Sunday, May 18, 2014

Belgrade CityBreak: An Unexpected Journey

My wife and I had an unplanned opportunity to visit Belgrade for the first time. It went pretty well.

We were asked to drive two of my colleagues to the Belgrade airport from where they took a plane to Paris. This trip allowed us to stop in Belgrade and visit the city. We had no plans, no knowledge about the city. I just set "Belgrade City Center" in the GPS and let it drive us ... somewhere.

First of all, parking your car in Belgrade is extremely difficult. We almost gave up after 30 minutes of randomly choosing streets in the central area and trying to find a spot to stop. Finally, we managed to park, at about 2.5 kms away from the point marked as city center on the GPS. Well, a 20 minutes walk should not be that much. But we were so hungry, and finding a restaurant was a bigger than expected challenge. We did not know the city, but based on the look of the streets and shops, we were somewhere close the center. There were even quite a lot terasses, but only coffe and drinks served. Where are the restaurants?

After trying several alleys that seemed promising, and having no luck at all finding a restaurant, we went on on the main street and finally ended up in the pedestrian area. At least finding a restaurant there was not a challenge any more. We ate at a random restaurant called Opera. They had good food and decent prices. One starter, two main courses, some mineral water and two coffees = 40 Euro.

After we ate, and with our bellies full, we decided that it was a really good time to just walk and admire the city and whatever surprises it may hide. The weather was also a good company, about 25 degrees, mostly sunny. Luckily the restaurant had free WiFi, so we had a chance to look up the surrounding attractions on TripAdvisor. Choosing our next stop was simple. The old City Fortress was just a few minutes away.

What we didn't expect is it to be so well preserved, free to visit, and really impressive. It is bigger than you may think at first sight and spending an hour or so just by walking around the old streets, walls, is not even enough. There is also a great public park surrounding the whole fortress. You can relax on a bench, walk around in a well maintained garden, do some sports, or just stop for a coffee at the Danube's bank.

An expo with first and second world war military equipment was just an amazing plus for this visit. So it's time to wrap up some pros and cons.


  • Mixed architecture - there were streets on which you could recognize 4-5 types of different architecture from different eras. From a princesses house, through a peasant's house and a communist office building to victorian architecture. All you could imagine on a single street. There were also places with fluent uniform nice architecture.
  • Food was good - even though we have chosen a restaurant at random and we ordered Serbian specialties we never ate before, we liked the food.
  • People are friendly - we felt the local people friendly, quiet, helpful.

  • Difficult to find a restaurant - unless you are in the very city center, on the pedestrian area, even a McDonalds or other fast-food is hard to find. You can get coffee and drinks, but now food.
  • Difficult to find a mini-market - on the whole 2-3 km walk from the car to the city center and back, we found a single mini-market to by some mineral water and cigarettes. Yes, there are kiosks here-and-there, but paying with your credit card is not an option there.
  • Traffic is quite intense - even though it was Sunday, there was quite heavy traffic in the city. Where did all that people had to go by car on Sunday? I can't understand...

That's it. Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Agile by Instinct

There is a question on my mind for some time now. An idea, a thing that just can't let me alone.

What do you do after you tried all agile practices?

I had the opportunity to work for a company that went through a great deal of change by giving up an old-style waterfall oriented management and adopting agile. But what adopting agile actually means?

As any company and team we started by learning new techniques and practices. We started to plan our work on a board and we did a group-reading marathon of Gerard Maszaros' xUnit Patterns book. This was about 4-5 years ago, and it was enough to rise our interest in all these new things. We went on and adopted TDD and we still use it at a daily bases. We redesigned our architecture so that our business logic is isolated from the rest of the system as Robert C. Martin recommends in his clean architecture concepts.

We implemented a continuous integration and deployment system for our project, we covered most of our code by tests, we even optimized the whole deployment process to an extent that it takes about four and a half minutes to run all the 6000+ assertions in our unit tests, all the MVC framework's controller, helper and model tests (these are just a few, but still), compile and encode everything, crate packages and publish them on an update server. I think we have a process that is quite optimized. Even though there may be small changes to make, there will be no more significant gains.

And our everyday software development process? Well, after doing SCRUM for a while we tried Lean with Kanban. From all of them we devised the parts that can the most help our processes. There is not really any other formalized process we could try and fit in our management structure.

Continuous learning and deliberate discovery are another two things we do frequently. We, as professionals try to make ourselves better, each day, every day. We do courses, we practice at home, we attend conferences, we organize events, and so on.

"It sounds like a success story" as Dan North remarked it when I was talking with him about this topic. But what do we do next? What is the next thing we can try to make our process better, to go faster.

An interesting question Dan North asked me, and I was quite surprised by it, was "What makes you think you can go faster or better? Maybe you reached your maximum speed." (approximate quote). I couldn't answer him then. In retrospective that is because I have no rational reason to sustain my desire to go faster and better. But my instincts tell me we can do better. My professionalism tells me I can learn more and take better decisions. I am asking myself instead "Why should we ever stop getting faster and better?" Of course there is no magic answer. If there would be, it would be a formalized practice or technique, and this blog post would not exist.

For the time being I feel we are far from perfect. In the past year or so we tried to orient our attention more toward our clients. We tried and successfully listened to other departments. Now we are on our path to create a better synergy between dev, sales, operations, and marketing. And this is why Dan North's suggestion surprised me most. He suggested the exact same thing.

So, after you go through all the practices and techniques of agile development and you make them work for you, you must start being truly agile.

Being agile is not about adopting rules and practices. Being agile is not even about learning and devising your best way to work based on those processes.

Being agile is to learn, as a team, as a company, to follow your instinct in order to value individuals and interactions, to create working software, to listen to your customers and to respond to their needs as quickly as possible.

Agile is about us making efforts so that others doesn't have to.