The End of a Successful Week in California

Posted on Sunday, the 1st of March, 2009.

Tagged: and

Last night, my colleague/manager and I returned from a week at PlayPhone's head office in sunny San José, California. I figured I should try to put together a bit of a writeup whilst it's all still fresh in my mind, but I'm still somewhat running on Pacific Time so this will probably be a bit garbled.


All in all, the trip was a success. Obviously the main goals were business related, and I think we came up trumps on those. We've emerged with a really clear idea of what we need to deliver in the next couple of months, and how to deliver it.

Cube Farm, PlayPhone San José

I'm not entirely sure how much of what we're working on is classified, but it's probably fairly dull to anyone not directly involved with PlayPhone anyway, so I won't dwell on details. Suffice to say that it's a large integration project, with development effort happening in four countries (the US, Brazil, Argentina and of course London, UK).

The bulk of communication so far had been email, IM and telephone/video conferencing. It turns out that none of these come close to being as productive as meeting in person: prior to heading out there, the team in London were fairly vague about how the project would progress, and this week has significantly improved the situation.

It also turns out that there are some really smart guys driving the project from the San José office, and the whole exercise is being taken very, very seriously indeed by the business, so there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about it.

We've emerged with a product backlog and clearly defined - if hilariously ambitious - milestones. Back in London, the challenge is now to break those deliverables down into sprints and bite-sized tasks that can be handed to developers. The PHP team in London is also smart, and has a lot of experience in building mobile portals, so I think we're well placed to deliver on our goals. Prototyping, designing and building a PHP-based mobile Web app is the easy part for us!

I described the milestones as "ambitious", but what I really mean here is "impossible". Fortunately, the guys out there seem to be pragmatists and are happy to drop features at the less crucial end of the spectrum. I see no harm in aiming high so long as you're willing to drop features that are not needed when time runs short.

The View, PlayPhone San José

What I find particularly interesting is that the company/companies involved are taking an agile approach to the project, specifically Scrum. Distributed Scrum has been made to work in the past and it'll be interesting to see how well it works for us over four countries and timezones.

If it does, the payoff should be considerable. We'll have integrated four discrete technical concerns in a matter of months, and for my part, the chance to architect and build a mobile Web platform that will support some major, major clients' (think ABC, National Geographic, Wal-Mart etc) mobile portals is pretty exciting.

Outside Work

Of course, it wasn't all work. San José being San José, we stayed in San Francisco, and managed to see quite a lot of California in between. This was mostly thanks to our lovely colleague Natalie (formerly of the London office) and her famous Nissan Versa. One evening we drove over the Golden Gate bridge to Marin County and Sausalito, and enjoyed excellent seafood and Californian chardonnay at Horizons.

Another evening was spent in Haight-Ashbury, enjoying duck sausages and surprisingly good locally-microbrewed IPA at Magnolia, followed by Cosmopolitans (which seemed to get stronger as the evening wore on...) at Aub Zam Zam. Other highlights included the bewilderingly large burgers at Counter Burger in San José's upscale Santana Row district, and breakfast at Sears Fine Food on Powell.

The lengthy commute was actually a pleasure, and was made all the more entertaining by a combination of Fernando and Greg's radio show, and Natalie's comedy driving.

So I'll end by thanking Natalie for making the whole week a real pleasure, and all at the San José office (especially the Engineering guys who are working on the Alexander project - Luis, Vineet, Naveen, Asif, Keith et al.) for welcoming us, and for making sure that we had enough meetings to attend, and never ran short of information to digest!


Posted by Jeremy Quinton on Sunday, the 1st of March, 2009.

That's really good news. I'm looking forward to getting stuck in on the project and using Scrum for the methodology.

Posted by Ciaran McNulty on Monday, the 2nd of March, 2009.

It'd be interesting to hear in a few months how the Scrum method works out for you - a lot of what I've read seems to put emphasis on daily stand-up meetings etc. so it would be good to see how that works in a distributed manner (even if it's a case of just splitting into mini-scrums in each country).

Posted by Simon Harris on Thursday, the 19th of March, 2009.

That's pretty much it, Ciaran. Scrum recommends discrete teams of 6 or 7 people (which is exactly the size of the London PHP team). The plan then is that you have a scrum-of-scrums at pre-defined intervals, whereby the "scrum masters" all get together and talk about what their chaps have been up to.

Reactions so far seem to be very positive, with a few reservations. I'd like to put together a further post on this topic in due course.

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