Monday, May 25, 2009

Paper : Introducing Scrum into Government

Here is an award winning industry paper by Adrian Royce, from the Australian Software Engineering Conference (ASWEC 2009), via Rowans blog.

Here are some extracts;

This paper outlines the steps the author took in introducing the Scrum agile process into the Dept of Housing and what lessons were learnt.

Housing has now been running the ‘Scrum’ agile project delivery process for over 2 years. During that time all software projects have been delivered on or ahead of agreed time frames. ICT staff, engaged in the Scrum process, became motivated about delivering value to the client. ICT staff morale increased which led to staff retention. Feedback from business units across the department indicates that the usage of Scrum is a success.

The agile process called “Scrum” was selected over the
alternatives because it:
  • Emphasized communication and collaboration, functioning software, and the flexibility to adapt to emerging business realities[1];
  • Was not just relevant for developers but the entireproject team; and
  • Embraced agile philosophies such as the Agile Manifesto[2].
I particularly like the summary, which highlights an often missed attribute of Scrum.

The use of Scrum was a success at the Department of Housing. However even as a lightweight methodology, it requires much discipline.

Whilst Scrum is an Agile method, Agile doesn't mean that there is a lack of discipline. In fact the contrary is true, in that Scrum and XP have a great deal of discipline. This is how higher quality software is produced. What is different from traditional 'waterfall' development is that redundant and wasteful practice has been removed.

If you are interested in such things, or how Scrum and Prince 2 integrated for this department, then go read the paper.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ubuntu 9.04, Nvidia and GeForce4 MX440

If nothing above applies, move along - nothing to see. This is one for the google search.

If you are trying to get Ubuntu and a GeForce4 MX 440 with AGP8X working at a decent resolution then the following may help. The information is a little scattered, so here it is in one place.

1. Download the latest version of the Nvidia driver

2. Install (instructions at the link)

If the screen fails to come up, or displays an error about choosing a different resolution and refresh rate then boot in safe mode, no user interface.

3. Modify your /etc/X11/xorg.conf like below (backup the default version first!) - you might need to brush up on your vi commands


You should see more resolution options when you open the Nvidia settings. You can then set your resolution.

4. To make the resolution stick, update the file /home/.username/.config/monitors.xml with your preferred resolution.

Links for futher information

Other Notes

1. Every time that you upgrade, you might need to re-install the Nvidia driver.
2. If you have a more modern card you might not need to do this.



# nvidia-settings: X configuration file generated by nvidia-settings
# nvidia-settings: version 1.0 (buildmeister@builder63) Mon Feb 23 15:44:13 PST 2009

Section "ServerLayout"
Identifier "Layout0"
Screen 0 "Screen0" 0 0
InputDevice "Keyboard0" "CoreKeyboard"
InputDevice "Mouse0" "CorePointer"

Section "Files"

Section "Module"
Load "dbe"
Load "extmod"
Load "type1"
Load "freetype"
Load "glx"

Section "ServerFlags"
Option "Xinerama" "0"

Section "InputDevice"
# generated from default
Identifier "Mouse0"
Driver "mouse"
Option "Protocol" "auto"
Option "Device" "/dev/psaux"
Option "Emulate3Buttons" "no"
Option "ZAxisMapping" "4 5"

Section "InputDevice"
# generated from default
Identifier "Keyboard0"
Driver "kbd"

Section "Monitor"
# HorizSync source: xconfig, VertRefresh source: xconfig
Identifier "Monitor0"
VendorName "Unknown"
ModelName "CRT-0"
HorizSync 30.0 - 81.0
VertRefresh 60.0
Option "DPMS"

Section "Device"
Identifier "Videocard0"
Driver "nvidia"
VendorName "NVIDIA Corporation"
BoardName "GeForce4 MX 440 with AGP8X"

Section "Screen"
Identifier "Screen0"
Device "Videocard0"
Monitor "Monitor0"
DefaultDepth 24
Option "metamodes" "1152x864_60 +0+0; 1280x1024_60 +0+0; 1024x768 +0+0; 800x600 +0+0; 640x480 +0+0; 800x600_60 +0+0"
SubSection "Display"
Depth 24
Modes "1600x1200" "1280x1024" "1024x768" "800x600" "640x480"


<monitors version="1">
<output name="default">

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My quick tips for UI design and another example

Here are some quick tips that I keep in mind for user interface design, bearing in mind that I'm not a graphic designer (so don't be too harsh on me!). I also found another user interface sample in the project archives.


Here are my six style rules (they are not so much rules as guidelines really) that I use when creating or making over a web or Lotus Notes user interface.

