Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Agile Project Management

I need a web-based project management (PM) tool that is useful for software developers (me) but usable for my clients, primarily the Pro Athlete Training package I am building. It's a big application, and needs formal project management. The client needs a tool that lets them participate in PM easily without having a technical understanding of PM. That's a tough thing.

Back when I ran a team, we adopted Microsoft Project to run a hybrid Agile/Hierarchical PM methodology. It worked, taking the best from each. We used real due dates, for example, instead of points, and managed dependencies pretty carefully. Internal customer's never used Project, they went to meetings with my team instead. While I can meet by phone with my clients, we do need some web based collaboration.

Agile is a pretty cool methodology, The Agile Manifesto:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

What I found is a great, free tool called Pivotal Tracker, created by real developers and PM types. It is a pure Agile/Scrum based package, and is forcing me to use Agile PM as it was intended. Sometimes the tool drives the process. The best thing is that the clients are confronted with pretty simple lists of work to be done ("Stories" in the Agile vernacular), but I still have ways to do the more technical PM stuff behind those lists.

Here's my test project: https://www.pivotaltracker.com/projects/172131

When you get tired of project managing the Enterprise's system upgrades, you can play the Star Trek TNG drinking game to unwind.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fighting for the Confederacy

I bought E.P. Alexander's Fighting for the Confederacy years ago for his insightful chapter on the battle of Gettysburg. By 1863, Alexander, then a Colonel, was Lee's de facto chief of artillery, the nominal chief, General Pendleton having  lost Lee's confidence. Alexander saw to the disposition of all the artillery west and south of the town prior to the massive bombardment on the 3rd prior to the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble (PPT) assault that afternoon (aka "Pickett's charge"), some 70-odd individual pieces.

Union Army II Corps artillerists celebrating the victory.

This is a great book, very candid in it's conclusions, and written in a chatty, modern style quite different from the typical stilted prose of the era. Refreshing and readable. Highly recommended for anyone of any knowledge level of the Civil War.

While many are critical of Lee's attack on July 3rd, Alexander is the only writer I know of who, while also critical, offers a plausible alternative. He advocates for a militarily sound attack on the salient at the northernmost section of the Union line, on Cemetery Hill.

PPT assault, as conducted on July 3rd. The salient Alexander refers to is that bit right under the "C" in Cemetery Hill, north end of the line
The assault as executed resulted in the assaulting columns coming under enfilade artillery fire during the mile long approach to the Union position on Cemetery Ridge, which was very costly. Further, as the the attack concentrated, both Confederate flanks were attacked, their left first by Ohioans, their right by Stannard's Vermonters shortly after, again with devastating effect. These flank attacks were only possible because of the relatively straight orientation of Meade's line at the point of attack, allowing these units to be safely thrown forward on Lee's flanks, and the enfilade fire possible by Union Artillery posted to the south. (This is my analysis of the attack as it happened, not Alexanders).

How is Alexander's idea militarily sound? First, attacking a salient takes away the enfilade fire Lee's attacking troops endured, and instead subjects them mostly to much less destructive defilade fire, both by artillery and infantry. Instead, the attacking force has the ability to enfilade the defenders. Second, the attackers can and will "squeeze" the salient from three sides.In the American Civil War, defensive salients never fared well. See Spotsylvania.

So why didn't Lee attack at the salient on July 3rd? Certainly, he knew all about salients, how to fight with external lines, enfilade and defilade fire - any professional military officer of the time knew all this cold. I think there were several reasons he opted for Longstreet to handle this charge, and to attack further south at a less desirable position.

First, A.P. Hill, Lee's third corps commander was completely absent during most of the battle, sidelined due to illness. There is much speculation as to what that illness was. Lee saw fit to allow Longstreet to control large portions of Hill's corps during the PPT assault. I don't believe Lee had confidence in allowing Hill to direct an assault, which he would have had to do if Lee had attacked the salient. The salient assault would fallen to Hill, and General Ewell, second corps commander to execute.

Second, Ewell had failed to assault Cemetery Hill on the first day of the battle, much to Lee's (and others) dismay. Most historians agree that Cemetery Hill is the key to the Union position, and taking it on the first day would likely have necessitated a Union withdrawal to the Pipe Creek position to the south.

