The Software Development Edge – Book Review – Part II/IV

Let’s continue where we left last time.

Modelling

It is important that you are able to explain your software to non-coders. This however involves other techniques than showing code (when abstracting a bit, showing code might be the worst way to explain software).

The other extrema – typically found in “management level” PowerPoint presentations, showing absolutely nothing useful at all. Avoid it.

Writing code

As a it project manager you should be familiar with the language your team is using. Even if you come from a different language and were a professional coder yourself, it doesn’t always mean that you will know which problems the team using that specific language will encounter.

Since beginning by reading books is quite terrible and boring idea the best way to learn a new language is to write a program that covers a lot of topics (and in turn, this topics could lead to serious problems). You need a standard program.

Standard problem

It should cover:

  • (Console) line in / output
  • Retrieve data entered by user
  • Simple algorithms
  • Long term data storage
  • Standard data structure like linked lists
  • How to deal with exceptions
  • How will the program scale, will it adapt to new requirements

A wonderful solution is provided by the animal game (I’ll cover that on an extra page).

Get out!

Each product has only one goal – to suffice the customer’s demand.

Even the smallest projects tend to grow and expand. If you omit integration process the entropy will finally win.

Convince your superiors to provide you with best people possible for the integration process. Every project needs its “king of deployment”.

Continuous integration and version control are your tools to go – someone messed something up? Just revert his/her commit. You need a build every night with all tests up and running? CI is your friend.

Avoid “we’ll write a script for this problem” at any cost. Scrips are fragile and are hard to debug. Your road to hell is paved by scripts that got out of control.

While integrating there are only few ways to do things right and a lot more to mess stuff up. Take the integration seriously, invest every possible minute in it.

Compromises

The two most important thing you’re obliged to do as project manager – keep your project within initial borders and don’t let it die a slow feature-death.

I think everyone knows the basic triangle – volume, resources, time (pick two). Marasco however adds a fourth dimension – quality (nobody will care a year later on if you delayed your project or exceeded budged, only quality will remain).

At this point a small digression – Marasco now translates this thoughts into some mathematical formulas. Although I’m not a fan of stuff like “If we assume normal distribution we can calculate the probability of our project to fail…” – please don’t do that. If you ask every team member “can we do that project?” – their answers is your best probable guess, not some distribution. However some conclusions are to be considered:

Like Brooks said – most project fail because of lack of time compared to all remaining reasons combined(!).

You can’t compensate lack of one parameter by the other (in big volumes).

You should adjust parameters equally (you can’t add a ton of quality with just one week development time)

Time estimation

As a project manager it is your duty to create an atmosphere of confidence – nobody should be punished for not being able to give a perfect time estimation. This only leads to defensive mechanisms and developers will often increase the estimation to be on the safe side which in turn is bad, because you can’t rely on this numbers.

What is the main source of all evil project problems? Basically every project manager sees the working time estimation (for the whole project) as a working document, while their superiors see the time plan as a contract. Often it arises two types of time plans – one for the outside world and one for the inner development. This is a little fraud and Marasco recommends using one honest time plan.

What are main reasons for bad planning? First of all – there are almost never known all connections between certain software parts. Just use some simple combinatorics – if there are two parts that needed to be connected, there are only 2! = 2 ways of doing that. If there are three parts we have 3! = 6 ways of combining them. Let me just tell you, that n! increases really fast… You can prevent that by using small iterations, because by forcing to release a working product at the end of an iteration you can reveal hidden dependancies.

Second main reason is that delay may sneak in unnoticed. Brooks said – a delay by a year starts with a delay by one day.

If time estimation was given honestly your usual project delay should be around square root of remaining time. Let’s say you are at time point 0 and your project is estimated by 16 weeks. This means that you will probably finish between 16 and 20 weeks from now on. If you are in week 12, meaning that 4 weeks are remaining (and everything went fine so far), project delay should be around 2 weeks, meaning total development time between 16 and 18 weeks.

If you end up being faster than square root of a given estimate – you have a typical example (and problem) of someone being too defensive. The only right thing to do is to fire those people.

So basically you have following: ideal time estimation = ITE = good.
ITE +1*sqrt(remaining time) = help required.
ITE – 1*sqrt(remaining time) = excellent.
ITE +/- 2*sqrt(remaining time) = both cases very bad

How to achieve honest and objective estimation? Note every estimation (good thing is, nowadays every task tracking software supports such features) then write down each result based on given estimation. This will help you calibrating your project and the work of each individual project member.

