Clearly mainstream agile practices such as Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP) require discipline. For example, effective Agile teams have the discipline to:
- Hold short, focused, and to the point daily coordination meetings rather than infrequent and time consuming status meetings. It requires discipline to keep these meetings focused on coordination activities and thereby short and to the point.
- Commit to delivering a set of work items each iteration rather than letting deadlines slip. It requires discipline to consistently fulfill the promises that you make to your stakeholders.
- Remove impediments in a timely fashion rather than procrastinating in pursuing a solution. It requires discipline to tackle tough issues that are easier to ignore in the short term.
- Take the time to write tests before code rather than writing code, It takes discipline to consistently work in a test-first manner instead of leaving testing to some time in the (distant) future.
- Test to the best of their ability instead of throwing artifacts over the wall to testers or reviewers. It takes discipline to actively take responsibility for the quality of your own work.
- Reflect on the team’s experiences and improve their processes proactively rather than relying on process dictated by project managers or external governance bodies. It takes discipline to stop and take time to reflect on how well your team is working and then act to improve it.
- Have a continuously working, integrated, and tested solution rather than waiting to do so when you’re “done” at the end of the lifecycle. It takes discipline to stop all work when the build is broken so that it is repaired and the state of working, high quality solution is restored.
- Work together in a common area rather than in comfortable but isolated workspaces. It takes discipline to work effectively in a team, to do so in a respectful and trusting manner.
- Collaborate constantly with the stakeholders or their representative(s) to ensure that their expectations are met. It takes discipline to accept that it isn’t your place to define the requirements or set priorities, particularly when you believe that you know better.
- Create and evolve deliverable documentation continuously throughout the project. It takes discipline to accept that there’s more to successfully solution delivery than producing potentially shippable software.
- Self organize and plan the team’s work amongst themselves rather than relying on a traditional project manager to define, estimate, and assign work. It takes discipline to take responsibility for your own work and to respect the collective decisions of your team.
In our next few blogs we’ll discuss how Disciplined Agile Delivery builds on these practices to take discipline to the next level within the Enterprise.
Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers, speaking at a 2004 TED conference, offered a story of one of his favorite Americans. Howard Moskowitz is an American market researcher and Psychophysicist, which according to WikiPedia is “the scientific study of the relation between stimulus and sensation” Moskowitz has worked for large conglomerates such as Pepsico, McDonald’s, AllState and Kraft and is principally known for creating the insane number of product variations you see at your grocery store.
Moskowitz determined that people often don’t know the range of options they would like to buy until someone presents them with the choice.
Moskowitz was retained by Campbell Soup Company, to help them grow their spaghetti sauce brand, Prego. With his team of researchers in tow, his team tested public reaction to forty-five different varieties of sauce. When analyzing the data, the researchers didn’t just look for the combination with the highest ratings. They believed people craved variety even if they didn’t know it. They grouped their data to look for clusters- patterns. When reporting back the executives he found people like three kinds of sauces: plain, spicy, and extra chunky.
For years the approach to gathering product requirements, consumer tastes, researchers would go into focus groups and say, “What do you want in a spaghetti sauce? Please tell us. Not once did anyone say, ‘extra chunky’, even though in their heart they craved it.” Moskowitz revealed there was no “single sauce for the market. There were sauces”
How does a product owner manage in that environment? When you read the story it’s easy for us to see the solution. “Of course we want choices. The product development team should incorporate that into their development process.” And now, admittedly this is rather common place. At the time, however, Campbell’s soup executives were astonished to hear that over 1/3 of all Americans craved chunky spaghetti sauce and no one was providing it. When the market need was met, over $600M revenue was added to the Campbell’s Soup line.
So what does this have to do with software requirements? It is a story to illustrate the folly in thinking we can always know what our client will want, specify it and then build and deliver it. Even when you are dealing with an industry as mature as consumer goods & spaghetti sauce, we see that when your product is attempting to change the category, you need experimentation in your development cycle.
MIT professor and author of Predictably Irrational, Dan Arielly, reminds us we need to have something to compare against to settle our preference.
humans rarely choose things in absolute terms. We don’t have an internal value meter that tells us how much things are worth. Rather, we focus on the relative advantage of one thing over another, and estimate value accordingly. (For instance, we don’t know how much a six-cylinder car is worth, but we can assume it’s more expensive than the four-cylinder model.
Until end-users and stakeholders have something to compare it against, they can be indecisive- slowing down projects. This explains the challenge with just getting people in a room and asking them to describe to you what they want. They probably don’t really know- even when they tell you.
Typically the approach we take when we are unsure what it is we are building, we attempt to stress more documentation and more reviews. We’ve been taught that correcting a requirements error early in the life cycle saves costs down the line. We work to reduce our discomfort with the uncertainty by forcing a someone else to make a decision so we can then narrow in on our solution. We insist on a freeze in requirements and sometimes limiting participation because “too many cooks” spoils the broth- or sauce as it were. Unfortunately, we are ignoring the sometimes less than rational way people make decisions. All the process waving and feet stomping in the world won’t change the reality of the marke, meanwhile your competitor is giving your customer chunky spaghetti sauce.
