residents a bit more. Laurent and his wife have been visiting zoos wherever they travel, and find that it is a fun thing to do and an opportunity to get away from more touristy location. The Mysore Zoo was very nice. They had lots of local animals, particularly birds and snakes. They did have African elephants, white tigers, gorillas, giraffes, rhinos, leopards, and king cobras. The short walk through the zoo was 3 kilometers. It was a bit hot, and at the end I was ready for lunch and a cold soda.

Lunch was at a very nice hotel within the town proper. It seems that hotels have the safest restaurants for foreigners’ delicate stomachs. They had an international menu, and the food was good. The coke was cold, and the seat was comfortable. It gave us time to rest and rejuvenate, and prepare for the trip through Mysore Palace.

As we approached the center of town, we turned a corner, and Mysore Palace was on our right. It was an impressive sight. Our driver parked by the side entrance, and let us out. He had coordinated for someone to give us a tour. We took photos of the palace exterior, then had to check our cameras and our shoes, as they were not allowed on the inside. The tour inside took about an hour and a half. The guide was very knowledgeable. He told us all about the paintings, the hand carved mahogany and teak doors, and the history of the maharajahs that lived there. The most impressive room was the audience hall, with its gorgeous view of the palace, its colorful painted ceiling, and the overall architecture of the room. Other interests were the pure gold thrones that the maharajahs use atop elephants, and the pure silver doors that are used as entrances to their private audience hall.

After the tour, we made our way to one of the temples on the palace grounds. On the way to the temple, we came across the elephants and their riders preparing for the parade that evening. One of them reached out his trunk and smelled my hand! This is considered good luck, as elephants are associated with the god Shiva. The only problem with that is that the elephant must have been sniffing around some mud or dirty water, as my hand and pants got covered in brown mud. But that’s okay, I think I need the luck.

After the temple, we collected our shoes and our camera, and went shopping. We went to a local silk shop. Laurent wanted to see if he could find something for his children. The first place we went sold mostly bulk silk, not clothes. We moved on to a Cauvery store, the only company that can sell sandalwood. I bought white wood statues for Nick and John, and a small sandalwood statue of Shiva for myself. The driver took us to another silk clothing store for Laurent, and he was much more successful. He found something for both of his kids there. As we got into the car, the rain started. We were afraid it would ruin our plans to get photos of the palace all lit up at night.

We finished up our shopping at 6pm, so we had some time to kill until the lighting and the parade at 7:30pm. We headed back over to the hotel where we had lunch, and spent some time at the bar. The beer was very cold, and very refreshing after a long day. Laurent and I passed the time with some interesting conversation. We did not want to spend a lot of time at the palace again, just enough time to get some photos. We made our way back to the car, and the driver fought the gridlock and the rain to get us to the palace. We hopped out, took a few quick snapshots of the main gate and the palace, saw the tail end (don’t mind the pun) of the elephant parade, and hopped back in the car to head back to the hotel after another long day.

With all the rain we got, it took us four hours to get back to the hotel. The roads throughout Bangalore flooded. This is an example of the need for improved infrastructure. I know this is the monsoon season, but the three times we got rain this week all flooded the streets to the point of real danger. This is different than the gaps of power from the electric companies. A man died during the first rainstorm. Cars were washed away during the second storm. I was afraid that we would have problems getting to the airport the next day. Bangalore is expanding very fast. I hope the infrastructure catches up soon. I really like this town.

Accenture India Visit – Wrap Up and Shopping

Friday was a very short day. We started off with a brief review of the week. I cannot believe how much we packed in. A bit too much, in fact. There were no real breaks, no time to recover. I also didn’t get a lot of time to spend with the team. If I were to do it again, I would think 2 weeks would be better. Everything we saw was important, and we are going home with great information. I would not have taken away any of the sessions.

Laurent and I put together a quick set of slides regarding recognition. Raghu pulled together an impromptu meeting of all the BMS folks. He asked us to talk about our impression of our trip with the team, and then to present our recognition to the team. It was very difficult to narrow down my choices. I feel my whole team is doing a much better job. I think that is due to some of the new leadership (Smit and Abhijit), and our focus on quality (Premalatha and Jasmine).

