System Demos: An Architect’s Perspective

Ah, it’s System Demo day, again. Get up early, handle the flurry of activity getting the kids ready, and hop on the first of, often times, four back-to-back, hour-long calls. It may seem like a lot of overhead, but the reality is that System Demos are exciting and generate energy far more than they take it away. The Delivery Teams show the work they’ve done and tie it to the Business Cases we’re focused on during this Program Increment (PI). It’s one thing to work with our Delivery Teams or listen in on their planning sessions. But watching the hard work and planning come to fruition is fantastic and rewarding.

One thing I’m always impressed by is how well our engineers understand the problems they’re solving for our customers and partners. It can sometimes be a struggle to compose Program Objectives during PI Planning. But when time is limited for the demo, and clarity and conciseness are required, I see teams locking into the most important points around how we serve our customers. That’s probably something to keep in mind as we make our Program Objectives and ask ourselves “If I were the one benefitting from this work, what would really get me interested about it?”

Not all demos are running code. Sometimes a Delivery Team comes to present what they’ve learned in trying to solve a difficult problem. Often times, I find these to have key takeaways. They can show the signs of progress on a challenge that is difficult to move forward, an opportunity to bring in other experts or teams, or a point where changing scope or the nature of the solution could help unblock the team. It may sometimes feel like not having code (or enough code) is not succeeding. But handling these challenges is how we learn and grow. And these types of demos are an excellent invitation to spread the mindshare on finding a solution.

Another thing I love about our demos are the shout-outs to other teams. Especially when it crosses Agile Release Trains (ARTs). Recognizing the contributions and efforts of others is a key part of our culture at SPS. And the collaborative efforts we make to bring a design together as a larger system is very inspiring. We can, and do, accomplish more together.

From an architect’s viewpoint, one of the most important takeaways from system demos is to find even more opportunity for collaboration. In a recent System Demo, a new API being developed by a team instantly started generated buzz. It’s early stages, but examples such as this are awesome indicators that you’ve found a target market for a solution. There’s also patterns for solutions and development practices to spot as well as common problems that may need some more attention in order to help more teams progress. Recognition of these scenarios are a chance to pull people together to canonicalize an approach, add to our architectural recommendations, or design a common solution. In the latter case, we often identify a need for a common solution to challenges, and are able to get on it with context and affected teams for input. The System Demos are an incredibly important tool for us to find opportunities to accomplish more together.

I’ll leave this on one last note. I want to recognize the folks that are stepping up to do demos for the first time or still learning how to best reach the audience. Demos are such a great growth opportunity for learning how to distill complex ideas, communicate effectively, and build comfort in presenting to an audience of your peers. It may be daunting at first but push through! The rewards for learning how to talk about your work in a way to inspire interest in others will pay off!

Aaron Christensen

Aaron Christensen @ACC