Jazoon 2013 – How To Do Kick-Ass Software Development

24. October, 2013

Jazoon 2013 badgeOne of the most important aspects of agile is to notice your problems and solve them. How? A good strategy is to look what others did. In “How To Do Kick-Ass Software Development,” Sven Peters shares his experience with “Kick-Ass Software Development at Atlassian” (slides on slideshare, video on vimeo). Yes, he have the talk wearing the “Kick-Ass Super Hero Costume“.

A short refresher what agile aims to be (slide 12):

  • better software
  • less overhead
  • faster development
  • happy customer
  • happy developers

This only works when you continuously improve. Legacy teams, can you hear me?

Kick-Ass Software

But before we can start: How do we know we build the right thing? Bad example: The Microsoft Kin. Never heard of it? They sunk about $1 billion in the project. Makes you wonder how you could miss it, right? (slide 25)

Better solution: Fake it. IBM made extensive experiments with a state-of-the-art speech-to-text system before starting development. How did they do it? They hired an extremely fast typist who remote-controlled word. Cost? Negligible. Result? Text-to-speech won’t sell – people can’t edit the text fast enough using words, they are hoarse after eight hours and the whole thing really breaks down in an open office space. (slide 27)

Use paper prototypes. Something geeks eventually forget: You can drag a piece of paper over a (wooden) desktop just like a window over a screen. (slide 28)

Quick and easy feedback: Easy to find, simple, fast to submit (slide 32). Customers love it! But remember to protect your developers. Gmail uses the “Sh*t umbrella” (slide 38). But not everyone is Google. Put each developer into a support seat once in a while. Not only can they solve problems much more quickly, they also learn to look at their work from the customer perspective (slide 42).

Kick-Ass Team

In most companies, there are way more developers than testers. Atlassian has a ratio of about 13:1. This creates bottlenecks and issues with accountability and scalability (slide 46).

Solutions: Dev X tests features of other devs. (slide 49)

Use “DoTing” – Developers on Test (slides 50 -56):

  • Give developers the same training QA receives
  • Pair testers with devs
  • “Blitz Test” – Once in a while, invite everyone in the company to try the product
  • Use test recipes
  • Split sessions (1 dev and 1 QA test the same feature independently)
  • Bug Hunter (have someone try really hard to break the app)

Remember “Quality is everybody’s responsibility.” (slide 57)

At the Jazoon, the slides about design were skipped due to time constraints.

Again: Department barriers slow you down. Work together as one team! Keep improving! (slide 69, see also: WIKISPEED in “Test First Saves The World”)

Kick-Ass Collaboration

The lonesome cowboy coder is a relic but teams always mean trouble. Interesting video of a heavy-traffic crossing without signals on slide 73. “Traffic Rules protect us from accidents” -> “Development Rules are protecting us from making mistakes”. Like we need a concurrency library in our preferred language, we need a “Fast + Simple Workflow For Parallel Coding.” Otherwise we will be slow and some people will enable their “god mode.” (slide 77)

DVCS make this simple. Create a branch for every task (slide 78). They should have short lives (2 days).

“Pull Requests can improve your code quality” (slide 80). This helps to spread knowledge. But keep an eye on the blame game!

Everyone in the same room would be great but it’s not always possible: People travel. You really want to pull some experts two weeks out of his family? (slide 85) Ask yourself: “Where do I work best?” The answer often is: It depends (slide 86). Make sure people can stay in the zone when they have to.

Make sure you can communicate effectively (slide 87). Emails look great (slide 88) but they cause problems (slide 90). Try chat. Invent your own Portal Device.

Most importantly: Remove friction!

Kick-Ass Automation

Developers automate everything for everyone else. Spend some time each week to automate a menial/manual task for them (slide 101).

4 steps to tame monster builds (slide 104-110):

  1. Instead of having everyone build everything, pass the artifact
  2. Run your tests in parallel. They are independent of each other as they should be, right?
  3. Have a build strategy. How often do you build what part?
  4. Make your stats visible. Use wallboards, information rediators.

Automatically disable flacky tests (113). Use SonarQube and similar tools to detect problematic code. Use Freud to find your own anti-patterns (115).


Remember managers are also humans (123).

Share stories of success and failure (124).

Remember: To be awesome, you have to step out of your comfort zone (126)

Final Java Questions

3. September, 2011

Recently, I read a blog post which talked how “stupid” today’s developers are. As an example, “the interviewed candidates claims that they are very good at core java and saying that we can’t add/remove elements to an ArrayList which is declared as final.” (Are Frameworks Making Developers Dumb?)

