Thinking hard about a project launch

Here at Oasis Digital, we are always agile, and depending on the project needs, sometimes use Agile (in the “capital A” sense) processes extensively. Yet regardless of agility, iterations, steering, and so on, the planning and decisions made at the beginning (and in the early months) of a project often have profound and very difficult to change consequences later.

Therefore, while we would never argue for the straw-man Waterfall, we aim to think very hard about a project at the beginning.

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Iterative Thinking is a Lifestyle

A student in a recent JIRA Boot Camp commented on how I described agile processes differently than a consultant her company had brought in. She noted that what I described seemed to make more sense. This got me thinking about those differences, why our approaches were different, and why it should matter.

Abstract Vector white life cycle diagram / schemaI read a lot and I see lots of commentary on agile software development. In many of the discussions the dialog is often very detailed, laced with procedure and process. This style of explanation leads to reactionary implementations that may not be well thought through. These implementations are like a thin coat of paint on a hard surface. It looks pretty but it does not go very deep. Companies that go down this path usually have a history of other such implementations of new ideas. Employees are used to it and respond with a surface change that only lasts until the next idea comes along or until nobody is looking.

When I think about agile, continuous improvement, iterative project management, etc., I view these as tools to accomplish my goals. They are not the end all solution but a screwdriver to improve the productivity of my team. I do not blindly follow a methodology, I strategically apply these tools to accomplish my goals.

I decided when I was very young, watching various members of my grandparents generation, that I wanted to be a lifelong learner. I did not know what that meant at the time, but I knew I wanted to be like the intellectually engaged, vibrant seniors that I knew. I did not want to be stuck in a small personal world inhabited by a few people and the television set.

As a young engineer, many of the lean, downsizing focused approaches to business did not seem healthy to me. These were epitomized in the story of “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap and his approach to turning around companies. I was far more interested in what companies like Toyota and other leaders in “Lean Manufacturing” were learning. They seemed to be pushing for elimination of waste and just in time approaches that did not squeeze more production out of less but optimized the production of the staff you have. That was a mouthful so let me explain.

The Chainsaw approach cuts as much as possible, “cut to the bone” is the mantra. Toyota on the other hand pushed to improve their staff, processes, quality and production through a cycle of implementation, feedback, and adjustment. This was my first attraction to iterative change and I have adopted it as a way of life. I approach my business, my behavior, my hobbies, and my relationships with an idea that I can improve and get better.

Back to my student and her question. The reason I sound different is that an iterative approach is my way of life, not a process I promote. Agile is a process that has elements that really do improve the performance of teams. But like any tool it is not one size fits all. There are a number of agile principles we do not follow in my company, because they do not apply to our business. There are many that we do follow. We pick and choose when and how we use agile principles because we see it as a tool, not a religion, or something to sell.

Many consultants make a living selling agile processes. Most of them are quite good but a few will try to force ideas that do not make sense on an organization. These few are very much like some of our political leaders today. They want you to follow without understanding based on a promised result. This is not a way to run a business!

Creative composition with the message "Never Stop Learning"As much as I like the agile way, I love the Baldrige Continuous Improvement Model(CIP). I believe it is the missing tool that helps the agile processes sink into the organization. Much more like paint permeating a porous surface. Paint on such a surface is very difficult to remove, this is the way you want good processes to be absorbed by your organization. Following the CIP model helps you focus on building up your staff, helping them grow and become lifelong learners. Help them achieve a new level of professionalism and/or productivity. By doing this the organization improves.

If you have been implementing agile or other ideas because it is currently the “hot” thing and promises incredible results, then I encourage you to step back and evaluate. Look at the principles, look at the processes, consider which ones will improve your organization the most, and implement them. These are tools, not black and white affairs. They are a tool to be used to achieve the goals you have for your business and if used properly they can help your employees grow. Then everyone wins.

JIRA: A Fluid Interface

Strategies for successfully traversing the ever shifting Atlassian UI

Atlassian’s JIRA is a fascinating platform for me to use, teach about, and study. I have been working with computers since I was a child in the 80’s. My parents did not buy an Atari game machine when they were popular, we bought an Atari 400 computer. I did play games, but I had to type them in from the back of Byte magazine first.

