Extreme Practices – The Preparation

Extreme Practices was the name of the talk Philippe and I gave at the AgileTour in Beirut on 15th of October, which based on the feedback was a successful one! Our main focus was on the practices of extreme programming and how to adopt them in a distributed team.

As this was my first talk, I decided to write two blog posts about it. In this first blog, I will be sharing the preparation whereas in the second post (in few days) I will be talking about the talk itself.

It all started with a discussion

Earlier this year, I attended a workshop organized by Pierre Hervouet who is also the organizer of AgileTourBeirut. After the session, we had a lengthy discussion on how we are applying Extreme Programming in our distributed team. We ended that conversation by agreeing that I give a talk at the AgileTour on that subject.

The next day I discussed with Philippe the possibility of him being my co-speaker. Unfortunately, visiting Beirut during that time wasn’t possible for Philippe! But later it struck us; why not giving the presentation in a remote mode (i.e. I will be in Beirut while he is in Paris) to simulate how we work on a daily basis.

That kicked off the preparation for the talk!

The content

After a couple of brainstorming sessions, we defined our presentation’s content and agreed that having live demos of remote pair programming and remote retrospective would make the talk more valuable!

Here is the content we agreed on:

  1. Introduction of ourselves and our team
  2. A short definition of XP
  3. A detailed explanation of some XP practices (below) and how we are applying them
    1. 10 minutes build
    2. TDD (Test Driven Development)
    3. Pair Programming
    4. Retrospectives
  4. A short story on how we started the distributed team
  5. Remote pair programming
    1. Explain how we are doing it
    2. Discuss the difficulties we faced and how we managed to solve them
    3. Do a live demo and solve parts of the FizzBuzz problem
  6. Remote retrospectives
    1. A couple of stories on how we initially started doing remote meetings
    2. Again, mention all the difficulties and the respective solution
    3. Do a live demo
  7. Final message
  8. Answer questions

The next step was building up the presentation slides and preparing the demos!

Slides design

We are both software developers. Thus we have limited design skills plus we usually are busy at work and can’t spend a lot of time on the design. That is why we requested the help of our Internal Communications team in the Paris office! The team focused on enhancing the slides’ background and images, but the content was not modified. After a couple of iterations with them, we ended up with very well designed and beautiful slides!

The below images show a sample of the difference!

Presentation coach

I usually give talks, presentations and even training sessions at work, but this was my first attempt to give a talk at a conference. Yes, I was a bit worried about it! Thus, we asked for training with a professional coach from our training department in Paris.

We had two sessions with the trainer. The first one was in Paris (i.e. we were both in the same room) whereas the second one simulated the real scenario of the talk (i.e. I was in Beirut and Philippe in Paris).

The coach’s focus was on:

  1. The talk’s timing, to make sure that we don’t pass our allocated time. That led to the removal of some slides that were less relevance to the main message.
  2. The content, to make sure our message is well received by the audience. This led to the rewriting of parts of our text.
  3. Our presentation skills, which included how I stand on the stage, eye contact with the audience and Philippe’s intervention during the talk.

I have to say that this training was essential to the success of our talk! Some of the key points I learned from this training were:

  1. It is ok to forget and thus don’t hesitate to look at the notes if needed
  2. Limit the notes to headlines instead of full text
  3. Try not to look at the big screen
  4. Keep eye contact with all the audience

A big risk

Let’s admit, doing a remote presentation especially with an unstable connection as we have in Beirut is a huge risk! But we were well prepared!

Again here, I asked for help. But this time it was from the IT department at AUB (the tour’s host). They were very helpful, as they granted me a dedicated link with (relatively) high-speed Internet and performed two rehearsals to make sure everything is working as expected. (I took the below image from the last rehearsal)

To avoid any surprises during the talk, Philippe and I decided to record the two demos ahead of time and just play them if needed. Below you can check the two recorded demos.

Pair-programming recording

Retrospective recording

 

The preparation for the talk took a lot of time and was tiring, but it was worth as everything paid off at the end!

Stay tuned; next post is coming soon!

Author: Ahmad Atwi

Ahmad Atwi is a Software Developer at Murex Systems, which he joined in 2009. Overall he has ten years of experience. Currently, he is a member of an agile team distributed between Paris and Beirut developing a real-time risk engine. He is an active member of the agile community at Murex and the animator of the CodingDojo sessions and meetups at the Beirut office. At the beginning of this year, he started his blog aiming to share his experience with the other developers. He spends most of his free time reading/listening to books or learning and enhancing his technical skills. On a personal level, he is squash player and a licensed scuba diver. ​

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