Teaching lean and agile at Devine. Basic project management techniques for students

By June 5, 2013blog
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The challenge

During the final weeks of their second year, students at Devine (Howest) have to complete a group assignment. They are briefed on the first day, and they have to deliver a website, a mobile application and an infographic three weeks later.

Last year, their teachers noticed that only 1 in 2 groups were able to deliver a fully finished project. The other half delivered only partially, with just designs or code that wasn’t working properly.

 

So I was asked to give the students a 3-hour crash course with some basic project management techniques. The aim was to provide them with some elements from the agile toolkit, helping them to deliver on time.

Introduction

I started off with a short intro, with masterpiece mentality as a metaphor for waterfall thinking. Projects fail because of linear thinking. Translated into a default digital project: people tend to think about concept too long, and overly focus on design in such a way, that they don’t have time left to do the actual coding (this is an oversimplification, but you get my point).

The alternative is a continuous improvement approach, applying multiple iterations to your project. I finished the introduction with Pareto, and the fact that 80% of your application’s value lies in 20% of the code.

User Stories

Next up was the concept of User Stories.

After this introduction on user stories, each of the 15 groups had to make a backlog for their upcoming project.

For some groups I used Twitter as an example to illustrate the concept of a user story.

Planning poker & prioritization

After they made their own backlogs, I asked the groups to give story points to every user story.

Then came prioritization. Really interesting, as most groups were struggling with priorities. What is most important? The technical most complex stories? Or the things their end customers needed? (In this case, the teachers that would give them points after three weeks) These are exactly the same questions that rise when applying user stories in a real-life environment.

Burndown & Scrum

As soon as they had given points to their stories, I illustrated the use of story points and burndown charts with the Scrum for rock bands example.

Then I asked the teams to add the columns to do, ongoing and done at the top of their backlogs, and gave an introduction on scrum and its principles.

I illustrated the possibilities of Scrum for all kinds of projects with Agile at home. How your refrigerator will save your life.

Kanban

I finished with Kanban as an alternative for Scrum. Teams could add extra swimming lanes. I used this Lean from the Trenches blogpost as an example and suggested some online tools for collaboration if physical boards were impossible.

Conclusions

It’s actually possible to introduce 45 people to agile, lean, scrum and kanban and let them apply it on the spot on a real life project in less than 3 hours.

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The real effect of this workshop will only be visible within a few weeks, when the teams have to complete their assignments. I’ll update this post when I receive some feedback from the teachers. Fingers crossed!

photos © Wouter Verweirder

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