Category Archives: Readings and Thoughts

We’ve Heard This Before, but Where is the Value?

This morning I was fiddling around with TweetDeck (I’ve been neglecting my feeds) when I came across a tweet from Scott Ambler (@scottwambler) referencing a tweet from Tom Gilb (@imtomgilb), the guru of requirements, wherein Mr. Gilb exclaims:

Massive €142 billion IT failure. Agile did not solve it. Coders cannot solve it. Requirements cited. Wake up!

Here is the article, by-the-way: http://www.bcs.org/content/ConWebDoc/19584

The only trouble is that Agile is not even mentioned in the article, so the assertion that “Agile did not solve it” is disingenuous.

The article mentions that 7 of 10 projects were likely using Waterfall, based on some previous research, but there’s no mention of what the other three were – not even speculation.  The analysis goes on to explore multiple angles about where development efforts were stopped or not, leading to the conclusion:

Developing an alternative methodology for project management founded on a leadership, stakeholder and risk management should lead to a better understanding of the management issues that may contribute to the successful delivery of information systems projects.

Sounds like the way I describe Agile to folks.  No, Seriously.

But here’s the big miss as far as I’m concerned – and this goes for the various Standish CHAOS Reports that we hear about from time to time – the definition of failure is this false triangle:

…projects that do not meet the original time, cost and (quality) requirements criteria

Where is the value proposition? None of those three data points are important if the customer received enough value from the solution to make the investment worth it.

When will they add the question, “Did the resulting solution deliver enough value to warrant the extra investment in time/money?”

I’m not saying that any of those projects could be cast as successes if the value question were included in the analysis, but there might be some.  Do you think all those expensive and/or late projects were useless?

I doubt it.

Even leaving Agile out of it – although I think it would be hard to deliver software consistently in the following examples without using some elements of Agile – let’s look at some possible outcomes using strictly scope/cost/time:

  • Your customer decides that you have delivered enough value after two thirds of the allotted time and don’t need to go further.  Failure (scope and time)
  • Your customer realizes his/her initial idea had some flaws and changes direction to meet reality: Failure (scope)
  • Your customer discovers that the competition has already delivered similar functionality and we need to add some new abilities: cost is not a consideration.  Failure (scope and cost)

I could go on, but you get the drift here: Scope aka requirements are the problem.  Or rather, signed-off, big-requirements-up-front contracts are the problem.

Yes, you can manage all this in a Waterfall environment, sort of.  But if you really could, you wouldn’t be using classic Waterfall, would you?

Agile methods provide an answer for these challenges because we concentrate on delivering value, close involvement with the stakeholders, and regular feedback at short intervals.

Value is the missing metric.

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When is Helping, Hurting? Or, Another Example of Why Handoffs Should Not Be Documents

Sometimes, when you try to help, the outcome is less than desirable.

It’s like helping your kids with their homework.  Helping is one thing; doing it for them is something else entirely.  Sure, their grades are maintained, but at what cost?

The other day, I was working through a negotiation to get a non-standard package approved for use.  The problem was that the negotiation I was doing needs to be done by someone else in the group so that when I leave the group they will have a sense of how to get what they need.

I discussed this briefly with one of my co-workers and agreed to put together a kind of brain-dump email about how to go about the negotiation with some contacts, some suggested points, and some background so that he could do the official negotiation.  I’d already started the back-channel process by letting folks know that something would be coming through and laying an unofficial case.

I should say that I was on a floating holiday yesterday (Independence Day’s on Saturday) so the fact that I was checking my mail was purely by chance, but I received the official notice of the exception application for the non-standard package. 

What!?

My email had specifically said, “Talk to this guy first.” and “Send the license to this guy before you submit.”, etc.

Then I noticed an email to the first guy – after the application was filed – and I thought, “I said, TALK to him.”  I’m sure the license for the other fellow is in the mail too.

The whole point was to talk to the people in my email, get a sense of whether there were objections, and answer those concerns in the application.

Instead, my co-worker simply cut and pasted chunks of my email directly into the application – including some of the discussion points I’d included to help him with the VERBAL negotiations..

This bothers me on at least two levels. 

One is about the state of the organization and management maturity.

My co-worker is a guy further up the food chain from me.  What does that say about the organization’s ability to get what it needs in a larger whole?

I’m afraid that because of the lack of understanding and finesse exhibited by my co-worker, the application will have a tougher time than was necessary.

The other, is that I’m reading a book about reducing waste in processes, and I should know better: Documents as handoffs are a big generator of waste.

Handoffs should be higher bandwidth communication than a simple chat and an email.  So by sending the email, I was delivering a document with lots of content, but very little of the tacit knowledge that I have about the process – who to talk to, and how to talk to them.

What I should have done is say, “Tell you what; when I get back from my trip we’ll sit down in your office and go through the process.  That way, you’ll get to see how these things progress from back-channel discussions, to managing concerns, to the official application.”

Back to my first concern, I’m pretty sure he would’ve insisted he didn’t have time for pairing on a negotiation like that, and to send him an email explaining everything.

It seems like I fumbled the hand-off.  Or maybe I’m a control freak, and everything will be fine.

I guess we’ll see.

Latest on the Reading List

It’s been a while since I posted about what I was reading; mostly because I was reading current events instead of books. 

But anyway, as usual for me, I have two books going at once.  Both are tech books: Implementing Lean Software Development: from Concept to Cash, by Mary & Tom Poppendieck, and The Productive Programmer, by my buddy Neal Ford.

