Willy's Reflections - Visual Studio ALM Rangers

| Willy-Peter Schaub | Visual Studio ALM Rangers | In search of IT simplicity, quality and tranquility |

Understanding the Visual Studio ALM Rangers

Understanding the Visual Studio ALM Rangers

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Who are we?

We started the VSTS Rangers program in March 2006 as a joint venture between the Visual Studio Team System team and the Worldwide Communities program, part of the Office of the CTO in the Microsoft Services organization. A couple of years ago, we renamed our program to Visual Studio ALM Rangers, but the vision remained the same: to accelerate the adoption of Visual Studio with out-of-band solutions for missing features. In addition, our secondary goal is to provide the opportunity for selected Microsoft consultants, support resources and partners to interact with product group experts so we can learn from our field and partners using Visual Studio ALM products and features with customers.

ALM Rangers provide the bulk of our resources which come from volunteer subject matter experts. Typically, they spend their private hours to do the Rangers project work, and, not just anyone is invited to participate — Rangers need to be knowledgeable about Visual Studio and ALM, have the desire to strengthen the community, and contribute regularly.

Relying on volunteer part-time work has led us to strive for more efficiency in our projects. To achieve this goal, we have implemented 100% dogfooding with our own Agile-based (Ruck) process model. For consistency, we use the same process model across the board, even for guidance type projects.

Our first three years was focused on a strictly internal team that crossed all field roles—consulting, support, sales, and evangelism. As we expanded our external Rangers communities, our goal has been to provide the same level and ease of access to external Rangers. We have reached this goal with our extranet SharePoint site and Team Foundation Service which has, as a side effect, improved our operational transparency significantly.

But the top lesson learned again is to keep on learning from real world customers. We leverage our vast customer connections through our Rangers to collect their business and technical requirements and test our beta releases in pilot customer environments.

We hope that this overview provides enough information to whet your appetite for more details. We appreciate any feedback and improvement suggestions.

Acronyms and Terms

  • ALMApplication Lifecycle Management
  • CTOChief Technology Officer
  • Ranger … To elaborate on the term Ranger, we often show a visual representation of a forest ranger who wanders the forests, clearing blocked paths and providing informational services to visitors.

What do we do?

The ALM Rangers are focused primarily on the delivery of out-of-band tooling and practical guidance to remove adoption blockers in real world environments. Typically an ALM Ranger solution is a hybrid of practical guidance and supporting out-of-band tooling and sample code.

image_thumb8
Figure 1 – Aspects of ALM Rangers


How do we work?

The ALM Rangers have been dogfooding Visual Studio Team Foundation Server as an ALM solution, with the goal of improving the quality of our business operations and solution development. One core area of investment with huge potential impact has been the process model and the associated requirements management approach. Our core intent is to create a repeatable and systematic way of finding and addressing the killer features of every Ranger project. Defining and evolving the process has proven to be a challenging task, somewhat like fixing an airplane engine during the flight, but with several project teams successfully using variations of the process, we can regard it as a solid pillar. To ensure that we do not confuse anyone in terms of the methodologies or annoy process zealots, we provisionally chose the name “Ruck” for our customized process, which, in the Rugby world, means “loose scrum”.

Refer to How the Visual Studio ALM Rangers use Team Foundation Service to Get Ready for Visual Studio 11ALM Guidance: Visual Studio ALM Rangers — Reflections on Virtual Teams and more recently the ALM Rangers dogfooding journal of the Team Foundation Service for more information.

Roles

Within the ALM Rangers community we have a set of functional roles, which are summarised in the following table:

Role

Description

Min hours / week / project

Reviewer

ALM Rangers who review and test project deliverables.

1

Strategic Reviewer

ALM Rangers who review strategic deliverables and give the community guidance.

<0.25

Contributor

ALM Rangers who contribute to project deliverables.

2.5

Peer Mentor

ALM Rangers who act as mentors to peers, typically Associate ALM Rangers.

<1

Project Mentor

ALM Rangers who have been involved in a “shipped” project and act as peer mentors to other Rangers.

2

Project Lead / Dev Lead

Guides the content delivery of the Rangers project. Also see Program Management – Are some of the ALM Rangers Symbiotic PM’s? for more information on the symbiotic relationship of project leads and program managers.

