Reflection and Takeaways on Agility from the SMC-IT 2018 Space Mission Design conference

By Tom Friend – Agile Consultant / LtCol USAF (Ret)

The 6th International Conference on Space Mission Challenges for Information Technology, held in Alcala de Henares, Spain, brought together scientists, engineers, and researchers from NASA, the European Space Agency, universities and industry.

Case studies on how agile methodologies have been applied to mission planning and how scrum has been used in spacecraft construction were discussed, as well as topics such as developing and delivering software, reliability and reuse of software, onboard processing, and communication.

Representing Scrum, Inc. as a keynote speaker, I opened the conference with “Scrum to the Stars” which looked back into aviation history and to the future of innovation in aerospace, and how Scrum methodologies have been, and will continue to be effective tools.

Iterative discovery has been at the core of aviation exploration since the dawn of flight. Whether it was the first aeronauts in balloons, or the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, explorers of flight used processes that built on incremental failures and successes. Aerospace design processes were modified as improvements to flight technology were discovered, and the knowledge base expanded. Empiricism and Incremental improvement evolved as a standard path to improvement.  This standard path emerges as patterns.  For example Interfaces in small satellites are deliberately over-designed to reduce need for disruptive renegotiation.  The pattern of S\simple pre-negotiated physical bus structure for data and power increase design versatility, and loose production coupling.  One of the most significant scructural patterns is that of standard adapters allows objects with incompatible interfaces to work together by wrapping its own interface around that of an already existing interface.  These are just some of the patterns that when combined defines the evolving path to improvement.

In essence, Scrum was there at the start of aerospace exploration. Over the years, as systems have increased in size and complexity, common sense has been lost, and projects hit overruns in both time and money spent. By utilizing an Agile framework, you can break down these complex systems into smaller pieces that can then be integrated into the whole design. The step-by-step, incremental approach can be an effective time and cost management tool.

Today the trend in space exploration is making small satellites. Frequently, these small satellites are part of a larger mission.  In doing this, risk is reduced by breaking a complex mission into parts and delivering it in smaller submission components. Think of it as component architecture with your software systems, same pattern. The end deliverable: small satellites that are tailored to a particular mission.

This approach complements Agile planning where focus is on delivering small increments of value and dedicated Scrum teams to build and deliver the satellites.   The success and low cost of small satellites with focused space missions is now mainstream with a standard type of microsatellite called, “CubeSat” that follows set size and weight requirements. This standard is a simple 6-page document keeping with the Agile tradition of minimum viable documentation.

CubeSats by necessity have evolved to leverage many Scrum in Hardware Patterns to speed development and reduce costs. This conformance to patterns has created a whole cottage industry of commercial off the shelf (COTS) suppliers.  They provide hardware and software systems and components that can be used together like LEGOs because they have standard power, size, bussing, and know stable interfaces that allow them to be configured quickly and with low expense.

One of my favorite ways to demonstrate how effective Scrum can be in a hardware setting is a class I give using the CubeSat format. This class is generally offered in a 6-hour format, and is very hands on. In this course, we build a 3D paper CubeSat with a specific mission. All the steps from mission design, roadmap, and components are broken down into a backlog and worked by a scrum team to deliver a fully functional model.  We then walk through the launch and operation of the CubeSat, discussing what each component is doing as it circles the table in the middle of the room that represents Earth.

This simple class exercise using scrum to build components and the visualization of talking through a mission shows how prototyping lets you see problems with design early and builds shared understanding on the team.  These are lessons that you can take back to your own teams to make them even better.

About the Author

Tom Friend is an accomplished Agile consultant, trainer, and coach with 23 years’ experience leading software development teams in various industries to include federal, banking, cable, telecommunications, and energy. He has 12 years of hands on Agile / XP / Scrum software development experience.  He is a distinguished graduate from Air War College and has a BS in Aeronautics.

The 10 Best IT Jobs in America Require Serious Project Management Skills

Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL

CIO Senior Writer Sharon Florentine has developed a slideshow entitled “10 best IT jobs in America” using information from Glassdoor’s annual “Best Jobs in America” list for 2016. It’s quick and easy to read, and anyone in IT, or anyone looking to get into the IT field, will find her article interesting for many reasons (not the least of which is the salary range for each position!).

But what I found most interesting is that every single one of these IT jobs requires some level of project management experience, business analysis competence, and leadership and team-building skills. For a lifetime student of project management like me, you could see why this is so fascinating. In many of these jobs, the more experience in project management and these other critical skills, the better.

So, what are the 10 best IT jobs in America today?

Here’s the list (you can read a brief description of each role in the slideshow):

  1. Data Scientist
  2. Solutions Architect
  3. Mobile Developer
  4. Product Manager
  5. Software Engineer
  6. Analytics Manager
  7. Software Development Manager
  8. QA Manager
  9. UX Designer
  10. Software Architect

Why do I contend that the folks doing these jobs need serious project management and other “non-technical” skills?

Here are a few reasons why. See if you agree.

  1. All of these jobs require the individual to work on cross-functional teams, and each team member brings different skills, personalities, and level of experience to the effort.

    IT folks can’t be “lone wolves” locked up in solitary confinement, throwing solutions over the wall to users and clients. Companies have tried that for years with little to show for it. IT professionals must work shoulder-to-shoulder with users and clients to understand their needs through iterative processes so that they can produce the desired solution or product. Let’s face it—working with clients and users can be a messy business for a variety of reasons, so having refined interpersonal skills (which isn’t something many IT folks are known to have) will go a long way toward providing a harmonious working environment. This usually results in better products getting to market quicker. And, what company doesn’t want that today? No company I know.

  1. These IT positions require that the individual have a strong background in various software development approaches: The Scrum approach in particular, waterfall, and more increasingly, Agile.

    That’s a whole different ball game than a traditional approach to software development. Scrum, in addition to other significant differences from the waterfall method, requires the team to effectively manage itself, relying only on the Scrum Master to ensure that Scrum practices are followed. The Scrum Master is not there to “call the shots” as generally practiced in traditional command and control project management (an approach which is increasingly becoming discredited as a way to manage). In a word, each job requires a very high level of discipline on the part of the IT professional to work well with the team and participate in the necessary collective decision making to get the project done.

  1. Many of these jobs demand that the IT professional have a deep understanding of what I call the “business of the business.”

    In other words, the more the IT pro knows about how the business operates, how it makes money, and the overall strategy of the company, the better able they are to align their project with that strategy. IT folks will simply make better decisions because they will make those decisions in context with business needs. Focusing only on the technology might yield some impressive results but at a cost that might undermine the project’s business case.

  2. Finally, many of these jobs pay a handsome salary. Executives expect to get their “money’s worth” from these folks.

    That means they need to produce great products in a reasonable timeframe, helping the business increase revenue and profit. Strong technical skills are indeed required for people to get these jobs, but from my perspective, it’s the project management and other skills mentioned above that will help IT pros keep those jobs.

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LeRoy Ward
J. LeRoy Ward
is a highly respected consultant and advisor to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs.