Fred Brooks’s law of ‘adding manpower to a late software project makes it later‘ is one most of us have tried to prove wrong…….and failed!I was at Agile 2008 and saw an interesting session, “Breaking Brooks’s Law” from Menlo Innovations, a Michigan based Java development company. They claimed to disprove this law and demonstrated their working environment and techniques that allowed them to do so.Although the presentation was only 45 minutes, we were in the room for almost 2 hours asking questions to determine how robust their techniques were, and to gain more insight into the conditions developers work under.Menlo’s results are based on a 3 year project that the customer had a deadline to demonstrate at a show. More features were required for the show than currently in the plan. So rather than re-prioritize, Menlo decided to add more developers to attempt to complete the work. They managed to complete the Project on time with all added functionality.The environment at Menlo is quite unique. All developers are co-located in the same large room (no offices or cubes) and pair program 100% of the time - they follow strict XP practices. A scheduling team determines which projects developers work on and who they pair with on a weekly basis. So developers work with different team members and possibly different projects every week.Also, as part of the contract, the customer comes to Menlo every week to prioritize the work for the next sprint.These techniques may appear somewhat draconian (100% paring for example). I managed to catch up with the team and interview them to discuss this project further, bug rates, staff attrition rates and how Project Managers can push the message of pairing to Senior Managements/Directors (see video).I thoroughly enjoyed talking with the team from Menlo and they invite anyone passing by to stop in and take a look at how they operate. They also have an interview process which involves a large number of candidates performing a number of tasks including Pair Programming, with an appointment you can observe this too. A detailed paper about their techniques and contact details are here.
Dan regularly speaks and blogs about these topics and gives his views on where so called Best Practices should be in an organization and how they are used depending on your position on the Dreyfus Model. Dan gives examples of how developers use Best Practices when starting a new skill or position within a company and how these practices and rules diminish in importance and become a hindrance once skills levels rise towards the Expert level.
The Dreyfus Model shows the 5 stages of skill acquisition possible through experience of a subject.
Created by Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus in 1980 while researching AI, the model was popularized by Dr Patricia Benner in the mid Eighties in her work on the Nursing Crisis in the US. Over the last few years this model has been resurrected in the Software Industry, primarily by Andy Hunt of Pragmatic Programmer fame.
The graph shows that in the Software Industry (as with all subjects), most people achieve a level of ‘Absolute Beginner’ or ‘Competent’, with few moving to ‘Proficient’ and fewer to ‘Expert’. The graph also reflects that as you move up the model the need for rules and best practices diminishes to the point where they actually become a hindrance.
With the huge shortfall in supply of Software Developers combined with the quality issues our industry faces, surely it is better to keep the small percentage of people at the top of this model rather than move them on to management? (As so often happens.)
I caught up with Andy Hunt at the recent Better Software Conference to ask him to discuss this and explain further how this model applies to mentoring team members and where ‘best practices’ fit.
The first page of the preface of this book made me wince! Not because the book is bad, far from it! The immediacy of Scott’s insight into the pain of software development can only come from someone who has been there and experienced the trials and tribulations of project failure (more than once).I was expecting this to be yet another book on Design Patterns, but it really isn’t. This book attempts to look deeper into questions that cannot be easily answered and suggests a road map to evolve the profession of software development. It concentrates on practices, principles and disciplines that developers should follow when creating software, especially when thinking about how to implement features. It covers a wide range of practices, including analysis, refactoring, testing, and looks at how existing patterns should influence our design decisions.The appendix includes some very good examples of common design patterns. Different styles are applied to each pattern to teach or remind us what type of problem each pattern is used for. UML diagrams, procedural code alternatives, non-software analogies and basic OO code for implementation are included for each pattern.Since so many of us have to deal with legacy code bases, it’s always helpful when a book like this addresses that issue. Scott mentions hearing comments such as “this code is too hard to unit test,” “unit testing takes too much time” and “too many permutations to unit test.” He explains how these all point to design issues, and that leads into a great chapter discussing refactoring.Why should we refactor if the behavior does not change? This and other similar questions are covered too, explaining the concept of technical debt and the frequency of developer burnout: “Decaying, hard to maintain software will disable a development team faster than anything I know.”I would thoroughly recommend this book to any developer, however experienced or inexperienced, who wants to understand more about design patterns and how thinking in a design-driven manner can evolve our profession.I caught up with Scott at SD West, to ask him a few questions about his book.
