Beer and Cream Cheese Agile Methodology Revisited

Just over a year ago, I blogged about how the MatrixMaxx team was using an agile software methodology we’ve dubbed “beer and cream cheese.”

MatrixMaxx is Matrix Group’s Web-based association management software (AMS) that is used by dozens of trade associations and professional societies to manage their membership applications and renewals, meeting registrations, committee rosters, tradeshows, sponsorships, foundation fundraising, e-mail lists, and publication sales.

Beer and cream cheese is the software development methodology we came up with after exploring several agile methodologies, including SCRUM.  While there are many flavors of agile development methods, most are characterized by:

  • Breaking big projects into smaller tasks that can be accomplished in hours or days, never weeks or months.
  • New versions of the software are released in short timeframes, called timeboxes or sprints.  Sprints can last 1 day to 30 days.
  • The goal of each sprint is to produce a working product that the client can use immediately, rather than having to wait months or years for a release, bug fix or new functionality.
  • Each team has a customer representative who represents the client perspective and makes him/herself available to team members.  In the case of SCRUM, there are 3 roles: the ScrumMaster (who serves as the project manager); the Product Owner (who represents the stakeholders/lients); the Team (the staff who do the development work).

We call our methodology beer and cream cheese because about 18 months ago, Tanya, the MatrixMaxx Director, posted to one of the SCRUM message boards, asking if anyone had experience with having the same person be the ScrumMaster AND the Product Owner.  One ScrumMaster sarcastically remarked, “You CAN do it, but that would be like combining beer and cream cheese.”

Fast forward one year.  The MatrixMaxx team is still using beer and cream cheese, but our process has changed, and for the better.

  • Where Tanya used to play the role of Product Owner and ScrumMaster, she is now the Product Owner.  Geoff is our Brewmaster.  As a result, Tanya can focus on the product road map and client requirements.
  • Our sprints are now 15 days long.  Major product releases are quarterly, but we put out small enhancements, especially custom enhancements for clients, twice a month.  Clients love this!
  • Although we still primarily use our intranet to manage tasks and requirements, there is a whiteboard in the MatrixMaxx team area that lists tasks that have been designated for the next release/sprint.
  • We’re doing a better job of tracking projects and elements that tend to go over budget.

We plan to refine our beer and cream cheese process even more over the next year by:

  • Going back to shorter, daily check-ins, which have turned into lengthy discussions about tasks and requirements.  We realize that the entire team does NOT need to be part of all in-depth discussions.
  • Giving each team member one long item and one short item per day to encourage maximum productivity from all team members and help us manage the backlog of small items.
  • Making a renewed commitment to identifying and analyzing tasks that tend to make us fall behind or go over budget.

BTW, we still hold beer and cream cheese parties where staff bring in baked goods made with beer and cream cheese.  My favorite this year was the dark chocolate cupcakes made with beer and topped with cream cheese frosting. Yum!

How about you?  What software development methodology does your company use?  Are you an agile shop?  What’s working for you?  And how did you select the methodology that you are using?