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Archive for the ‘Process’ Category

Know What Software Features to Build Next: User Stories, Business Canvas and Market

“Devoted to Facebook IPO”

Is there any development process that can really increase chances of the software system market success in this uncertain world?

Traditionally Project Managers make decisions for the horde of software developers what features should be attacked in the long release. Yes, this approach frees busy developers brains from the mind boggling task of thinking about the business. But developers no longer get business context – why features should be done and what is important for the business. In addition, long releases detach developers from the product market results and inhibit learning and adaptation to the customer needs.

Agile Development

Agile fixes these problems with three important practices – The Whole Team, Small Releases and User Stories. Customers and developers are one team that frequently discuss features face-to-face and create User Stories together. Important User Stories become part of the new release, others go to Backlog. The team releases features frequently and learn from customer feedback and implementation.

User Story captures the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘why’ of a requirement in a short simple way from the customer perspective. A user story is a unit of requirement, estimation and planning. It should be testable and fit into a single iteration. Often a user story is broken into programming tasks which describe specific implementation steps.

User Story is done when it is:

  • Code Complete and Working
  • Tested
  • Accepted by customer

Agile is wonderful process! Developers work closely with business providing speed, accurate interpretation of requirements and intellectual contribution (surprise!) in translating business vision and needs into the concrete software system.

The Customer accepts the User Stories at the end of frequent iterations, provides feedback and change future User Stories based on experience with this real working system. In short, the customer steers the direction of the project instead of being a hostage of the unruly slow development machine.

However, one big problem remains – everything depends on the customer’s ability to get brilliant ideas, correctly read the market and envision what set of features will succeed. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to get right. Business geniuses (except Steve Jobs), smart analysts or even consumers themselves cannot reliably predict how people would react, what they really need and will like next. And developers can contribute more to the market discovery and quality of business decisions.

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Can Software Team deliver like McDonalds?

McDonald's

What does a customer wants?

Usually your customer wants to know a simple thing – when your team will deliver working software based on agreed requirements. They naively want to safely bet on highly uncertain future outcome – delivery of the complex never created before system that completely fulfil their dreams.

The customer wants reliable McDonalds experience, but with a little tweak – they want to hand in their own exclusive menu, often created by people who don’t have any idea how to cook.

In short, the customer requires creative flexibility of Cooking Master Chef fortified by ability to predictably deliver hamburgers as McDonalds.

But, is it possible in our development reality to chase two opposing goals – Predictability and Flexibility in the same time?

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When should you Release Early and Often?

Jason Cohen posted an interesting and provocative argument against Release Early, Release Often principle followed by many agile teams.

His main points:

  • Ideas. The best ideas are not coming from users and they are bad in providing feedback (iPod). So, there is no point to release early to get their opinion and ideas.
  • Features. Minimal early set of features could be unattractive for majority of users and will turn them down for future use (Apple Newton)
  • Quality. A buggy and unpolished product could ruin your reputations
  • Architecture. An incorrect initial architecture creates waste and serious problems down the road (Netscape, Twitter)

Therefore, Jason against releasing early and often. I don’t agree.

My answer: it depends!

Evolution is the process of small frequent changes to improve and adapt to environment.

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How to rescue failing software projects: The Toyota Way

The manager slams a door and tells us that we are in a big trouble. Our old customers complain about many bugs and bad performance, new customers complain about delays and lack of dedication. And, top management considers our department financially unsustainable and wants to deeply cut expenses.
The manager tells that we are brilliant programmers, work very hard and create cool software solutions. But there is something wrong and we cannot work this way anymore.

Anxiety started to penetrate our souls. We know what is wrong: our team is short of people, we have too many commitments, our code is becoming a big mess, new technology and our new software version makes something bad with servers. A snowball of different problems makes us stressed, distracted and incapable of productive work.

What could our manager do next?

  1. Distrust. Become a dictator, make own decisions including hiring external consultants to recommend what to do or even replace us. However,
    • we are good programmers and know our business well – the problem is not in lack of skill and knowledge
    • external people will take a lot of time to understand the system and they will have different motivation and won’t care about the long-term success
    • people will be demotivated and the manager cannot make effective decisions without active team involvement
  2. Faith. Give to team the full power to fix a problems and make own decisions in hope that smart people, motivation and technical expertise will do magic. However,
    • fresh outlook and thinking out of box are hard when a team immersed for a long time into difficult situation
    • a team possibly doesn’t have understanding and control over external forces – management, customers, finances
    • changing of reality is tough (especially in people heads) and requires more than technical experience

There is a third way. Place improvement practices in the core of development process. Make self-improvement inevitable and required for any activity. Do it every day.

