Experiences in Release Planning: Two Days in the Life of an Agile Newbie

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Summary:
Hello, my name is Maurice Sare. (my friends call me Mo). I am a first level tech lead/engineering manager at Gameonics, Inc, a multinational developer of distributed gaming for PCs and now, it seems, "smart phones." I've only been here a few weeks. Before that, I worked for a company that developed operating systems for smart phones, so I know something about the domain, but I've never worked at the applications layer, before. Before this, I hadn't had any formal training in agile development practices.

Hello, my name is Maurice Sare. ( my friends call me Mo ). I am a first level tech lead/engineering manager at Gameonics, Inc, a multinational developer of distributed gaming for PCs and now, it seems, "smart phones." I've only been here a few weeks. Before that, I worked for a company that developed operating systems for smart phones, so I know something about the domain, but I've never worked at the applications layer, before.  Before this, I hadn't had any formal training in agile development practices.  

I run the graphics team here - a long way from that kernel stuff I had been working on. Gameonics has decided to adopt "agile methods across the enterprise" (whatever that is), which is predicted to affect all 1,000 developers over time (including testers, project managers, docs engineering support, etc.) over time. Because of the impact it has had on me, I have decided to share my experiences of a two-day "release planning event" that I just attended. Frankly, it has changed my view of Gameonics and its future, not to mention my understanding of agility.

At my prior company, we experimented with Scrum a bit and had a standup meeting every day and I understood it was just for small teams. Anyway, I've always considered myself to be an agile developer, so going into this meeting I'm about to describe, I wasn't so sure there was that much to learn.

With me at this meeting were my teammates, Lawrence, who was my "product owner" ( whatever that is, remember, I am new ) and my architect/lead developer Scott, ( I know what that is ). The meeting was held in our offices in Chicago, and I was told that key team members from our Chicago, London, Bangalore and Denver offices would be there. Forty-five people in total! I would have rather spent the money on software tools than travel budget , I thought, and anyway, this meeting is likely way too big to do anything useful .

Day One

9:00 - 10:00 Business Context

After some milling about outside the meeting room, and meeting some new people from the remote offices, including other managers that I just knew would be important over time, amazingly, the meeting started on time. There were a number of executives in the room, including Jan, my boss' boss. There was also some kind of an "agile coach" named Bill present; he and Jan introduced the agenda for the day. I didn't understand if Bill worked for us or was just some outside gun hired to help run a big meeting. No matter, but he seemed to have done this before.

The first session was a presentation by our Division VP ( group VP, whatever, I don't remember his name and didn't catch his exact title ). He brought us up to date on the most recent quarterly financial results, defined some key objectives for the upcoming quarters, and told us about his most recent meeting with our two key customer constituents, the device manufacturers and carriers. He emphasized the need for improved quality and improved productivity. ( So what is new? - I know, let's just work smarter, not harder, yeah right....don't these guys get Dilbert? ) He warned that the company's market share is being threatened by a few VC backed upstarts, plus we've heard rumors that Giggle, a major player in the industry, may be also entering the market. More importantly, he described his vision. In his view, what we used to consider a stand-alone, PC- based gaming business, where we are the de

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