Agile Self-Organizing Teams and Role of a Leader

Agile team should self-organize. The Scrum Master can influence the process but not directly intervene.

We all know this.

Well, if you are not sure how this process works then you should read what Mike Cohn of Mountain Goat Software has to say:

However, do you really think that the leader should try to influence the team in a subtle manner? Is that what a leader is supposed to do?

Take the case of the “International Conference on Agile and Lean Software Methods” or …

Agile India 2012

Whichever way you look at it, the event was a grand success.

It had more than 700 participants and 120 speakers from 18 countries.

However, in my opinion, the biggest measure of success of any conference is to look at the closing session. Here is a 3 day conference ending on Sunday evening. You would expect to find the closing session to be half empty.

But no – in this conference the hall was full – as full as the opening session. That means participants found the conference interesting enough to stay till the end and attend the closing session.

Yes, it was an event where the organizing committee was self-organizing but how it happened makes an interesting story.

The Story behind Agile India 2012

105 days before the conference the organizer pulled out stating that the time frame was too ambitious. There were no sponsor for the event and hardly any registration.

Naresh, the conference chair, after consulting with the rest of the committee decided to go ahead – and – as you can all see, he did pull it off.

How did this happen?

This is what Venkat; the program co-chair had to say…

“…this would not have happened by any stretch of imagination without the hard work and thousands of hours that Naresh had spent…”

But, I think it is not just the hard work which is behind the success. The belief that it can be pulled off contributed as much.

Such belief is contagious and it rubs off from the leader to the rest of the team.

Such belief motivates the rest of the team to do the impossible.

 

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Cross-Platform Hybrid Mobile Application Development – a Tool Comparison

Hybrid tools try to resolve the debate of …

“Should you write a mobile web application which will render on multiple platforms without significant change but won’t be able to take advantage on native features?”

Or

“Should you create platform specific native application to fully utilize the power of the device but increase your effort?”

The basic premise of hybrid approach is that you can have your cake and eat it to. In this approach you use the browser control and create a shell application which is then used to render HTML pages. Since most of the popular phone browsers are Webkit based (Microsoft is an exception), they are expected to have similar behavior making you task simpler.

To access the native features of the handset, you need to create APIs in the shell application which can be invoked through JavaScript coding. The tools and frameworks are expected to provide the shell applications and the APIs for different platforms.

At least that is what the theory says.

In practice there are several issues that need to be looked into.

  • There are differences between the browser and the browser control. Their behavior is not identical. Normally, browser controls lag behind and are buggier.
  • Especially for iPhone, there is a chance that hybrid applications may get rejected by App Store.
  • For the current versions, performance issues have been reported.
  • It takes lot of effort to make the hybrid application look and feel like a native application and that is additional effort for each platform – this negated the original value proposition.
  • HTML5 have already started providing access to several native features and we can expect it to become more comprehensive.

Finally, hybrid application kills the differentiation between different platforms. So, why would either Apple or Google be interested in promoting it?

As I have mentioned earlier (here it is), there are five approaches to cross platform mobile application development and many tools are available under each category. They are:

(1)    Mobile Web (JavaScript-CSS library), (see this)

(2)    Visual Tool (No access to Code), (see this)

(3)    App Generator (Native application for multiple platforms), (see this)

(4)    Hybrid App (Leverages embedded browser control) and

(5)    Game Builder (see this)

Here are 5 hybrid tools – the ordering is alphabetic.

1. App Mobi

2. NS Basic

3. Phone Gap

4. Quick Connect

  • Home page:  Link
  • Genesis: Started as a tool for iPhone
  • Version: 2.1.2
  • Licensing: MIT
  • Download: Link
  • Documentation: Hybrid API
  • Sample application: ?
  • Implementation: ?
  • Wikipedia: No
  • Additional: Blog
  • Article on how to use: PB Works

5. Worklight

  • Home page:  Link
  • Genesis: IBM has acquired Worklight
  • Version: 4.2.1
  • Licensing: Free 30 day trial
  • Download: Link
  • Documentation: List
  • Sample application: Getting Started
  • Implementation: Case Studies
  • Wikipedia: No
  • Additional: Video Demo
  • Article on how to use: –

Do let me know if there are any errors and omissions in the details I have provided.