After the impromptu recognition meeting, I dragged the Internet Marketing team outside for a photograph. We weren’t allowed to take the photo inside. We weren’t allowed to take it just outside the building. We weren’t even allowed to take it facing away from the building. We had to go all the way outside the security complex to the road of the IT Park to take it. So we all hiked outside. One of the security guards took the photo of us. This photo is the best souvenir I am bringing home with me.

Lunch was at a nice restaurant in downtown Bangalore. On our way there, it had started to drizzle. While we were eating, it started to pour. We could see the sidewalk flooding. This is a big problem in Bangalore, particularly during the monsoon season. This was the second flood we experienced. The food was wonderful. Nisha Rai and Nupur Maini came with us to help Laurent and I shop for some jewelry for our wives.

Shopping was a lot of fun. Raghu recommended a place called Tanishq, so our driver brought the four of us there. The jewelry shop was a Tata company. Tata owns everything… cars, telecom, water, energy, electronics, steel, they are into everything. Anyway, we went into the shop and the ladies helped us pick out some very nice pieces of jewelry. There was a definite Indian / Asian flare to the jewelry, which is exactly what I was looking for. I hope my wife likes what I picked out. The ladies were a big help, and we all had a great time.

We drive around town a bit, saw some of the sights, and headed home. This was our first early night. We had dinner at the restaurant downstairs, and went to bed early. Tomorrow is a big day. We are off to Mysore.

Accenture India Visit – Traffic

Traffic in Bangalore is interesting. Everyone at home warned me that I did not want to rent a car, and that I should let someone from the office coordinate transportation. To be honest, the driving style is not all that different from driving in New York City. Everyone drives like a New York cab driver, jockeying for position and ignoring any semblance of lanes. What makes driving in Bangalore different is the number of small vehicles, the “speed breakers”, pedestrian crossings, and the condition of the roads.

There are a lot of motorcycles on the road, They zip around in between cars recklessly. I am so surprised I did not see any more accidents. “Speed breakers” are speed bumps. They slow traffic down everywhere. Some have signs, but most are poorly indicated. People try to cross the road anywhere, and at any speed of traffic. I was so afraid we were going to squish someone. And the roads don’t have potholes, they have craters. They are mud-covered when it rains because of all the construction, and at night the dust makes it so hard to see.

I did see one accident. A large van on the opposite side of the highway must have bumped a tiny little car. The car driver cut off the van driver, pulled in front of him, and turned off his car, stopping all traffic. The car driver approached the van, and punched the van driver dead in the face 3 or 4 times. He then proceeded to call the police. Amazing.

Accenture India Visit – UI Capability

Today was another packed day. In the morning, we met with the HR Lead for Life Sciences. It is interesting to see how such a large company focuses on identifying, training, and retaining such a large number of people. This month alone they have hired over 1000 new employees in India alone.

Next was a meeting to review the UI Capability. This was one of the meetings that I had been waiting for the most. It also seems that my ideas were very much aligned with their recommendations. The best way to evaluate an existing product for enhancements is through usability testing. The best way to evaluate an off the shelf product is through heuristic evaluation and some sort of checklist. I want to set up some additional meetings when I get home to talk about tools that we can take advantage of that can evaluate a product / application / site.

During our lunch break, the IDC Quality and Delivery Excellence group presented. They showed us their quality analysis tool, and how they use it to do quality audits. Their vision of quality not only includes both compliance (whether the task was completed or the document was generated) and quality (how well a task is executed) measurements. Right now they are running audits on every project, but once things are more stable, their plan is to run these audits manually.

Upstairs was the Application Outsourcing Center of Excellence. The CoE had a dedicated room with flat panel monitors for each of the 6 different areas of focus. They also showed us the PMC, which is the nerve center for the Center of Excellence. This is what keeps the delivery center going, and provides constant feedback to each of the engagements. I didn’t get the opportunity to see all of the PMC, as I had to head over to Bang 2 for a videoconference with the BRMs in the US.

Abhijit set up our weekly Thursday meeting as a teleconference for us. Bruce and Derek were out that day, and Jenn was unable to make it to the room. Butas a proof of concept, videoconferences will work much better for us, and will be a great way to pull the team together. We will have to try to do teleconferences more often.

Dinner was with the MHRA team at the Brigade Millenium WoodRose. This is where Raghu’s boss lived. They had a courtyard in the back of the complex where the MHRA team within Accenture provided entertainment. The team performed traditional Indian dance, and some modern guitar and singing. It was a really nice performance. What impressed me was that these were Accenture folks who were doing this. Laurent and I were discussing this… if we were to host Accenture, andwere asked to do a talent show, what kinds of things would we do? I am not sure.

