Sunday 18 December 2011

Joining giffgaff

I heard about giffgaff from a coworker after I was once again cursing the lack of signal in the office with my previous network provider. I recently (last week) migrated over to these guys. Here's a brief summary of what it is all about.

  • Pay As You Go - contract free and free sim! No lock in means I'm not tied down to them if I'm happy and so my options remain open.
  • Monthly Goody Bags - for a fixed fee there are packages you can add when you know your usage is going to be high.
  • Genuinely unlimited Internet usage - though after further reading they don't allow tethering (which is fair enough - there will be people that will constantly stream content otherwise). Googling a little more and searching their community forums it seems there is an unofficial 20GB limit. I really don't feel this is particularly restrictive cap given my usage since I've had a smartphone.
  • Free calls and text to fellow giffgaff users - this is quite common but useful to know.
  • Runs on O2 network - I've used O2 for 14 years and their coverage is capable enough in my experience.
  • Community support - plenty of forums supported by existing customers
  • Cash back scheme - spread the word and earn cash for using. I wouldn't personally go out and push a product unless I believed and used the product myself.
It sounded perfect and other people that were already on giffgaff were happy with their experience. So I decided to move over to them. It really wasn't very difficult either.


  • Requested free SIM to be delivered with email confirming it had been sent


  • No sign of it, but I suspect Mr Postie being overwhelmed with Christmas post.
  • Requested PAC from Vodafone.


  • Entered code on their website to active the SIM and created an account. Unfortunately it was after 10pm and would be active in the morning according to documentation. If I had done it before 10pm it would have been done in 30mins. I don't know why they can't activate throughout the night but I'm not too bothered.
  • PAC texted to my phone. Ready to leave!


  • SIM is active with PAYG credit I added via their website. Also setup auto topup.
  • I enter PAC to begin transfer. Later in the day I got a message (via there website dashboard) from one of their agents confirming that it would be transferred tomorrow.


  • Midday number has transferred. Woo hoo!
  • No Internet access - a quick search gave me information for Android Settings.
  • Added £10 GoodyBag to get me going.
That's it! Looking back I reckon you can realistically change over to giffgaff in 2 days if you didn't have to wait for the SIM to turn up. For those people interested give me a yell in person as I have a few SIMs to hand out people in interested in trying it out. It comes with a free £5 credit. And I get something out of it too! Or you could click this link to request a SIM to be sent to you directly.

So far the biggest noticeable change is that I have better connectivity (the issues I had with my previous provider you can find here) and have much more control about how much I spend or not spend on a monthly basis. The process of configuring my handset could be automated or eased by a simple settings request form as part of the dashboard. The experience overall is positive. We will see..

Send me a free SIM

Thursday 15 December 2011

Goodbye Vodafone

I have been a customer of Vodafone for almost 2 years and during this time there has been little interest or effort put into understanding if I was a happy customer. This is a common problem with big businesses - they lose the personal touch that the successful smaller businesses provide and finding new business is more important than keeping existing customers happy. The individual experience very quickly disappears into a statistic in a report appearing in some manager's email.

Prior to signing up for a 24 month contract with Vodafone I was with O2 for over 14 years. The reason I stayed with them for such a long period was because my experience wasn't plagued with frustration and dissatisfaction. The reason I wandered to another provider was purely because they didn't offer the handset I wanted at the time.

So what was it about Vodafone that was disappointing?
  • 3G coverage - its poor.I live and work in central london - within zone 2. I rarely use my phone for calling people in favour of texting and mostly Internet browsing capability. I don't really care for any statistics or maps indicating how excellent their coverage is. What really matters is when I'm out and about I have connectivity rather my battery being drained from my handset trying to connect.
  • 'Unlimited' Internet - it was labelled as such at the time. It was my first smart phone and I didn't really know what my monthly usage was going to be. Vodafone charged £5 for 500MB and the contract included 500MB for the month. This was generally enough on a quiet month when I wasn't doing much. Quiet months are usual for me. So this meant I spilled over 500MB often. When I was moving flat (before and after) when I didn't have Internet access at home I easily ended up using 2GB. For the amount of money I spent I was convinced I could get a better offer else where.
  • 24 months minimum contract was the only one that was available to me to get the phone for free. This is too long and is a bad mismatch with the frequency of new handsets reaching the market. During the 24 months I did resort to buying a new handset outright. Also the price plan I was on was quickly became expensive with other market offerings.
  • Website - unreliable and user unfriendly. This included java stack traces ofNull Pointer Exceptions in their web application. This does not make for a good user experience and just shows incompetence.
I had requested a PAC to pass to my new provider and  shortly afterwards a representative from Vodafone called me to try persuade me to stay with promise of lower monthly bills. It was a case of too little too late and I find it hard to justify continuing giving them my money. For those interested I moved over to giffgaff and I'll be summarising my experience so far in a future entry.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Agile Tetris

Tetris. Reading this should strike a nostalgic chord with most if not 100% of us born into the computer generation. If you've never heard of it then you're either less than 3 years old or you're asking what a computer is. Well for the benefit of those people I'll try to summarise.