1. Rule of thirds

Most of my websites and notes apps are divided up into thirds, three columns or variants thereof. It's a well know composition technique that has been around a while.

2. Complementary Colours

There are a set of colours that work best together, so when I'm deciding on which colours I usually choose from a pallette of complementary colours. If you're not up on you primary colours and matching blends then do what I do and use the following websites to get a pallette to work with.

3. Restrict the numbers of colours

That's right. just because there are 12 colours that work well together, doesn't mean that you should use them all. Between 3 - 5 colours are a good combination that tends to be less distracting. That doesn't include a violator.

4. Consistent Fonts

Keep the fonts consistent. That is, try to keep the different types of fonts to maybe one or two types and ensure that they are both a serif or both san-serif. Ty not to mix the types. There are instances where mixing and matching can work, but typically that seems to be websites of traditional printed materials like newspapers that have a long history of serif fonts.

5. Alignment

Nothing stands out more that something that isn't lined up. Alignment that is inconsistent looks sloppy, unordered and distracting to the user. I believe that most user scan the screen and alignment helps to scan the information quickly.

6. White space

Pay attention to the space around your UI elements, do they looked like a can of sardines or could you park a bus between them. Playing around with your whitespace proportions can make all the difference, try it until the spacing feels right - then stop.

Whitespace is often used to create a balanced, harmonious layout


Here are my five functional guidelines.

1. Hide the irrelevant and clutter

If the user isn't suppose to click on that button, then hide it. If that information on the screen is not important at this stage of the workflow, then hide that too. Have you ever sold a house and removed all the clutter, cleaned the surfaces and made it look like a show home ? Do the same to your UI.

2. Consistent behavior

I don't like to surprise the users, if they click on one export button and it asks for a filename and fills in a default, the any other export buttons should do the same. In essence when they perform an action they should have the same experience.

3. Simplify the choices

Don't give the users 5 different ways to do something, that's four extra ways that they have to remember and recall. Sure, provide some level of personalisation in the way the user can interact, but the fewer the underlying choices the better.

4. Remove Mild Annoyances

Things that are midly annoying in development and user testing, will be hell for users that have to use the application daily and for long periods of time - so spend some time fixing up those minor annoyances.

5. Proactive help

Set defaults. For example, if you are writing an export routine, set a default filename, set the default fields and options. Show context sensitive examples to give the user somewhere to start. It might mean a bit more coding, but just think of the amount of time that a user would waste repeating the same thing, over and over.

Sample from the archive

As promised, here is a user interface make over from the archives, that included some (but not all) of my guidelines.

Form. Note rule of thirds, colours, alignment and whitespace.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

UI : what's the value of eye candy ?

Would you like to add some eye candy to your applications or website ? Need to justify to the boss some budget for a graphic designer ? or maybe even that Photoshop 101 course ?

Have a look at this article on a list apart, which explains why eye candy is more than just decoration.

According to a 2002 study, the “appeal of the overall visual design of a site, including layout, typography, font size, and color schemes,” is the number one factor we use to evaluate a website’s credibility.

That's right, if your website design dates back to the 1990's then perhaps you should think about adding a bit more eye candy or giving it a makeover.

The article also points out that, apparently, attractive things work better.

Okay, so maybe perceptions are important to product design. But what about “real” usability concerns such as lower task completion times or fewer dif´Čüculties? Do attractive products actually work better? This idea was tested in a study conducted in 1995 (and then again in 1997). Donald Norman describes it in detail in his book Emotional Design.

So there you have it, eye candy does have value.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Scrum Intro Presentation

From website is a great introduction to Scrum. The presentation covers the the roles, the flow, the theory and artefacts.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

UI Pattern : Linking Data

Here is a UI sample from my latest web application, for those of you who are interested in such things.

The Problem.

To date, in the audits that I've built the users have been required to enter de-identified patient data in two cycles. The data from one cycle to the next has no relationship. That is, the GP (Users) could audit and enter the same or different patients data between the two cycles. It made the interface very simple. The user clicks on a button to create a new form and we simply count down the number of required records for each cycle. The user can't change or see the data once it's been submitted - a very simple user story and simple interface to match.

For the current audit, the scope changed slightly. As part of this new audit the users would be required to audit the same patient in cycle 2 that was audited in cycle1. This is so that we could provide a care plan over the period of the audit.

This new requirement raised a few questions that I needed to resolve;

1. How can the user identify the third patient they submitted in cycle 1.
2. How could the user enter data and ensure that it was linked to the correct patient.
3. How could I ensure that the duplicate data (like gender and patient code is retained)

Fundamentally, I couldn't rely on the user entering the correct data in a form. I needed to lead the user through this association in the simplest possible way.