Accenture India Visit – Bang 2 and Bang 3

This morning was an early morning. Wewere out of the hotel at 8am to travel to the Bang2 office. This is all the way on the other side of Bangalore, about 20 miles or so. It took us an hour and a half to get there.

We spent the morning learning about the Life Sciences R&D Center of Excellence (CoE). I learned a lot about how our R&D division works, and how IT can really drive performance in that area of the business. The idea of a CoE makes a lot of sense for Accenture – they can train new people very quickly, share knowledge across a similar skillset, and bring new ideas to the table. I just dont like the idea that our competitors can benefit from that if they are also an Accenture client. We also had an opportunity to stop in and peek into the MHRA bay briefly. Smit used to work in this bay, and Laurent knows one of the MHRA executives from his earlier days at BMS during the DuPont Pharma merger.

From what I have gathered about Accenture, they have organized about 40 Centers of Excellence across their organization. A center of excellence is a way to consolidate knowledge across one of three dimensions: technological skill, organizational skill, or a type of work. So, for example, a SharePoint CoE would be on the technological dimension, the R&D CoE would be on the organizational dimension, and the Application Outsourcing CoE would be on the Type of Work dimension.

After our tour of the R&D CoE, we headed off to Bang 3 for an SOA discussion. There was a deep dive into case studies, their use of tools, and a discussion of lifecycle management of SOA. Laurent walked away impressed with the level of understanding of SOA as a strategy within Accenture, and may leverage their skills in the near future.

Lunch was a continuation of SOA for Laurent, but I got the opportunity to talk to Pavan about exploring Agile methodologies in the delivery of our Internet Marketing projects. This is a very intriguing idea. My concern is the Legal/Medical/Regulatory process, the time constraints of the BRM team, and the engagement of the agencies. But this is something I think we should try to see how it would work. I will probably set up some additional meetings to discuss.

The Technology Labs presentation was actually very exciting. They showed us a tool called RAT – Requirements Analysis Tool. It is a MS Word / Excel add-on that evaluates your requirements for clarity and completeness, and cascades through the traceability matrix and test cases. I love this tool. We should use it on our requirements documents, and on the template too. We also saw a tool called Pivot. This tool takes advantage of existing data (such as CruiseControl logs, ClearCase data, etc) to monitor project health. This is a whole new way to monitor projects, and may offer more project metrics beyond defect analysis. The last tool we saw was ACQT – Accenture Code Quality Tool. This is Java only right now, but is like an improved version of FXCop. You can define any rule to test against your code, and it integrates with CruiseControl. I would love to see this in .Net.

The Avanade meeting was a bit disappointing. We asked them to talk about the integration of Silverlight and SharePoint. They spent most of the meeting discussing what SharePoint was and trying to sell us on the product, even though we already have it. They spent the rest of the meeting on the architecture of the product, so we never got to see a demo. Two things struck me as a little strange. The Avanade team kept referring to SOA as a technology. It is not. It is a strategy for implementing enterprise level services (not just project level services). They also talked about the decision to use Silverlight was driven by the need for drag and drop, and the avoidance of postback. They could have used jQuery and AJAX and .Net MVC for any of this. I I asked, but never really got a good answer why Silverlight was better than any of those for this project. Maybe next time.

The Open Source discussion was very interesting. We got to see full project stacks using only industrial strength open source projects. We got to hear about all the different products on the market that are Open Source. I am not sure how much of this we are going to be able to use, though. But Open Source is a very interesting topic. It sets a lot of ideas in motion.

I had a couple of meetings with the teams back home, and we wrapped up the day. We ate at a South Indian Restaurant at another Taj hotel in Bangalore. The food was great, the company was great, andI had a great time. The Accenture team are being overly gracious hosts. I am not sure I could do as well.

Accenture India Visit – Bangalore Welcome Photos

Today I was presented with a great gift – a CD with photos of our welcome ceremony to the Bangalore office. With permission from Vasuki, I have posted them up on my flickr account. Please take a look at the photos of our welcome to Bangalore. It was very impressive. Our trip has been fantastic, and these pictures show the way we were treated. As they say in India, “Athiti devo bhava”. I just hope I have the opportunity to return the favor.