JavaScript Libraries to go with your Hybrid application

If you are looking for lightweight JavaScript libraries to help you develop your hybrid applications, then do check this site out.

This site lists out host of useful lightweight JS frameworks. I did not have the patience to count but the number more than 160. The site also allows you to filter the list using one of the 30 listed categories.

Do check it out – http://microjs.com by Thomas Fuchs

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Next>> (Mobile Gaming Tools)

Trend in Social Media – 2012

Struggle & Contradiction in 4 different dimensions – that is how I can summarize the trend in social media.

  1. Open Web vs. Walled Social Media
  2. Social Media Usage vs. Social Media ROI
  3. Adding Social Dimension to Search vs. Biasing the Search Result
  4. Media Convergence vs. Social Media Proliferation

Having said that I need to admit that in another dimension there is no struggle, no contradiction – it is going up … up … up.

Usage of Social Media through Mobile

Whichever statistics you look at – whatever prediction you see; more people are accessing social media sites through their smartphones and tablets. More social media applications are getting downloaded. This trend is not going to decelerate in the near future.

The State of Media: The Social Media Report – Q3 2011 from Nielsen brings out these interesting facts:

  • Close to 40% user access social media content from their mobile phone
  • Next to GPS, social networking is the most valued feature in a smart phone
  • In last one year, Social Networking App usage has gone up by 30%
  • Social Networking Apps are third most popular app category after Games and Weather
  • Over twice as many people aged 55+ visited social networking site from their mobile phone compared to last year

Another interesting piece of stats appear in eWeek:

Of Facebook’s 845 million users, 425 million of them used Facebook’s mobile apps or its mobile Website in December 2011, up from the 350 million that Facebook reported last.

This clearly shows that mobile usage is growing faster than Facebook’s desktop usage.

1) Open Web vs. Walled Social Media

Till Facebook came in, web was mostly open. Two of the key drivers behind the success of the Web are (1) the ease with which pages can be hyperlinked irrespective of where it is hosted and which site it belongs to and (2) the ease with which you can search a specific page which has been indexed by search engine mainly Google.

However, most social media especially Facebook do not allow Google to search and index their pages. Even if you have access to specific pages in Facebook, you will not be able to search and find those pages using Google. You will necessarily have to login to Facebook and do the search. This is not true for sites like Wikipedia.

But, is that not a fight between Facebook and Google? Anyway, this is true for most sites which require a login. So, what is the big problem?

You may not want to classify this as a problem but you need to acknowledge that this is a big change because people are spending more and more time inside their favorite Social Media which is likely to be Facebook. What you do inside Facebook and what you do outside becomes almost two different worlds with very little linkage.

The question is:

Will this division increase in the coming future and make the web into multiple walled gardens?

Or

Will social media become more open preserving the open nature of the web?

This issue was first raised by Tim-Berners Lee more than a year back but has again become a point of debate because of the coming IPO of Facebook. The views differ from “this is a serious problem” to “users don’t care” to “it is not a big problem” to “we need to do something about it”.

2) Social Media Usage vs. Social Media ROI

Look at these stats:

  • Facebook has more than 0.8 billion users (see Wikipedia)
  • Use of Social Business Software will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 38% through 2014 (see this)
  • Social Network and Blog continue to dominate time online accounting for 22.5% (see this)
  • 57% of the SMB surveyed plan to use social media marketing, an increase of 7% from the prior year (see this)

On every count social media use is not only increasing but increasing very fast. There is also no shortage of expert opinion on the necessity of increasing social media presence like “how social media is indispensable to news reporting” to “why social commerce will take off in 2012” to “why business won’t be able to afford NOT to use social media for marketing”.

This should translate into clear measurable benefit of social media influence … right?

Wrong.

There are several studies which put a dampener on this enthusiasm. Here are 2 of them which paints not so rosy picture of impact of social media.