Remember – not the result is important but rather its predictability.

Project rhythm

Just like a lot of stuff in our lives, even software projects follow certain rhythm. Compare it to a learning curve – at the beginning development process is slow – you are planning a lot of things, organize them and do research. Then you gain speed – the main process begins. When reaching the end state you might encounter speed decrease because a lot of little problems pile up and now is the time to solve them.

I bet you can confirm it on an intuitive level – projects start heavily, then accelerate and then stick in sort of swamp. Sometimes a feeling arise that you cross the finish line barely walking.

If we translate this into iterations we can encounter that there is negative “force” at transition points. This is where you as a PM should invest your energy to get the project curve up again.

Some interesting derivative information from that research – about 60% of required knowledge you receive during the first 40% of the project, but at that point only about 25% is effectively done. It lowers the risks (because you are investing time in planing and research), but on the downside you can’t show a real progress. To discuss the importance of the “learning” with your superiors you should prepare for example a list of risks and how the learning might reduce or even completely remove such risks.

Right now, as I’m finishing the second part I realize that it just takes too long to write such a detailed summarization and, what bothers me even more is that it makes it even harder for my rare visitor to follow such an analysis. Therefore I will switch from now on to shorter, more personal articles.

The Software Development Edge – Book Review – Part I

Hear me, I beg. And say thankya, big-big. This one is going to be a hell of long post, but do not worry, you can browse through the cites really fast and get all the essential data you need. My very short summary – go and buy this book, remember (almost) every page, it will do you some good. The software development edge by Joe Marasco should be your holy book, your guidance in the dark realm of leading teams and developing software.

I counted exactly 170 good ideas, worth remembering. Regarding a total count of 370 pages we have a score 170/370 ~ 0.46, which is amazing! It means almost every second page you’ll encounter contains something useful.

As you might guess in my book summary I’ll have to cover over 185 pages of ideas. Since it would take too long to release a complete overview at once I decided to split it up in four parts, each covering around 100 pages of text. The first one ends exactly at page number 100.

For now, here we go – book’s best points, no cites but rephrases:

General

Spend a lot of time talking to your developers, get familiar with details and problems.

Worst combination possible – keenness absence and sloppy management. Mostly, it will lead to programs that don’t work and if they do, not very well.

If you happen to be the team leader, do not easily yield to your superior (of course you should listen and give in in most of the times, but not easily, because your superiors may suggest (due to their unknowingness) unreasonable demands.

Your iterative approach to solving problems: observe, listen, empathize, synthesize, testing, write down.
Observe – look around you. What’s happening? Where could be the source of a problem or maybe it’s symptoms?
Listen – after you’ve located the problem, talk to people and listen to their opinion. Talk less, write more.
Empathize – the clear difference is here to “listen” – while empathizing you not only collect objective data, but also give subjective feedback.
Synthesize – now put all parts together: your objective data while observing and listening, emotional aspects while empathizing, your box of tools for solving problems (should be mostly your experience). The result – a possible approach for the given problem – should be put out to test.
Write down – now you should write down everything that occurs while your approach is doing it’s job. If you don’t do it it will become much harder to convince others to accept your approach. Besides, what’s not written down is soon forgotten.

Doubt everything. Check every partial solution.

In every big project someone, who is on his/her own is a potential danger. However you shouldn’t throw all people in one big basket. Create as little teams as possible with as little members as possible. Four groups three or four members each may be way more productive than an horde of 50 employees.

Sooner or later every leader will have to make choices. If your team members were chosen correctly they will accept your decision because having one is better, than none decision at all. However it doesn’t mean that you are free to come up with any crap idea – you still need to analyze give situation. The only thing to avoid is to be paralyzed.

Goals

The mountain top – the end of your project – should always be the main goal. Everything that hinders you and your team on the way up must be cut off.

On the other hand climbing up in real life is just the half of it, you also need to come down. This can be compared with supporting your existing project – a successful one can be completed and then supported over a long period of time.

Why projects fail

Nonrealistic time schedule

Too many team members, team contains a lot of mediocre developers compared to the best ones.

Neverending stories projects lasting so long, that all requirements change multiple times.