Its a puzzle game based around the idea of having different shapes made up of four blocks falling from the top to the bottom of the game area and settling at the bottom. The idea is to complete a row by filling in the gaps, at which point the row will disappear. The game space is a fixed number of rows so you need to be careful rows are removed regularly else the entire game area is filled up and the game is over. To the side of the game area usually it'll show you the next piece - this is invaluable in planning where to drop your current block. As you remove more rows the speed of the falling blocks will increase and it becomes a challenge of how fast you can think and plan the blocks.

Its unbelievably easy to pick up. It seems to do well you plan ahead so you can utilise the 4 blocks in a row which means you can resolve 4 rows at once which means big points! And the number one thing that will bring your game to an abrupt end is if you don't deal with the gaps in the rows in a timely manner as the rows will quickly stack up and fill up the board.

Now take this game which you've probably wasted so much time playing in your youth and in your mind put it side by side with software development. They are very similar. No really they are! Okay you might have to squint a bit at this point. Look at the grid. The blocks falling as pieces of work being worked on by a given team. The rows on the board represent the ideal technical solution that if time and other pressures weren't an issue - I did say ideal. We all know in reality this is never the case and as passionate technologists we strive to reach technology utopia and every day we're hindered by imposed deadlines, often magnified by a legacy system with little/no test framework and maybe insufficient resourcing. So we have no choice but to compromise our solution. This is represented by the gaps in the lines. Over time we deliver more changes and more functionality to the business and this will be peppered with 'we wanted to do this but..' holes. These crop up in future pieces of work and usually means that the amount of effort needed to complete a relatively small piece of work has been inflated by a dependency on something that we skipped over in a previous project. And of course we never got around to addressing it after the piece of work was delivered because we immediately got reallocated to a new project. It got swept up under the carpet.

I like this Tetris analogy. In fact I like it so much I feel as part our Agile approach it should incorporate the 'What did we skip and why?' as a process step. This has amazing impact on providing additional information for decision making and ultimately effective prioritisation. We would effectively have technical debt backlog stories immediately available whilst its still fresh in our minds and if categorised effectively with any new project the business would have immediate indicators of sizing - "We've skipped two big system changes that were necessary to meet the deadline and after the project they were sized at 40 story points each for a project that completed 200 story points". "Oh dear! We probably shouldn't have skipped those.. why did we skip them?" The documented reasons for why scope was reduced means we can provide clear ways to improve. Whether that means sufficient resources to start with, sufficient time for the project (which should be helped by the Technical Debt stories, or a sufficient effort in understanding the problem and its scope.

When a situation builds up where we have a number of sizeable stories in a particular area then this could potentially be spawned off as a piece of work in its own right. Think of it as your vertical 4 block that removes 4 rows. You know, the really satisfying ones!

Lets summarise what we've learnt about how to play Tetris effectively.

  • Plan the gaps on your game board by utilising the look ahead - being able to see the next move means you can potentially have a plan or more precisely a Technical Roadmap. This hopefully allows you to have horizontal and vertical visibility of the impact when taking on pieces of work
  • No one piece will complete an entire row - software is never ever 100% complete or ever ideal. Accept this by acknowledging the compromises that have been as soon as they were made. Compromises have to be made somewhere to meet the project constraints. This is normal business as usual with software development (and other sort of development?).
  • Being able to see the entire board means you can plan future moves - being able to visually see the gaps in the product due to compromises means the business and the project team is aware of its weaknesses. You can provide visibility of this by documenting them as part of the Project Retrospective. What, why and a size against the original project sizing should provide enough information. These stories (or epics) need to be categorised according to your product such that when people have a project initiation they can easily find these. These stories will also provide invaluable information as to where to improve with regards to why we don't have a much better product.
See games can be productive too ;)

Wednesday 30 March 2011