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Pietro Margutti - Operans Project April 2008, STC-TAC Conference

Technical Writers in Scrum Teams

• Scrum !?!
• Software Development Models
• Agile Methods and Scrum
• Technical Writers in Scrum Teams
• Some Difficulties
• Conclusions

Scrum !?!

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Pietro Margutti - Operans Project April 2008, STC-TAC Conference

Scrum in rugby
• The method of beginning play in which the forwards of
each team crouch side by side with locked arms
• Play starts when the ball is thrown between them and
the two sides compete for possession.
[Source: http://www.thefreedictionary.com]

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Coordination to govern the chaos and win


• Looks very chaotic
• In fact requires careful coordination in
a stressful situation
• Each player has a specific role in the
scrum
• The whole team plays, and the whole
team wins or loses

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Software Development Models

Development steps (part of overall lifecycle)


• Vision
• Marketing Analysis
• Technical Design
• Implementation (including user doc)
• Testing and Qualification
• Commercialization
• Maintenance
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Pietro Margutti - Operans Project April 2008, STC-TAC Conference

Waterfall model for software development


• First defined in 1970 Requirements Analysis

by W.Royce, who Analysis Coding

started criticizing it Design

• Sequential model Coding

• Often criticized but still very


Testing

Installation
popular and widely used
Maintenance
• Applied against unstructured approach
(cowboy coding or code-and-fix model)
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Rigid waterfall procedures …


• Prescribe a perfect sequence of development
steps: requirements, analysis, design,
implementation, documentation, and tests.
• Are effective only when the phases remain stable
and predictable during the entire process.
• Errors and modifications would cause unexpected
and costly backward steps.

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… and also:
• Establishes a rigid separation of roles & responsibilities
• Results in treating people as a factor of production
• Discourages cooperation across departments  conflicts:
- Marketing vs Technical dept: stability of requirements
- Development vs QA: quality and usability of software
• Technical communicators always try to make peace,
don’t we?
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Criticisms to the waterfall model


• Requirements must be fixed before system design
• Design and code work often turn up requirements
inconsistencies, missing components, and unexpected
needs
• Late problem discovery during system testing
• System performance cannot be tested until the system
is almost completed
[Source: Internet Archive (web.archive.org)]

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Pietro Margutti - Operans Project April 2008, STC-TAC Conference

New models proposed, e.g.:


• Modified Waterfalls: overlapping phases / sub-projects
• Spiral model: breaking the project up into mini-projects
• Evolutionary Prototyping: refining prototype until OK
• Staged Delivery: incremental implementation
• and more ...
 no model can be the best for all projects, it depends …
[Source: Steve McConnell, Rapid Development, Microsoft Press, 1996]

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In the real world …


• Marketing requirements may change during the
development process
• Users get to know what they really want only they see
the first version of the software
• New tools and technologies can greatly influence initial
implementation strategies
• Financial support to the project may cease if no visible
result (running software) is shown
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Pietro Margutti - Operans Project April 2008, STC-TAC Conference

Defined Process Control …


• Theoretical models have failed in many non-trivial
software projects
• Complex interactions and constantly changing
conditions make software development too
unpredictable for a theoretically defined approach
• Application of Defined Process Control does not ensure
success

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… or Empirical Process Control


• Guiding the process step by step
• Ensuring that the process progressively converges
• Introducing flexibility, adaptability, and productivity
• Moving focus from defined process to people tasks
• Govern the chaos!

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Because that’s the real world

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Agile Methods and Scrum

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Pietro Margutti - Operans Project April 2008, STC-TAC Conference

The Agile Manifesto


Important More important
Process and Tools Individuals and Interaction
Detailed Process Doc. Functioning Software
Contract Negotiations Collaboration w/ customers
Following a Plan Adapting to Changes
[Source: Manifesto for Agile Software Development, www.agilemanifesto.org]

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Agile Methods
• Agile methods as reaction to processes that look good
in theory but that often do not hold up in practice
• Empirical and based entirely on practical experiences
and work methods that are proven to work
• Central concept is adaptation to change
• List includes: Extreme Programming (XP), Scrum, …
[Source: Scrum in five minutes, www.softhouse.se]