Ignore first iterations’ results. No analyze and change after seeing them.

Lack of clear goal, understandable by everyone

What can lead to success

Small, but smart plan with few details is more effective than plan overloaded with details

Clear your work before requirements change

Correct your movement’s vector (use small iterations) on the fly

Durability – extraordinary peak strength means nothing on the long term

Concentration – your team don’t lose sight of the goal

Management

Don’t hire high skilled people to involve them in trivialities.

Main point of every task should be a client’s problem. Even more important is for your product to generate additional value for your customer (by solving his problems).

Best leaders can project their sense of goal to others – by giving them a good example. Managers make sure that this goal is achieved. Best people out there unit qualities of leaders and managers.

Take care of every small problem in time. Even smallest problems tend to grow massively. This leads to two kinds of bad managers – the “ostrich” ones, who won’t see the problem and the “lazy” guys, who will postpone everything until it’s too late. Don’t be one of them, problems don’t disappear magically.

Do not let you lead easily. Always remember – your goal is to solve a problem, achieve some result, not to make you most popular and well-liked guy in the department.

Don’t panic. Seriously. Be solid as rock. Every crisis will be over, your duty is to participate in solving this crisis, not in overreacting. Be an example for everyone else (rock-solid).

Laugh. Even when facing dumbest customer’s demand, better laugh about it, do it, forget it than making drama.

Teams forgive their managers a lot of things, but laziness, incompetence, lack of reward for efforts and lack of humor are not among them.

Trust your instincts – if you are really feeling uncomfortable with something, trust your inner self, most likely you’ll turn our being right (this also means do not hire people who will make you uncomfortable – in exceptional cases it might be worth the risk).

Developing software

Goals are most likely not where they meant to be. Often because at the beginning the technical requirements are not quite clear und well understood.

During the process people will make mistakes.

Your goal is a moving one.

A good manager will always make a lot of little steps rather than few big ones. This allows to shorten the overall distance because after one misstep you haven’t travelled a big distance and after a dozen steps your next one will most likely be close to optimal.

Do not start with easiest problems. By doing so you’re digging your own grave. Your team won’t bother with upcoming possible risks. Even the easiest task will grow big (there is always room for improvement). This leads to scarcity of time for the real challenge and to one further problem – explaining that you need more time doing the most difficult part, covering the biggest risks is much easier to your superiors than begging for more time because your team was wasting it.

Iterative approach forces you to apply all lessons learned from this project (all previous iterations) to all upcoming iterations of the same project.

 

Happy new energy! This is how you make bitrix work with git.

I wish everyone a pleasant new 2015!

May your business flourish, your apps find new users and your customer forget the number of your technical hotline.

Besides, if you should ever happen to work with 1C-Bitrix framework here are some hints how to befriend it with git. If you just try to plain start developing a Bitrix app under git you may encounter few uncomfortable things – since Bitrix is huge (more than 18000 files) ever commit will take long. In most cases I received plain errors instead of pleasant working.

So here what you should do:

First, add this to your local git config

You may want to play around with the numbers, just keep in mind following:

Larger window sizes may allow your system to process a smaller number of large pack files more quickly. Smaller window sizes will negatively affect performance due to increased calls to the operating system’s memory manager, but may improve performance when accessing a large number of large pack files.

As seen here

So now which files to exclude from bitrix using rather .gitignore or /.git/info/exclude? Of course I can’t tell you where to put your development files, but it is a good practice not to touch those:

Meaning ignoring them is generally a good idea. This will save you a lot of time! Happy coding. (For the record – we’re using GitLab instead of GitHub for reasons of security, however commands are just the same for both of them)

Next book sneak peak

The next one, “The Software Development Edge” by Joe Marasco is finally done. Since I’m continuing my more “scientific” approach on book summarizations this time it turned out to be really extensive. I guess it will take a while to write everything important down.

A little sneak peak on my work regarding this awesome book by Joe Marasco.
A little sneak peak on my work regarding this awesome book by Joe Marasco.

[readolog_blockquote ]One of the main reasons for Joe being able to deliver software in time was his effort to understand every detail of development, every problem occuring, thus, leading to knowledge where you can make right decisions for the whole project movement. This effort is not based upon some kind of magic, but simply upon investing a lot of time in talking with developers.[/readolog_blockquote]