Third, Longstreet had nearly defeated the Union army, in detail (Lee's vision for this campaign from the start), in his en echelon attack the day before.

I think Lee only had confidence in Longstreet to manage the attack, and that he thought the attack would succeed, if it had been executed and supported as Lee ordered. Lee never wrote about the war, but he did say this just past midnight on July 3, 1863:

"I never saw troops behave more magnificently than Picketts's division of Virginians did today, in that grand charge upon the enemy. And if they had been supported as they were to have been (my italics) -- but for some reason, not yet fully explained to me, were not -- we would have held the position, and the day would have been ours."

Who were the supports? Anderson's Division, and Wilcox's Brigade, neither of which stepped off that day.

Lee's plan was not executed as he ordered on July 3rd. Would it have succeeded had it been? I think it's possible. We'll never know.

Would Alexander's attack against the salient have succeeded? Perhaps, had Longstreet directed it. By Lee would never have slighted Hill and Ewell by allowing that.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Intrepidness at Sea

Reading another blog,  I came across a sporty video of a sloop entering a harbor somewhere in the Baltic, and, seeing the man on the foredeck calmly readying the bow line for docking as they actually surfed into the inlet reminded me of the intrepid fellows I have had the privilege of sailing with. In particular, Joe Montalbano, and Doug Lucy. Here's a story about Doug.

S/V Annabelle
Neither Joe nor Doug had any big boat sailing experience when they got tangled up with me and my Alberg 30 Annabelle, and most of our cruising was gentle stuff, over to the Eastern shore, mostly in search of great restaurants to have a meal ashore at. We'd find them, and it was great fun. We'd usually have to start the engine and motor in the weak Chesapeake Bay summer weather - hot, humid, no wind. Hot and humid means thunderstorms though.

Usual Chesapeake Bay conditions
Driving up the Patapsco river one summer afternoon, Doug and I hear the all too frequent calls on the radio for "large damaging thunderstorms. Seek cover immediately" and so on. Well, Annabelle is a blue water craft, so we press on, and we've been through these thunderstorms many times before. It will blow 60 mph with some higher gusts, but if it gets too bad we'll anchor and ride it out with the engine ticking over. Seldom lasts more than 30 minutes. Usual case, we'll just motor into it, albeit making only a knot or so over the ground through the worst of it.

We'd planned to anchor in Baltimore's inner harbor, a notoriously bad holding ground, so I had planned to swap out the Danforth anchor for my never-fail 60 pound Bruce anchor. Sometimes I'd used them both when anchoring in Baltimore, but I'd decide that when we got there and saw where we had to set up., In preparation, I had detached the Danforth from the 10 feet of chain on the anchor rode, but left it clamped to the bow pulpit where it lived, a good 10 feet above the waterline.  Big mistake on my part.

We don our foul weather gear and PFD's, and prepare for 30 minutes of unpleasantness. We can see the squall line to the NW, and in we go.

Well, this was more than the usual 60 mph winds, and my little WWII-era Atomic 4 engine couldn't keep her bow to wind, so we were turned against our will and swept downwind with the squall. There was nothing for it, she wouldn't answer the helm. It blew 80 it seemed, but we were fine running before it all under bare poles once she got pushed  around and heading downwind, and I had helm again, except we were going to be set ashore on Bodkin Point before it blew over us so we had to do something different than this. Nothing to do but throw the anchor over and hope it sets up. Doug goes forward to do that.

He comes right back. "Anchors gone"  he says. A 22 pound hunk of steel got lifted out of its rack and carried away by a thunderstorm wave, 10 feet up. Yikes. I don't recall seeing it go, but I was concentrating on trying to steer. Glad Doug wasn't carried away. In hindsight we should both have been clipped on, but it had never been like this in a normal thunderstorm.

We had to turn to port and take the by now large, steep seas broadside because we had to make searoom to avoid the shoal to starboard. Worst ride I've ever had with 70 plus degree rolls. I knew we could make it but it was rough, felt a little like we could be tripped, a very unsettling feeling.
But Doug was brave enough to go to the foredeck and try to anchor us, in the worst conditions possible. He was a good man to have on a boat in a bad time. In this, and many other trying times.

Next installment: Gale Warnings? What Gale Warnings?