Funny, right? But it got me thinking.

How important is it really that someone knows this? With over 60K points on stackoverflow, I’m one of the most knowledgeable software developers in the world but there was a moment, when my brain stumbled over the question. I rarely use final in my code. So how much value does this information have? How often do I need this every day? Once per week? Month? Year? How much damage can the wrong answer cause?

While I agree that sound knowledge helps a lot, I see team mates struggle much less. They don’t know as much as I do but there is a demotivating effect here: If you know too much, every simple question triggers a flood of thoughts: What can go wrong? Didn’t we encounter this already? What’s the best solution?

Sometimes, there are two “best” solutions and missing any further input, I can get stuck in a deadlock. Which way to go?

Or the solution to a problem triggers a new problem which in turn triggers a third. Suddenly, I’m caught in a maelstrom of dread which overwhelms me: Every possible way out just causes more trouble.

So for me, knowledge isn’t everything. Some people are “just” decent developers but that should not stop you to hire them. Here are some other, valuable factors:

  • How easily do they give up?
  • How well do they play as a team? That doesn’t mean everyone has to be a “team player” (whatever that might be). But strengths and weaknesses of each individual should compensate each other. One guys likes to talk a lot, let him handle customers. The other guy likes to work alone, give him the hard tasks that need a lot of time and concentration.
Most of all, make sure that every member of the team understands that a weak spot doesn’t make someone less valuable. It just makes them less valuable for certain tasks. If you can distribute the tasks just right, the team will be much stronger than one made up from the best developers in the world.

Jazzon 2011, Day 3 – Turning up the heat – techniques for self-organizing teams – Joseph Pelrine

26. June, 2011

Turning up the heat – techniques for self-organizing teams – Joseph Pelrine

Joseph reminded us that teams always organize themselves, if we want it or not. Those social forces are pretty strong which is why agile methods have given up to fight with them. Instead, they try to prevent the worst and/or alert you early of problems.

The most important three words of the talk: “Leave them alone.”

But the result is probably not going to be the way you want. Also, team building this way can take a long time. Or it can be surprisingly quick. It can take as little as 2 seconds for a group of strangers to clap in unison (as he demonstrated in the presentation using the audience). One reason why this works is because we wanted it to happen. If part of the team refuses to be part of it, you’re in trouble.

When we say “self-organizing,” who or what is this “self” really? It’s a “system” composed of a group of people and their environment. This simple fact is an often overlooked. Renovating a shabby workplace can be better for quality than a raise or bonus. Listening to people and acting on their input is more effective than bringing in external consultant. Usually, they are brought in to make the “act upon” part more easy.

Every such system defines its own rules and responsibilities. Without any regard to what people want or what happens to them. Martyr anyone? The problem: We want people to do what we want without us telling them. Only if you ignore (part of) the system, you will fail because the forces in the system can be tremendous. Again, agile lists methods that often work but you should still be aware that there are reasons why changes to the system fail.

For example, Art Kleiner came up with the Core Group Theory: For every system, there will be a small group of people who control the system. Dictator in a dictatorship. If the boss doesn’t take control, the system still enforces that the “underlings” follow – they will make fun of the boss but they will still follow orders. Most often to the letter. Financial crisis: Small group of greedy people almost ruined the world’s economy.

One important point is that you need energy from the outside if the system’s equilibrium isn’t what you want it to be. Say your developers aren’t testing enough. You need some incentive for them. This external energy is consumed but it doesn’t necessarily alter the system permanently.  For that to happen, you must look at the system (people + environment) and find a way to make sure it’s in the system’s best interest to change (and not only in the people’s best interest!)

How can you do that? You turn up the “stress” or “heat.” Note that too little heat and nothing will happen. The resistance of the system will simply swallow your efforts. Too much heat and the system will retaliate or overreact. So it need to be applied with care.

One way is to use the physical formula PV = nRT which means pressure * volume = temperature. You can increase the temperature (the heat) by increasing the pressure (add more tasks) or by reducing the time to complete the tasks.

Another is to look at the system as a star with five tips: Attractors (like bonuses), boundaries (who is on the team, who isn’t), identities (who was which role/responsibility), diversity (homogeneous systems tend to inbreed) and environment.

Which means you can try these things:

  • Offer a price like a holiday or free pizza for all (attractor)
  • Add/remove people to/from the team like mixing the testers with the development team.
  • Move a difficult customer to a different support guy
  • Bring in new blood and ideas
  • Get them new computers, remove the telephones so they don’t get interrupted every 11 minutes.

Remember: Changes are like really long hikes; one step at a time.


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