2

Product Owner (PO)

Typically Program Managers from the Product Group who are subject matter experts for the covered areas.

<1

Ruck Master

An ALM Ranger who supports project teams and especially project leads with the adoption and use of Ruck.

1

Table 1 - ALM Rangers functional roles

Additionally each ALM Ranger also belongs to one of the following recognition groups:

Group

Description

Associate ALM Rangers

Individuals who are associated to and participating with the ALM Rangers community. All ALM Rangers (re-)start as associates, before moving into the active category.

Active ALM Rangers

Active ALM Rangers, who are contributing as product owners, project leads, backup project leads, contributors, reviewers and/or mentors.

Honorary ALM Rangers

ALM Rangers who have retired from an active position, but have actively contributed invaluable passion and contributions to the ALM Ranger community.

Distinguished ALM Rangers

ALM Rangers who have excelled, have shipped as least one successful ALM Rangers project as the primary Project Lead and are actively mentoring other ALM Rangers.

ALM Rangers Stakeholders ALM Rangers who are part of the leadership or are strategically and actively supporting the ALM Rangers.

Table 2 - ALM Rangers recognition groups

The basic flow within groups is shown in the following diagram, whereby the flow is covered in more detail later in this document.

When joining the ALM Rangers you will receive training and mentorship from fellow ALM Rangers to ensure that the ramp-up process is not frustrating and that you can be assimilated into active teams as quickly as possible.

Infrastructure

The ALM Rangers are geographically dispersed and accessing the infrastructure from within and outside of Microsoft, from excellent and poor bandwidth environments and amidst their real-world and bread & butter projects. With this in mind, we are striving for a single logon, a single URL to remember and using the state of the art technology as part of the dogfooding initiative.

image_thumb5 
Figure 2 - Overall view of infrastructure

The infrastructure is a continuously evolving environment, driven by a small infrastructure working group of ALM Rangers, striving for simplicity, transparency and clarity.

“Clarity and truth provide focus, direction and passion”, Mike Dangeli, Nisaga’a, Tlingit, Tsimshian.


How do you join this community?

To join this vibrant community you need to be recommended by one of the Active ALM Rangers. Peruse the list of ALM Rangers on Ranger Index (Who is Who?), find someone you know and work with them to submit a recommendation on your behalf.

You agree and acknowledge that your participation in this program is entirely voluntary and done without any express or implied expectation of compensation. If you are employed by a company, your participation is consistent with your employer’s policies.   


What do you get in return?

What motivates the ALM Rangers to invest their personal time, experience and passion for technology with the ALM Rangers can be answered as follows:

  • Working as part of the ALM Rangers allows you to collaborate with other fellow ALM Rangers from a variety of groups within Microsoft and communities around the world. This not only opens technology doors, but also allows you to share real-world experiences from around the world.
  • Working as part of the ALM Ranger projects allows you to influence the outcome, to ensure that your scenarios are supported.
  • The ALM Ranger solutions you have contributed to are very effective references for your customers!
  • Most importantly the ALM Rangers issue a recommendation letter to each team member for each solution that has “shipped”. As a Microsoft FTE, this letter is timed to hit at yearend review and can be used to make your case with your manager for satisfying and in many cases exceeding commitments on IP, global impact, product feedback, etc. As an MVP or aspiring MVP, this can be used in support of your annual review of your MVP re-nomination and/or nomination process.


How do you remain part of the community?

As shown in the following illustration, each ALM Ranger starts as an Associate ALM Ranger, who has access to the ALM Rangers portal and limited access to the project(s) he/she is working on. During the next nomination and renewal cycle all active Associate ALM Rangers are promoted to ALM Rangers with complete access to all projects and the rest are “scrubbed”.

ALM Rangers are reviewed as part of the same process. They will either, remain in the ALM Rangers, moved to the Honorary ALM Rangers, be promoted to Distinguished ALM Ranger or worst case “scrubbed”.

image_thumb2
Figure 3 - Nomination and renewal process

It is important to emphasise that not everyone can join the ALM Rangers and that once you are a member of the ALM Rangers, active collaboration, participation and mentorship are rewarded.

