As we saw in the first two parts of this article, the time has come for processes to reinvent themselves as sets of separate but collaborating practices. For this reinvention to happen, new approaches are required to make the practices more accessible, to assemble them into a coherent way-of-working, and to let you apply them in the way that you want. In this installment, we examine the innovations needed to make a practice-based approach work, and how EssWork delivers these innovations to you.
A New User Experience
To change how people use process descriptions, we use a "card metaphor" (as in 5x3-inch index cards) to present the most important things about a practice. The cards, samples of which are shown in Figure 1, immediately bring the practice to life. They present a succinct summary of the most important things you need to remember about the practice. On their own, they provide enough information for you to apply the practiceincluding information such as where you are, when you can stop, and when you are finished. In most cases, all you need to apply a practice is the set of cards.
The cards also help you adapt the practice. You can scribble on the cards to make them more specific to your project needs. This provides a unique way to tune the practice on the fly and capture lessons learned using it. You can even write out additional cards to extend the practice as you come up with new ways of doing things.
Every card has a guideline presenting the next level of essential information to help you apply the practice. The guidelines are short (two to four pages) and to the point. Thus, they have more detailbut not too much. In teams, you expect members to have different backgrounds and competencies. Competent members use the cards to drive their work, while the guidelines put less experienced members on the same page. If team members are novices, no amount of textual descriptions will help. Consequently, we recommend they receive coaching from a more experienced team member, use an active practice, go for some training, or read a book.
In this way, practice descriptions are deliberately kept succinct and lightweight. This is good because their goal is to focus on essentials, which by definition are a subset of the entire practice area. Moreover, there is no need to repeat existing information (in books or papers, for instance) about the practice. The intention is not to supplant or replace the existing reference material, but to complement it with a simple description of the practice in a form that can be used on a daily basis when developing software.
The guidelines refer to additional support materials. They cite standard references and information sources, rather than trying to rewrite or replace them. This is particularly powerful when presenting your existing practices in this new format, as you need only distill the essentials for your cards and guidelines, rather than reformatting/rewriting existing information. Practices can now be presented as a set of printed cards and guidelines (and used in the way that XP projects use User Story Cards), and electronically as part of an active, integrated way-of-working.
Manipulating and accessing materials in both a physical and electronic fashion lets teams work in ways that suit them. Most teams will use a mixture of physical cards (to facilitate team communication and group events) and an electronic environment (to provide online help and access to the way-of-working).