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Pietro Margutti - Operans Project April 2008, STC-TAC Conference

History of Scrum method (1)


• The New New Product Development Game
article by H.Takeuchi and I.Nonaka
• “What we need today is constant innovation in a world
of constant change”
• Built-in Instability: clear goals but no fixed work plan
• Self-organizing Teams, Overlapping Development Phases
• Self control, control through peer pressure
• Multi-level & multi-functional learning, learning transfer

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History of Scrum method (2)


• Scrum method by J.Sutherland & K.Schwaber
Enhancements by Mike Beedle

• Publication of Agile Software Development


with Scrum by Ken Schwaber & Mike Beedle

• … and then
successful use of Scrum in several SW projects

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Pietro Margutti - Operans Project April 2008, STC-TAC Conference

How Scrum works: the people


• A Scrum team is typically made up of five to nine full-
time people, including a scrum master, various
development and test engineers, and at least one
technical writer
• A product owner, typically a product manager, knows
what needs to be build and in what sequence this
should be done

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How Scrum works: the methodology


• The requirements are collected in a prioritized list, the
product backlog, by the product owner
• Development is organized in short iterations, or sprints,
focused on a selected set of high-priority requirements
• Sprints are planned in detail in order to deliver a
working and documented product release
• The Scrum team works in close cooperation and meets
every day (daily scrum) to discuss and resolve problems
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The Scrum process

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An important rule to govern the chaos


• No outside influence (management, product owner, …)
can interference with the Scrum team during the Sprint
 Team members are committed to the goals (pigs),
anybody else may be involved (chickens) and attend the
meetings but not interfere!
• The Product Owner can change the Product Backlog at
any time, but submit new priorities to the Team only
during the Sprint Planning
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Chickens and Pigs

[Courtesy of www.implementingscrum.com]
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Scrum Room

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Technical Writers in Scrum Teams

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Opportunities
• At least one Technical Writer is part of a cross-functional
Scrum team
• Our role is definitely more important and we can follow
the development of new products right from the start
• Project visibility: we become part of the transfer of
learning
• New job opportunities for techwriters in Scrum projects
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Pietro Margutti - Operans Project April 2008, STC-TAC Conference

Basic Tasks
• Ensure that the documentation tasks are properly
defined at the beginning of each Sprint
• Define the terms of documentation completeness
• Attend and participate actively in relevant meetings
• Complete the documentation tasks in the sprints
• Keep the global documentation release in mind

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New tasks
• Opportunities beyond our classic job profile
• User Stories (Agile methods)
• Use Cases (UML)
• Usability studies
• Scrum is channeling creativity in focused and productive
ways

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New capabilities
• Formal languages, UML - Unified Modeling Language
• Knowledge of software engineering standards and
techniques
• Develop sufficient skills to actively follow the daily
meeting with software specialists and to interact with
them effectively
• Information may not be available in formal
specifications
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Best Practices: Bottom-up vs Top-down


• Scrum teams deliver incremental releases: product (and
documentation) starts from a small subset and then
grows progressively
• While staying focused on the individual features being
released, we should use our experience to keep in mind
the big picture, i.e. the final documentation targets.
• Bottom-up implementation should be integrated by a
top-down design
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Pietro Margutti - Operans Project April 2008, STC-TAC Conference

Best Practices: Technologies and Methods


• Using topic-oriented approach (e.g. XML, DITA)
• Leveraging user stories to produce task-oriented
documentation
• Applying minimalist principles
• Participating as an active team member
[Source: T.Berry, A.Gentle, Writing End-User Documentation in an Agile Development Environment, CIDM June 2006]

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Best Practices: Topic-oriented approach


• Modular approach perfectly suits scrum development
• From a unique narrative flow (book-oriented) to
cohesive, self-contained, re-usable elements
• Authoring templates and structures for guiding authors
to answer basic questions: “What is…”, “How do I …”,
“What went wrong …”
• Maps / Sections / TOC design guides the assembling
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Best Practices: Task-based Documentation