ALM Rangers who are inactive are “scrubbed”, removed from the community, and will have to re-apply as Associate Ranger. As it requires very little commitment and time to be deemed “active”, the tolerance for “going dark” is very low in the ALM Ranger Community.


Useful References

To find more information on the ALM Rangers, please bookmark the following:

 

VS2012.ALMRangers.Logo.NoTrademark.SolidWhite.Purple.250x83

Mission

The Visual Studio ALM Rangers provide professional guidance, practical experience and gap-filling solutions to the ALM community.

aka.ms/vsarmission


Core Values

As a team the ALM Rangers have come to value the following:

Razor sharp focus on quality and detail on the work we do

  • Favor simplicity and low tech over complexity
  • Expect and adapt to change, delivering incremental value

Accountability and commitment

  • Actively manage the project triangle attributes: features, bandwidth and cost
  • Never go dark … always share the good, the bad and the ugly with the team

Non-stop and unrestricted collaboration

  • Empower the ALM community
  • Embrace open communications

Global transparency and visibility through collaboration and shared infrastructure

  • For all initiatives, track and publish status on a timely basis
  • Access to everything for everyone

Empathy, trust, humility, honesty and openness at all times

  • No one knows everything; as a team we know more
  • Learn from and share all experiences

Regular dogfooding of Visual Studio Application Lifecycle Management tools

  • Improve productivity of ALM Ranger teams
  • Gather and share real-life experiences

Champions

PPP_PRD_039_3D_people-Big_Trophy_thu

image_thumb[42] 2012 - Brian Blackman
2013 - Brian Blackman
2014 - Brian Blackman
image_thumb[41] 2013 - Tony Whitter
2014 - Casey O'Mara
image_thumb[43] 2011 - Michael Fourie
2012 - Michael Fourie
2013 - Michael Fourie
2014 - Brian Blackman
image_thumb[44] 2011 - Bill Essary
2012 - Gregg Boer
2013 - Joshua Webber
2014 - Jeff Beehler
image_thumb[45] 2012 - Gregg Boer
2012 - Mario Rodriguez
2013 - Larry Guger
2014 - Andrea Scripa
2014 - Ed Blankenship
image_thumb[46] 2013 - Vladimir Gusarov
2014 - Vladimir Gusarov
image 2013 - Gordon Beeming
2014 - Gordon Beeming
                               
                   

Special Awards

image63_thumb 
Michael Fourie

image41_thumb
Rob Jarratt

image26_thumb
Bill Heys

  • Assume ALM is 'Application Lifecycle Management', although that's not made clear anywhere obvious.

    'Rangers' must be a culturally specific reference.

  • @Strange name, thank you for your feedback. We have now included a definition for ALM and Ranger at the end of the first section.

  • Out-of-band ??

  • With "out-of-band" we refer to add-on features developed by the ALM Rangers and released separately from the product main release cycle. Guess it comes from the world of communication, such as the out-of-band TCP data which is a separate stream of data from the main data stream.

  • While I did understand what ALM is and I got the Ranger term, I still am glad you defined them. It makes it easier for a wider range of folk to understand the article when they understand the terms.

  • Hi,

    I have a Visio Stencil for Branching that I thought might be useful.  Is there somewhere I can send such a thing?  Simple, but I thought it could be useful.

    Thanks,

    Amanda

  • Hi there, adding these links to Favorites as I just joined MVA for the ALM Cert (70-496/497/498)... assume visits may yield useful, real-life scenarios from what I gleaned on this first skim.

    Cheers...

  • How one can be part of ALM Rangers?

  • @Vivek, great question! To be part of the ALM Rangers you have to be (1) passionate about Visual Studio ALM, (2) active on the ALM community and (3) be nominated by an active ALM Ranger. See http://aka/ms/vsarindex for a list of active ALM Rangers, find someone you know and request that they nominate you.

  • And if you don't know anyone on the list?

  • @Carter, most ALM Rangers are actively involved in the ALM communities  around the world. You can share your details with me on blogs.msdn.com/.../contact.aspx, so that we can loop in ALM Rangers in your area to make contact :)

  • if we dont know anyone and want to participate in this community how can we do it?

  • You can contact me on blogs.msdn.com/.../contact.aspx and include details on your location and involvement in local communities. If an ALM Ranger is in your area we can try to connect the dots.

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