Hackathon? No, not yet. Ideas Splurge!

In many cases, the answer to “How do you organise a Hackathon?”

appears to be “You don’t. What you need is an Ideas Splurge.”

Giving away the punchline: In crude terms, an Ideas Splurge generates more well-thought-through ideas per person in less time. More people meet and talk in less time. It is more inclusive, and less off-putting to newbies. It can be arranged at shorter notice, and there is less to go wrong. It leaves folks wanting more, rather than, as with many hackathons, “well, I’m glad that’s over”. An Ideas Splurge is, fundamentally, more effective at tackling the disconnects between disparate groups within a company.

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Using sabotage to improve

Given a long enough time frame everything breaks.  How ready is your business for a serious disaster?   This is a short account of some of the preparations the technology team at the FT have been making to ensure we can keep delivering world class business news and analysis even when things go very, very wrong.

Over the past few years at the FT we have steadily been increasing our disaster recovery testing with planned failovers and deliberate acts of sabotage to our own estate. Taking a leaf from the Netflix simian army, we have gradually improved our services’ resilience with what we have learnt from these exercises.  For example, powering down DNS or Active Directory servers have highlighted areas of weakness that we have been able to mitigate or remedy completely. Continue reading “Using sabotage to improve”

Organising the Engine Room Conference

The FT Technology department just held an internal conference, with a panel-based format similar to/entirely copied from EdgeConf.

The whole thing was arranged in less than a month and, apart from some VC hiccups, ran remarkably smoothly with some good feedback from the 100+ attendees.

So what made this work, both in getting it organised and in the event itself? The organising group sat down and tried to work it out.

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A Product Manager’s visit to the Engine Room

My notes from the FT Engine Room tech conference, 2nd Feb 2015, from a Product Manager’s perspective.

Earlier this month I was invited as a panelist to the Engine Room conference here at the FT. As I spent last year exploring BDD practices as a product owner with the development teams, I was there to contribute on the automated testing panel. I decided to make it a full day and stayed in the audience for all the five panels. I expected a day of in-depth conversations around technical tools and engineering practices. I came prepared for that I might not understand even half of the details, but hoping to catch up on the latest trends in FT Technology. My expectations were wrong. Most of the discussions centered around what we build and how we manage our product life-cycle and as a product manager I found myself right in the middle of the action!

After a great day at the conference I wrote up my impressions from the panels and from discussions throughout the day. This is a (slightly edited) note I sent to Product Management at the FT. Perhaps there are thoughts you will find useful!

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FT Technology Internal Conference: Engine Room 2015

The FT technology team held their inaugural (and pleasingly successful) internal conference at the start of February.   How we came to put the event together, and how it all went so right we will put (irritatingly smugly, I expect) in a later post.  First an account of the day itself, the benefits of holding such an event and some of the ‘takeaways’ we gleaned from it. We named the conference after this blog, calling it ‘Engine room 2015’ and we hoped it would be an opportunity for people to exchange ideas about how we work and what we work with/on.  The organisers sold it to the rest of the department as a chance to ‘lift your heads up from the coal face for a day and maybe even choose a better pickaxe’.

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QuickStart Software Development

What is QuickStart?

Here at the FT we have been trialling a new method (at least for us!) of beginning a software development project. Essentially, the entire team (developers, testers, product owners) assemble in a room with the aim of producing a quick and dirty prototype based off a given value statement. We also invite people from other teams who have an interest in what we’re about to do: either they’re going to use the functionality we are developing or they need to provide us with something for it to work. We call this a QuickStart session.

The idea is that we learn about complexity to a good level of detail early on, allowing us to provide reasonable, evidence-based estimates to the business.

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Improvements To FT.com Content Functional Tests

Did you read Martin Roddam’s blog post? If not, it’s well worth a look before you read this blog post. He explained the automated testing on our current CMS (content management system) for FT.com. He also described the new testing strategy being utilised in the forthcoming CMS replacement. This blog post is a sequel of sorts, explaining what we did to solve some of the testing problems on the current system. We intend this to form part of a trilogy of epic testing blog entries.

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Issues working with large legacy automation test suites and how (we think) we got it right the next time

“The automation tests are passing at around 80% so I think we’re good to release”

We’ve heard this expression before and it doesn’t bode well. We release code into the production environment and within a few days a new defect is reported.

“How did this get missed?” asks the editor.

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The One Day Ideas Splurge

We have recently experimented with some dev-first approaches for some distinctly different scenarios

  • riffing on a specific theme; generating and exploring lots of ideas quickly
  • starting a tech-architecture-heavy project

and were very happy with the outcomes.

tl;dr The essence of both approaches is

  • get the core group sitting in the same room for a day (Co-location is great. Who knew?)
  • dump all possibly relevant information into the mix at the start
  • let the developers have a play
  • see what happens

What follows in this post is a more detailed look at the approach we took for …

Riffing on a specific theme; generating and exploring lots of ideas quickly

Continue reading “The One Day Ideas Splurge”