To early to get into details, but I like Neal’s folksy style.  I also liked Lean Software Development: An Agile Toolkit, the first book I read by the Poppendiecks.

I’ll give a full accounting in a couple of weeks.  Hang in there..

What? A Post About Software Development?

When I started this blog, my intention was to regale the reader with pithy and insightful pronouncements on the state of software development. 

Since I didn’t want to maintain multiple blogs, I thought I’d put the odd stray commentary about life or books or politics on here too.

Naturally, what happened was that I didn’t do as much of the software stuff, and a lot more of the commentary stuff.  Software topics became the stray..  Astray to be honest.

So, for once in a long while I thought I should do a post on software.

It should be plain to my readers (the two of you out there) that the company I joined in late 2007, was bought out by the Bank of America.  Nice, right?

Absolutely!

For a bank, it is surprisingly flexible about things like open source (there’s an official FOSS group in the bank) , agile development (we have two standard and supported SDLCs — one is agile; guess the other) and personal involvement (we have an internal open source-style repository and user groups).

Great!

The one thing that irks is that we aren’t allowed to have mini test databases on our individual machines, whether laptop or desktop.   Security is the thing, and not unwarranted.  We don’t need some goof leaving a laptop in his car with a few hundred thousand customers’ data on it.

What we need is a way to sanitize the data so that it’s useful for testing, but useless for outsiders — or even larcenous insiders.

Gerard Meszaros’ book, xUnit Test Patterns lists using a centralized testing database as an anti-pattern.  Agreed.

So, how to go forward?

The database can help if it is aware of the relationships between tables.  A semi-sophisticated script can replace any identifiable information with bogus but readable chaff.  The keys used can be replaced with matching but unuseful values.

These exist, right?  I mean, why don’t we hear about them more?

Is this another open source project waiting to be started?  I haven’t looked, but maybe I will tonight…

Possible Air Travel Problems Call for More New Reading

So, I’m traveling to Toronto for the annual pilgrimage to the homeland for the holidays.  This time, for the first time in probably 6-7 years, my travel plans are threatened by winter weather.

The forecast is for snow.  Again.  But I think that the folks at Lester Pearson International know how to handle snow.  Since I’m flying direct, I’m hoping that’s enough to insure safe passage.

Just in case, I have three pieces of reading material to keep me company.  A novel, a magazine and a non-fiction tome.

The novel is “Next”, by the lamentably late Michael Crichton. I’m sad to see a Renaissance man’s untimely departure.  Just started.  Review to follow.

The magazine is Wired, January 2009.  An article on whether we should actually look for a cure for cancer, or simply look for ways to find it faster, caught my eye.  There’s an article about an individual aircraft too; the Icon A5.  Looking forward to relative fluff there..

The non-fiction tome is, “Spin-Free Economics“, by Nariman Behravesh.  So far, a partisan-free look at economic issues with a forward that chides both sides for perpetrating myths to their own ends.  Looking forward to delving further.

More to follow..

If my eyes tire, and the trip wears on, I have my trusty iPod loaded with NPR shows to keep me stimulated.

Yeah, I have music too.

Possible Air Travel Problems Call for More New Reading

So, I’m traveling to Toronto for the annual pilgrimage to the homeland for the holidays.  This time, for the first time in probably 6-7 years, my travel plans are threatened by winter weather.

The forecast is for snow.  Again.  But I think that the folks at Lester Pearson International know how to handle snow.  Since I’m flying direct, I’m hoping that’s enough to insure safe passage.

Just in case, I have three pieces of reading material to keep me company.  A novel, a magazine and a non-fiction tome.

The novel is “Next”, by the lamentably late Michael Crichton. I’m sad to see a Renaissance man’s untimely departure.  Just started.  Review to follow.

The magazine is Wired, January 2009.  An article on whether we should actually look for a cure for cancer, or simply look for ways to find it faster, caught my eye.  There’s an article about an individual aircraft too; the Icon A5.  Looking forward to relative fluff there..

The non-fiction tome is, “Spin-Free Economics“, by Nariman Behravesh.  So far, a partisan-free look at economic issues with a forward that chides both sides for perpetrating myths to their own ends.  Looking forward to delving further.

More to follow..

If my eyes tire, and the trip wears on, I have my trusty iPod loaded with NPR shows to keep me stimulated.

Yeah, I have music too.

What I Have Been Reading Lately..

Since the last update, I have been paying attention to the career side of things.

Pragmatic Thinking & Learning: Refactor Your Wetware, by Andy Hunt.   I really enjoyed Andy’s approach to this book.  It is full of tidbits and insights that lay the groundwork for ‘refactoring you wetware’.  I am about to embark on a ‘Pragmatic Investment Plan’ to learn Python and I will be SMART about it..

After that I read, Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management, by Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby.  This was definitely an interesting read.  These are things that I know from my practice as a consultant, watching good managers and bad, but I wouldn’t have had the insight to write them down.  I have implemented a few of the techniques now that I am a manager.

Just in general, I am always pleased by the books from The Pragmatic Bookshelf, they are relevant and always written in an accessible style.  For me, that title used to belong to APress; No longer.  And not for a while really.  If I could afford to, I’d probably buy one of each of Andy and Dave’s titles; maybe more as gifts.

The last book that I picked up recently, and I’m halfway through, is Malcolm Gladwell’s latest, Outliers: The Story of Success.  It will make you think about all those “picked myself up by my own bootstraps” biographies you’ve read over the years.  Recommended.