I started out thinking of a pick list on the form so that when the user selects a value, which could be a combination of data, it populates the fields.

I wasn't happy with that approach, it just felt too clumsy and not at all simple and elegant. I went through various iterations (on paper) before deciding on the final solution.

The Solution.

Cycle 1.
The user sees the traditional (in our apps) 'Submit Case Record Online' button and as they enter the data, the system counts down the remaining case records as before. I added a summary table, so that the user can see their patient code and some additional information. This was to help them remember who that patient was and put in place the mechanism that I would use for cycle2.

Cycle 2.

I added a link, 'Submit Case Record Online', and cycle 2 creation date right next to Cycle 1 records in the summary table. When the user comes to enter data for cycle 2, they can easily see the patient information and where to click to submit the cycle 2 data for that particular patient.

I was trying to not make the user think.

I removed the blue button (above the PDF link) so that there wouldn't be any confusion. As an additional touch I made sure that the link to data that was already submitted was replaced with a completed 'tick' icon.

The link contains a code that is used in the web query open to link the cycle 2 record with the cycle 1 record, including getting the common data.


It's a simple interface that provides a really intuitive way to link the cycle 1 data to the cycle 2 data.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Scius PDF library Beta 8

Beta 8 of the Scius PDF Library, that I mentioned earlier, is available for those that need the following extra features.
  • Bullet List,
  • Manual Page Break,
  • Repeating Table Headers,
  • In-line Images, and
  • Page Orientation changes on the fly.
This will be the final version. I will not be enhancing the library further.

The code base that this is used in will not be changing and therefore, there are no new features planned.

Below are some code extracts, so you can see how easy it is to use those new features.

Repeating Table Headers

RowElement headerrow = new RowElement();

CellElement headercell =

new CellElement(

"Here is a big table and some headings");





Bullet Lists

// create a list item and add the bullet.

ListElement le = new ListElement(10, tableStyle);



le.addBullet("Here is one");

le.addBullet("Here is two");


In-line Images

// create an image and set scale and alignments.

ImageElement ie = new ImageElement();





Page Orientation

data.add(new PageElement(Page.ORIENTATION_LANDSCAPE));

Page Breaks

data.add(new PageBreakElement());

Monday, May 04, 2009

Agile or Not. A few links to help you decide

Need a checklist to decide if that new project should be done using Agile ?

So far the Scrum Agilitists that I've met seem to be a very pragmatic bunch, a bit like myself. They realise that Scrum isn't a silver bullet, quick fix or guarantee of sucess for every project. As part of the CSM course that I recently took, we covered when to choose Scrum and importantly when not to.

Scrum makes reference to the Cynefin Framework (developed by Dave Snowdon, the KM guru and pioneer in the application of complex adaptive theory) around leadership decision making and complexity.

You see, Scrum work best for complex projects where the scope is not well understood or agreed and the technology is far from certain - two huge areas for contention in traditional waterfall approaches. For the complex domains, 'probe, sense and respond' is prescribed by the Cynefin Framework which matches the 'apply, inspect and adapt', that Scrum uses.

Even then, if you have worked out that you have a set of suitable project, which ones are likely to have a successful outcome and are ripe to use Agile techniques. Kane Mar, a well known Scrum Trainer and Coach, has published a simple score card to get started. Agile Project Selection from a portfolio of projects, it might help to identify which projects are good candidates. Although, he notes that as you become more experienced you'll be able to identify which projects to choose without a scorecard.

Here is a bit more about the scorecard.

The Scorecard is simply a list of criteria that can be uses to assess the characteristics of a particular project. A numeric value is associated with each question, so that scores can be simply tallied up based on the total value and then used to determine if the project is suitable for “the Agile treatment.”

Lets also consider some stats.

EMA research conducted in mid-2008 determined that 80% of companies surveyed had custom software in production, a higher percentage than Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), or any other application type.

They also determined that over 60% of the time, software development projects fell short of expectations which means that only 40% of budget dollars invested in software development yield business value and therefore the conclusion is that reversing this trend can yield very rapid ROI.

The CSM course cites the Standish CHAOS Reports to determine that 64% (I'm not sure the date of which report) of features are seldom or never used and therefore the case for deciding on features based on value.

So if the EMA and Standish data is right (some may disagree) then adopting a software development methodology that reduces waste and has an emphasis on value is going to be a wise choice in the current environment.

So it's hardly surprising then, given the numbers, that you will be hearing more about Agile (and Scrum) as this rapidly becomes the standard approach for complex projects - which includes software development.