In addition, experts are trying to figure out how to measure social influence. Can you go by the Klout score? Or, do you look at Kred or PeerIndex?

So, on one hand –

You feel that social media cannot be ignored and you need to be present and invest in it.

On the other hand –

You are worried about how to justify the investment.

BTW: Do you have to justify ROI on email?

3) Adding Social Dimension to Search vs. Biasing the Search Result

If you have to point out one company that is the prime source of the two contradictions mentioned above, it is obviously Facebook.

However, for this point it is Google is the prime mover.

To counter the influence of Facebook, Google has decided to go social, that is, to add a social dimension to everything that it does. Therefore, the search results have started showing so-and-so has either shared or liked this result. It has even started saying that you yourself have shared or +1ed this link.

Is this good?

Because you immediately get the opinion of people you know and probably trust.

Or, is this bad?

Because you are stuck in a close loop where “A” influences “B” and “B” influences “A” creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Only time will tell.

4) Media Convergence vs. Social Media Proliferation

Traditional TV and the internet will probably converge and reshape the way we choose how, when and why we watch television. All of our media devices including our television sets, computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones could come together to offer us more social and sharable television experiences that we can enjoy whenever we want. Many of us are no longer consuming digital content on a single device. We now have two screens when consuming media (TV + laptop, tablet + Phone etc) and the lines between those devices will become even more blurred. Instead, we tweet on our laptops while viewing a TV program, watch another show on their tablet during a commercial or look up lyrics on our smartphones while listening to a song on the radio.

As consumers begin to access digital content from a wider variety of devices — including, most recently, smartphones and tablets — publishers are beginning to offer subscription packages that allow them to access content on all of those devices for one flat fee. Because of the acceleration of print to Tablet swap, the smart traditional publications are already making the transition, but many will get left behind as printed media will quickly become obsolete as time passes.

This is one side of the picture.

Because of the dominance of Facebook, the other side of the picture is slightly obscure and not clearly visible. There is no doubt the Facebook is huge compared to all the other rivals. But, look at some of these statistics:

  • LinkedIn 277% More Effective for Lead Generation than Facebook & Twitter (see this)
  • YouTube hits 4 billion daily video views (see this)
  • Twitter is the most popular social media channel with content marketers (see this)
  • Google+ Hits 100 Million Users and may reach 400 million by year end (see this)
  • Pinterest Becomes Top Traffic Driver for Retailers (see this)
  • Tumblr is the emerging social media player nearly tripling its audience in one year (see this)

Granted, these platforms put together may be smaller than Facebook but you have to admit that there is proliferation happening in social media with niche players emerging. The problem is they do not talk to each other. Therefore…

Though –

Different media are converging.

The problem is that –

Social media are diverging and they are not interoperable…the walled garden effect that we had talked earlier.

Will we see a Social Media Black Swan in 2012?

No, I am not talking about Black Swan the movie; I am talking about the “Black Swan Theory” proposed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Till the black swan, a member of the species Cygnus Atratus, was described scientifically by English naturalist John Latham in 1790, people thought swan could only be white.

Similarly, there are unexpected and unpredicted events happen in technology evolution which takes us by surprise. The event has a major impact and we try to rationalize as if it could have been expected.

Are we going to witness any such event around Social Media in 2012?

Cross-Platform Mobile Code Generator – a Tool Comparison

This is the fourth post for cross-platform mobile development tool comparison. There are two more to come. For convenience of analysis, I had divided the tools into five categories (here is an overview). They are:

(1)    Mobile Web (JavaScript-CSS library),
(2)    Visual Tool (No access to Code),
(3)    App Generator (Native application for multiple platforms),
(4)    Hybrid App (Leverages embedded browser control) and
(5)    Game Builder

The classification is somewhat arbitrary and for some tools it becomes little difficult to classify but here is my logic.