When investigating Lean for the first time, books and articles that give an overview of the principles and tenets of Lean can appear to be contradictory. For example many managers may question how Cease Inspections can be advocated where a basic principle of Lean is to Create Knowledge. Surely one of the fundamental reasons of Inspections such as Code Reviews is to help more Junior Developers adhere to company standards and learn better, more efficient ways to code?I discussed this further with Bob Martin (Uncle Bob) and Jean Tabaka and they gave some good insight into what this phrase ‘Cease Inspections’ really means, even with Jean’s radical conclusion of Firing your QA department
When your manager says: “We expect you to write good quality code,” many people, especially junior developers, will freeze, thinking about code structure, performance, best practices, company coding standards, patterns… the list goes on and on.At SD West, I recalled David Bernstein’s advice when writing a class. He said to ask yourself the question: “How would I test this class?” If the answer is too long or complicated, then you need to refactor the class. That seems like a good starting point for someone who is not sure where to start.That led me to think that a good topic for Enerjy.tv would be to ask our panel of experts what one piece of advice they would give to developers when thinking about quality issues. So that’s what I did.
Last week’s “Don’t Worry, Be Crappy” post focused on some managers who may push for a quick release in place of quality initiatives. Most developers believe that these goals are not mutually exclusive, and have ideas on how things could be done better. However, many are reluctant to even mention these ideas to their managers for a number of reasons including:1) The “this is how we’ve always done it” philosophy;2) They have seen management reject similar ideas in the past, and therefore believe they would be wasting time even bringing their ideas up;3) Intimidation or lack of confidence or experience to “sell” the idea to management.At SD West, I asked some of the speakers, who are also experienced developers and managers themselves, what advice they would give someone who has an idea and wants to sell it to their manager.
Back in 2006, Guy Kawasaki famously blogged “Don’t worry, be crappy. An innovator doesn’t worry about shipping an innovative product with elements of crappiness if it’s truly innovative*.” This will send a chill down many developers’ spines as the cost and, let’s be honest, hassle, of reworking ‘crappy’ code is enough to demotivate anyone.Other executives may hear this and, knowing how successful Kawasaki has been, want to emulate him. But are time to market and good quality code in software applications mutually exclusive?(*To be fair, Kawasaki did go on to say “I’m saying it’s okay to ship crap–I’m not saying that it’s okay to stay crappy. A company must improve version 1.0 and create version 1.1, 1.2, … 2.0.”)I asked some of the speakers at SD West their thoughts on this issue.
A few weeks ago, I gave a presentation on Quality and Metrics at the Phoenix Java Users’ Group. The presentation covered how source code metrics can be used to drive quality initiatives in development teams. I also demonstrated a three-stage implementation of metrics tools – Static Code Analysis, Code Coverage and Dependency Analysis tools that can help developers rout out buggy code fast.One question from the audience was: “As a developer, how can I respond to a manager that wants all the features, excellent quality and everything completed by the required deadline, when I know it is not possible and almost all our budget has been used?”That experience reminded me that Bob Martin, CEO of Object Mentor, was asked the same question last year at Agile 2007. Bob clearly felt passionate about this subject, indicating that developers need to be more professional and responsible, and that a worthwhile manager should know better than to even make the request in the first place.So, when I caught up with Bob at the SD West conference in Santa Clara, CA last week, I thought it would be interesting to ask him to comment on this very question for Enerjy.tv.