• User documentation can follows the User Stories of the
agile analysis techniques
• Identify the user(s)
• Look at all the ways in which the user(s) might need to
work with the product
• User tasks as key elements around which creating
concept and reference material (DITA)
• Task orientation helps applying minimalist principles
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Best Practices: Minimalism


• Learn at using new technology:
From the legendary funnel of Nurnberg (texts by
J.Carrol) to the fast training session in Matrix movie
• Plain instructional solution to learning problem
• The learner, not the system determines the model
• Not only less words, but the right words
• Writing / translating / maintaining costs
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Pietro Margutti - Operans Project April 2008, STC-TAC Conference

Some Difficulties

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The Scrum World


• Full-time office job, difficult to work at home
• Daily scrum meeting: what did you do yesterday? what
do you plan to do today?
• Continuous personal interactions
• Peer control, each participant sharing success or failures
• No more privacy, uncomfortable visibility

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A Cultural Clash
• Typically lone writer in the team
• Sort of alien in the technical team
• Initial exclusion: “we do not have anything for you to
document yet”; “we do not need you in the Scrum yet”
• Communication difficulties, technical jargon or
terminology

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Collecting information
• Incomplete or missing specifications:
some technical document may be optional in Scrum
• Technical details are discussed in meetings and not
formalized
• Preliminary and unstable software
• Rapidly changing design

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Short schedules
• Short delivery schedules:
product release become monthly iteration release
• Detailed tasks estimations
• Timesheet reporting by the hour
• After a while, team may be very productive, hard to
keep up

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Estimation skills
• Activity planning and tracking is very detailed during
the Sprints
• Activity reporting is public knowledge
• Keep detailed track of time spent for each activity
• Difficulties can be an opportunity to improve our
estimation skills

[Source: C.M.Sigman, Adapting to Scrum: Challenging and Strategies, Intercom July 2007]

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Pietro Margutti - Operans Project April 2008, STC-TAC Conference

Basic Survival Kit (1)


• Attend the daily Scrum and all relevant meetings
• Take an interest in all of the work being done
• Contribute beyond the job assignments
• Play with the team, be an active member and get the
confidence of the others, …

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Basic Survival Kit (2)


• Learn how to control the flow of documentation work
• Try to avoid that all work arrives in the final week of the
sprint
• Define the exact documentation goals for each sprint
• Include documentation design in the sprint planning
• Agree if documentation can lag behind one or more
iterations
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Pietro Margutti - Operans Project April 2008, STC-TAC Conference

Conclusions

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A new working environment


• Cross-functional team: do we want to be part of it?
• Creative, lively, and empathetic environment
• A lot to learn and quite a bit to teach
• The key of success if the active participation
• Encourage and embrace face to face communication

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Pietro Margutti - Operans Project April 2008, STC-TAC Conference

That’s it!
Questions? Comments?
Ask now or contact me later at:

piero.margutti@operans.it

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References
Articles
• W. Royce , Managing The Development Of Large Software Systems, in IEEE WESCON Proceedings, Aug 1970
• H.Takeuchi , I.Nonaka , The New New Product Development Game , in Harvard Business Review, Jan-Feb 1986
• C.Sigman, Adapting Challenges and Strategies to Scrum , Intercom magazine Jul-Aug 2007
• T.Berry, A.Gentle, Writing End–User Documentation in an Agile Development Environment, CIDM, Jun 2006

Books
• P.DeGrace , L.H. Stahl, Wicked Problems, Righteous Solutions , 1998
• K.Schwaber , M.Beedle, Agile Software development with Scrum, 2001
• David Churchville, Agile Thinking, Leading Successful Software Projects and Teams, 2008
• J.Carrol, The Nurnberg Funnel: Designing Minimalist Instruction for Practical Computer Skill, 1990
• J.Carrol, Minimalism Beyond the Nurnberg Funnel, 1998

Web links
• www.implementingscrum.com www.scrumalliance.org
• www.agilemanifesto.org www.controlchaos.com
• www.rapidinnovation.ning.com www.infomanagementcenter.com

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