Toyota Way is the best example of large-scale reliable self-improvement process. It focuses on eliminating waste, solving problems at root cause and making right decisions. Toyota Way reduces problems, increases internal efficiency and makes a company successful. This is the best receipt for coming out of crisis.

Targets:

  • Problems - emergencies, fires that require immediate fix: bugs, server crushes, deadline slips
  • Waste - inefficient and non-value adding activities: waiting, misinformation, stress
  • Challenges - adaptation to external forces (market, competitors, customers, society): new trends and technologies, changes in users expectations for user interface and functionality

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Reliable Software Development Process: The Toyota Way

A software project is a creative, unique and therefore unpredictable endeavor. We are not building the same thing over and over again, but solve new problems, address increasing demands and use perpetually changing technologies. Under these conditions, people – smart, creative and productive – are the most important factor of success . Software development process can only support and compliment these people, but it cannot guarantee success alone and make the factor of people negligible.

But, business wants predictable, reliable and successful results. I bet they don’t want to be at mercy how cards are shuffled in their talented development team. The answer is in establishing a process that increases chances of success and aligned with present nature of software development (unpredictable, empirical and heavily dependent on people).

The Toyota Way can be a great example that worth to learn. Toyota evolved from a small looming equipment shop to the largest car manufacturing company. The main foundation of successful growth is the system of few core principles that enables best quality, high productivity, lowest cost, shortest time and long-term success.
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The Elements of Pragmatic Programming Style. Composition.

A really great talent finds its happiness in execution.Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

source

Qualities of well composed code:

  1. Quick discovery and understanding of programming logic and components
  2. Clear organization (for human brains)
  3. Ease of reuse, modification and evolution
  4. Close connection between customer ideas and system implementation

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The Elements of Pragmatic Programming Style. Intention.

“I made this program longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter.” – paraphrasing Blaise Pascal

The Elements of Pragmatic Programming Style is the collection of rules for pragmatic programmers. This collection doesn’t pretend to be comprehensive guide how to program. Rather it concentrates on fundamentals: how any programmer can build better software for the customer. Some of the rules are obvious, but, surprisingly, many programmers don’t even think about them. They make same mistakes over and over again. I hope this post will inject a healthy dose of pragmatism into your programming style and make it a bit better .

Style Components:

  • Intention - understand your task and how to get it done
  • Approach - basic principles of writing code
  • Composition - organization of code
  • Expression - expressing ideas in code
  • Object Oriented Pragmatic Style

The goals of Pragmatic Programming Style are

  1. Building reliable software fast.
  2. Delivering maximum value for the customer.
  3. Writing code that is easy to understand, change and share.

Intention

“Everyone hears only what he understands.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Understand your task and how to get it done


Sidereal
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Selecting The Best Strategy for Software Teams: Retreat, Evolution or Revolution

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” – Lao Tzu

Software teams have three main strategies to achieve success: retreat, evolution or revolution.

  • Retreat – refusal to act or the art of knowing when to say NO. 
  • Evolution – continuous improvement and generation of ideas stemmed from existing set of ideas.
  • Revolution – rapid advance with radical and disruptive ideas, overhaul of existing core ideas.

How can software teams choose the best strategy? They should consider three components:

  1. The Players
  2. The Game
  3. The Dynamics

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Ideas in Software Development: Revolution vs. Evolution. Part 1.

What does produce better ideas in software development – revolution or evolution? Revolution is a rapid triumph of the new ideas and breaking open of the old concepts. Evolution is the process of small frequent changes to improve and adapt to environment. The main difference – revolution replaces old ideas with the new promising unproven ideas, evolution gradually and continuously improves existing working ideas.

We often face this dilemma in software development – should we enhance existing features and improve the ways we work or should we instead come up with something radical and revolutionary.

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Ideas in Software Development: The Game

Recently I’ve been thinking that Software Development is a game. The goal of this game is to discover and implement the best solution for customer’s needs. There are other important goals as making money, empowering business or keeping people happy, but they matter less for the purpose of the game.

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