  • Mobile Web = Can be used to create a mobile web site
  • Visual Tool = The UI is created using a visual editor
  • App Generator = Written in single language for all platform
  • Hybrid App = Used browser control to implement the native application
  • Game Builder = Primarily used for game development

Here are 6 tools – the ordering is alphabetic.

1. Adobe – Flex Builder

2. Appcelerator – Titanium

3. MoSync

  • Home page: Link
  • Genesis: MoSync is a Sweden based company which focuses on mobile applications and services and  founded in late 2004
  • Language used: JavaScript, HTML5 and C++
  • Version: 2.7
  • Licensing: Free Community (GPL) and Free Indie version (one developer per organization)
  • Download: Link
  • Documentation: Link
  • Sample application: Link to list of applications
  • Implementation: Case Study
  • Wikipedia: Link
  • Article on how to use: Video

4. Open Plug – Studio

  • Home page: Link
  • Genesis: Since December 15th 2011, OpenPlug Studio is no longer maintained.

5. Rho Mobile – Rhodes

6. Xamarin – Mono

For the earlier posts, you have pointed out several omissions and wrong classifications and I have tried correcting them. I promise to do the same for all the six posts.

So, please do let me know if there are any errors and omissions in the details I have provided.

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Next>> (Hybrid Mobile Tools)

How Fast Does Technology Change?

How fast does technology change? What is its impact?

It is something like the hour hand of a clock. If you keep staring at it you would feel that it always remains stationary. If you go away and come back after sometime, you will see that it has moved a lot.

The same thing is true with technology.

Amara’s law

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”Roy Amara was a researcher, scientist and past president of the Institute for the Future.

[The photo of Roy Amara is taken from Pete Steege ‘s blog]

Many people including Bill Gates have repeated these words but my search result points to Roy Amara as the originator of this statement. [See Wikipedia]

Joseph Licklider, who is considered by many as the person who brought the idea of cloud computing to the forefront also said something similar – “…People tend to overestimate what can be done in one year and to underestimate what can be done in five or ten years…” [See Wikia].

Look at Gartner’s Priority Matrix

Along with the hype cycle of emerging technologies, Gartner also releases a priority matrix which ranks all the listed technology on 2 dimensions – “benefit” and “years to mainstream adoption”. The top left corner indicates transformational technologies which will go mainstream in next 2 years. Here is a snapshot of the priority matrix for 2009, 10 & 11.

Most curious thing about these priority matrixes is the empty square at the top left corner (2009 contains almost defunct term web 2.0).

What is being said loud and clear is that:

For last 3 years there has been no technology which is expected to have a transformational impact in next couple of years.

Looking 10 years back

However, if you step back 10 years and rewind to beginning of 2002, you will see a picture which was quiet different.

  • Wikipedia was still an experiment – for serious stuff you looked into Encyclopedia Britannica
  • The term Web 2.0 had not yet been coined
  • There was no Gmail
  • Social Media or Social Networking was not invented – so obviously no Facebook
  • The terms Cloud Computing, SaaS, IaaS, PaaS where still 5 years into the future
  • Google IPO was still 2 years away
  • Apple had just reported a loss of 25 million USD in 2001
  • iPod has just been launched – iPhone and iPad where nowhere in sight
  • The leader in mobile phone was Nokia, Motorola, Samsung & Siemens – no BlackBerry yet

Here is a collection of mobile handsets from that era – taken from In Pictures: A History of Cell Phones

Look at some of the technology related predictions made by Gartner for 2002 (full detail here):

“…across industries, geographies and businesses, the use of IT as an engine for efficiency, growth and opportunity will remain undiminished in 2002, although it will be accompanied by healthy skepticism and smarter planning…”

  • Consumers will go online, finally, with the number using online account management doubling by 2005
  • Through 2004, businesses will continue to view the discipline of CRM as a critical component of corporate strategy
  • More than 50 percent of mobile applications deployed at the start of 2002 will be obsolete by the end of 2002
  • By 2004, Web services will dominate deployment of new application solutions for Fortune 2000 companies
  • During 2002, leading-edge businesses will exploit application integration to generate business innovation

Compare it with the 2012 list:

“…Gartner defines a strategic technology as one with the potential for significant impact on the enterprise in the next three years. Factors that denote significant impact include a high potential for disruption to IT or the business, the need for a major dollar investment, or the risk of being late to adopt…”

  1. Media Tablets and Beyond
  2. Mobile-Centric Applications and Interfaces
  3. Contextual and Social User Experience
  4. Internet of Things
  5. App Stores and Marketplaces
  6. Next-Generation Analytics
  7. Big Data
  8. In-Memory Computing
  9. Extreme Low-Energy Servers
  10. Cloud Computing

Are we living in the same world?