Attempting to be to deterministic in specifying our project requirements usually stifles creativity. Roger Sessions of ObjectWatch, Inc. Uses the terms directed and non-directed methodologies. Equating directed methodologies to playing the childhood game, “Hot-or-Cold”, where there truly is only one possible solution. Where as Poker is a non-directed methodology where there are multiple ways to win. Just because your client specifies the need for a straight flush doesn’t mean he won’t be happy with two pair if he wins the pot.
The practices within the application life cycle that best provide some allowance for this behavior include:
• Simulation- Using rough cut, working software simulation tools such as iRise can give clients multiple usage scenarios to evaluate.
• Integrated product design- Nothing works as well as having the entire product development team deeply involved from product concept to launch, collaborating in real time- seeing the implications of their decisions and indecision.
• Iterative development cycles- Knowing the limits of prediction, rapid feedback of working software allows for course correction in architecture and product direction before too much is sunk.
• Component Architectures- Understanding where the range of diversity in our users tastes lies then requires us to build in that flexibility.
Gladwell’s story also reminds us that solutions are a continuum. A variety of different end products and combinations will make our clients happy. Boiling down to the lowest common denominator ignores the individual and organizational diversity. It may seem logical to get the market to standardize for the best greatest use, but if that’s how we made decisions we’d all be driving Model-T’s. Thank you Mr. Moskowitz for recognizing the need for spicy sauce. Now go expand your customers range of options. Go find your secret sauces.
Last month I gave a presentation on DAD at the Innovate Comes to You conference in Long Beach. During my review of the DAD practices, someone asked a question if non-solo development (aka pairing) was a cost-effective practice. Which made me realize they had never tried it. Having been a programmer now for 28 years, I’ve cut a lot of code. During which, I’ve done a lot of solo-development and non-solo development, and I’d have to say that I would highly recommend non-solo development in most contexts.
Non-solo development produces higher quality code, code with fewer defects, and less technical debt. Most all of us have seen the chart that shows the cost of a defect growing exponentially during the development lifecycle. Fixing a bug in a maintenance mode requires someone (or a pair) to wrap their brain around often complex algorithms in order to understand the logic, make the repair, and not break something else. This is far more costly later, rather than when the code is “fresh in your head”. Having a second set of eyes present while code is being authored often catches these bugs before they happen.
Having two minds make design decisions in real-time during coding, greatly reduces future technical debt. Furthermore, model storming with the team will improve overall architecture and design and result in less refactoring work and technical debt. If you’ve ever been on a project that has suffered from the costs of technical debt then surely you can realize the benefits of preventing technical debt before it’s incurred.
Non-solo development usually increases productivity, motivation, and morale of developers. From my own personal experience with pairing, I’ve found it increases productivity in most situations. Left alone, I’m more prone to lose focus, surf the net, think about non-work things, etc. When engaged with a partner I tend to be more driven, motivated, and focused on completing development tasks. Team work and collaboration is often more rewarding then coding by one’s self. Tag teaming the keyboard helps to keep the pace and reduce fatigue.
Many projects will find they need fewer code reviews with non-solo development, due to actual code reviews happening in real-time. If you try non-solo development on your team, you’ll find that certain combinations of individuals have better chemistry and thus better throughput and quality. In most situations you should try to keep these bands together jamming out great code, unless there is a need to grow the skills of more junior resources.
Non-solo development is an excellent way to grow development skills. Matching up senior developers with junior developers is a great way to grow your talent pool. In these situations, I prefer to have the junior developer do most of the “driving” with the senior developer in the “back seat”. It’s a great way to bring new resources up to speed with architecture, design, and the state of the code.
It’s also highly effective during maintenance. In these situations it’s good to group resources less familiar with code with resources more familiar with the code. By fixing bugs and developing new code together, tacit knowledge and skills are transferred more readily. Non-solo development is a key ingredient to growing skills and improving the capabilities of your personnel and your team.
Non-solo development by nature increases the “bus factor”. If tacit knowledge gained by authoring code is not shared by more than one developer, if that developer is “hit by a bus” or leaves the project, that knowledge is lost. Hopefully code is well commented, clearly written, and may even be externally documented (though I question the value of creating external code documentation in many cases). However, even well described code can take time to understand how it works, especially to the level needed to make changes without introducing new bugs.
This is why non-solo development is effective in reducing this dependency on a single developer, on a single point of failure. Knowledge redundancy achieved by sharing the tacit knowledge of how various code modules or sub-systems function, helps build a more collaborative, fault-tolerant environment. Trying to capture this tacit knowledge in documentation and to keep it up to date increases costs and decreases productivity.
So is solo development always bad? No, I’ve written a lot of great code all by myself. There have been projects where I understood the business, knew what software it needed, grasped how to architect the solution, could see much of the design details in my head, and just coded like the wind. No communication to slow me down, heck there were times where I coded 18-20 hours a day for a week at a time. I was able to whip out tremendous value in a short period of time. But that kind of pace is not sustainable over months. Nor is the single great developer scalable to large projects. Plus, who will maintain all that code, once that developer moves on to the next project.
At some point, most projects take a team of people. As mentioned above there are big benefits in combining team members and avoiding solo development. Especially with respect to quality during green field development where considerable design decisions are being made as new code is developed. The whole can be greater than the parts; the power of collaboration and non-solo development will improve quality and keep the velocity churning. If you’ve never tried non-solo development on your team, you should. You’ll never experience the benefits if you don’t give it a shot.