To those who understand that last reference, we are few in number but we understand why so much works the way it does today. As I keep my eye on staying current in this field, I watch what develops in the context of the full path of the personal computer (pun intended).

In many ways, the fluid JIRA interface is a triumph of SaaS over the technical lethargy that typically comes with enterprise software. The application rapidly improves in any area the company focuses on. Missteps in design are sometimes corrected surprisingly quickly. Soft launches of new features are incredibly valuable, the new project interface is a perfect example. With the first soft launch it was horrid, now it works pretty well. With hundreds, and possibly thousands, of talented developers working on the application, the scope of the management problem is hard for many to fathom. It does yield some interesting results.


Over the last few years there have been various waves of updating the UI in JIRA and other Atlassian products. I currently see four concurrent waves of UI modernization in JIRA. I am sure some of them will not expand much further but disappear, although not without creating potential confusion for users.

This challenge hits us directly in almost every class I teach. I will regularly run into a UI change that occurs during the class or while I am traveling to a class. This leads to some interesting results when, for example, you are setting up a project and end up in the administration pages without warning. It keeps you on your toes as an instructor.


Above and below are two very different examples of interfaces to share something you create with other users.


As a prime example, many more can be found in the images throughout the article, lets look at what users manage in the system. They manage Dashboards, Filters, and Agile Boards. The important features for users are creating, editing, sharing, showing favorites, these are just a start. Yet when you compare the UI mechanisms for all three, it is very rare for the three areas to work the same way. This simply confuses users.

From my perspective, there are three types of organizations using JIRA Cloud.

  1. Enterprises
  2. Mid sized organizations
  3. Small teams


If an Enterprise is using JIRA Cloud, they are progressive by definition. Many Enterprises could simply not overcome the internal hurdles to use an app outside of their physical control. Even a dynamic company of this size will struggle with organizational weight and will need support to keep users productive.

A key strategy I have seen implemented in this type of environment is to have a designated advocate in every organizational unit. Connect these advocates together and give them a steady flow of release notes regarding UI updates. Very quickly these staff become the first line of support for users that need help. Over time they can proactively address new updates for people they work with every day. This is more efficient than asking a training organization to hold boring classes devoted simply to UI changes, that are reminiscent of Office Space.

Mid Sized Organizations

Organizations in this size range often have less defined processes, and may not have a dedicated support team for software. Very often the IT department fills this role. Often individuals that can have very disparate job titles become the “go to” problem solver for a part of the organization. Find and recruit these people, they like helping others or they would not become that person. Empower them and let them help you.

Another approach is to use your normal notification mechanism (possibly the one built into JIRA) to notify staff of changes to the interface that will affect them. Proactive communication, if consistently delivered, can build confidence and improve productivity.

Small Teams

Teams that are using JIRA Cloud are a much simpler scenario. It does not mean that less diligence is required to keep your team productive, but the approach is different. Watch for those that are getting behind, talk within the team at lunch or during meetings about changes.

My software teams fall into this category. I try to be aware of the various generations in the teams and anticipate problems. A perfect example is Windows 8. As I watch people use it, I see a clear divide between those that use the Metro interface vs those that avoid it at all costs. This does not mean users are less capable, they have had different experiences. Instead of ignoring this, use it to your advantage. It will increase your knowledge and improve the cohesiveness of the team.

Final Thoughts

This article was written about JIRA but it really applies to all kinds of software and systems. The consistent theme here is proactive communication. None of these strategies involve one person trying to solve every problem. Engage others, increase knowledge transfer, and build consensus. These are strategies that work in many situations and circumstances.

The rapid development of new features is one of the reasons I strongly advocate for JIRA software in many situations. Atlassian has done an amazing job building up the capabilities of the system at scale in a fairly unique way. The uniqueness of this is often unexpected to users and hopefully the strategies discussed here, or some variation, can help you keep your team moving forward for many years to come.


Here is another example of UI differences within a major function of the application, editing a name.