Therefore…

If you are into predicting technology change, it is very safe to make a prediction for next one year. You can confidently say that thinks will remain the same … well more or less. Only exception is when a “Black Swan” event like iPhone launch happens. Anyway, Black Swan, by definition cannot be predicted.

But, if you want to make prediction for next 3 to 5 year, you will be in much more difficult wicket (for those of you who do not care about cricket, the game – it means it would be much more difficult to predict). Try predicting for next 10 years…

However, the moral of the story is to step back and put every change in proper context – and not to “Miss the wood for the trees”.

Big Data – Is it a solution in search of a problem?

If you look at the predictions made for 2012, you will find a new entry which was not there last year. Be it Gartner, Forrester or McKenzie  – “Big Data” finds a place in the prediction.

So, what is big data? Is it the next path breaking technology which will change everything or is it just a hype which will die down after sometime?

Let us take a realistic look at what the term big data mean and what problem it can solve.

What is “Big Data”?

(The Wikipedia page on Big Data is not that good. The clearest explanation I have found is from O’Reilly Radar – here is the link)

Here is a short explanation.

Big Data is the name given to the classes of technologies that needs to be used when your data volume becomes so much that the RDBMS technologies can no longer handle it.

Big data spans three dimensions (taken from this article of IBM):

  • Variety – Big data extends beyond structured data, including unstructured data of all varieties: text, audio, video, click streams, log files and more.
  • Velocity – Often time-sensitive, big data must be used as it is streaming in to the enterprise in order to maximize its value to the business.
  • Volume – Big data comes in one size: large. Enterprises are awash with data, easily amassing terabytes and even petabytes of information.

In short – if your data volume can be handled efficiently by RDBMS you NEED NOT worry about Big Data.

How did it all start?

With the advent of cloud computing which provided easy access to massive amount distributed computing power there was a realization RDBMS cannot be effectively parallelized. In fact CAP theorem states that Consistency, Availability & Partition Tolerance cannot simultaneously be guaranteed. This led to a No-SQL movement and multiple non-relational databases sprang up.

Trigger Point of Big Data happened when Google published the paper on the “Map-Reduce” algorithm. It involves processing of highly distributable problems across huge datasets using a large number of computers. Map-Reduce is at the heart of Google’s search engine.

Takeoff happened when Apache open source “Hadoop” project which created its own implementation of Map-Reduce. The largest Hadoop implementation is probably at Facebook.

In short: Big Data requires large DISTRIBUTED processing power.

Why would you want to process so much data?

There are 3 basic assumptions which are driving the big data movement:

  1. Faster analysis of larger operational data will help you make better decision
  2. More in-depth analysis of customer data will guide you to better customer segmentation
  3. Insight into larger data set will help you come up with innovative product design

Companies that have successfully leveraged this are Google, Facebook, Amazon, Walmart, Yahoo etc.

In short – the ASSUMPTION is that more data and faster analytics will lead to more innovation and better decision making.

3 Prerequisites for leveraging Big Data

Let us assume that your data volume is large enough and you have access to enough distributed processing power. Will that be sufficient for you to venture into big data?

No … you need three more things.

  1. Business problem which you think that the data at your disposal can help to resolve
  2. Set of questions to be answered through data analysis
  3. Algorithm to analyze the data – this is the domain of the new field Data Science

Big Data will be useful only if you are equipped with all these.

Therefore, for most of us, Big Data is a solution which is in search of a problem.