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Testing as the core discipline of software delivery

Of the basic disciplines involved in software development and delivery – analysis, design, programming, testing, management, deployment, operations, architecture, etc. – programming is usually seen as the most technically demanding and complicated to learn. Many people look primarily to programming when they assess the effectiveness of their software delivery processes. Historically, the knee-jerk response to slow delivery has been to hire more programmers. After all, software is code, right? Therefore, if there’s a problem delivering software, it must have something to do with the way it’s coded.

After some 36 years in the IT industry, most of it in a hands-on software development role, I’ve come to the conclusion that the core discipline in software development is not programming, but rather testing. Even if programming is objectively more time-consuming to master than the other disciplines, it seems to me that testing is more critical to success. Continue reading Testing as the core discipline of software delivery

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BBUF: Big Budget Up Front

The packaging of ideas represented by “agile” includes elements pertaining to organizational culture and elements pertaining to processes and practices. Although many of us would like to see organizations adopt useful elements in both areas holistically, in my experience it is not the case that the two are welded together. Instead, cultural aspects and mechanical aspects affect work flow and outcomes differently and independently.

In most organizations that have adopted “agile” methods, people have embraced a subset of the mechanical elements of “agile” development, but they have no understanding of the cultural aspects and, in many cases, no interest. Yet, I think it’s fair to say they are “using” or “doing” agile development. It’s definitely possible to employ some of the mechanical aspects of “agile” development in the context of an otherwise-traditional organizational structure and culture. It’s happening all over the world right now. Because of this reality, I often use the word “agile” to refer only to the mechanical aspects. I sometimes run afoul of agile practitioners because of this.

When I suggest that the use of “agile” methods does not automatically mean we are doing adaptive development, some agile practitioners protest. Continue reading BBUF: Big Budget Up Front

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Choosing between traditional and adaptive development

The Iron Triangle of scope, schedule, and budget is fundamental to managing software delivery initiatives. Two general approaches are available for managing this aspect of delivery. With the traditional approach, we try to identify all needs, risks, and costs in advance and create a detailed, comprehensive plan before beginning development. With the adaptive approach, we begin with a vision for the product and incrementally evolve the solution based on feedback from stakeholders. Either way, we must deal with scope, schedule, and budget. However, the mechanisms we use are very different with each approach, and the metrics we can use to steer the initiative are different as well.

There are two key factors to consider when choosing an adaptive or traditional approach to Iron Triangle management: Urgency and uncertainty. Generally speaking, when either urgency or uncertainty is high, an adaptive approach is called for. When both urgency and uncertainty are low, a traditional approach is called for. It’s only fair to say that the choice is not always obvious.

Continue reading Choosing between traditional and adaptive development

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Words don’t mean what they don’t mean


Words don’t have firm, unambiguous, unchanging meanings. This is a source of some frustration for me. The same word can have multiple meanings. Sometimes there are context-dependent meanings. Sometimes there are shades of meaning conveyed by tone of voice. People can have multiple interpretations of the same basic meaning of any given word. Clear communication is more challenging than it might appear to be.

In the field of software development, we have an unfortunate habit of re-using old words to represent new concepts. Maybe it’s because we value re-use (whatever that means). The English word, agile already had a meaning before software developers came along and started using it for something else. A ballerina is agile. A faun is agile. That’s easy to understand. Now, software development can be agile, too (whatever that means).
Continue reading Words don’t mean what they don’t mean

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Delivery mode

This is the third of three posts dealing with aspects of management that I consider significant in choosing management techniques and metrics for software development and support:

  1. Iron Triangle management
  2. Process models
  3. Delivery mode (this post)

Despite the many complexities of software work, we are always working in one of two modes:

  • Discrete project
  • Continuous support

By discrete project mode I mean a mode of operation in which an organization creates a special initiative that exists for a defined period of time whenever it needs to achieve a set of related objectives, such as creating a new software application or upgrading the routers on the corporate network.

In contrast, with the continuous support mode of operation, the organization maintains a stable team to support each technical asset (such as the corporate network, a business rules engine, a COTS CRM package, or an ETL product) or suite of applications (such as the suite of applications that support consumer lending in a financial institution) throughout its lifetime. The size of the team may grow or shrink depending on the level of work needed to support the asset or applications at any given time, but the organization does not start a new project for every set of objectives pertaining to the asset or applications.
Continue reading Delivery mode

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Process models

This is the second of three posts dealing with aspects of management that I consider significant in choosing management techniques and metrics for software development and support:

  1. Iron Triangle management
  2. Process model (this post)
  3. Delivery mode

In my experience, no two organizations, and no two teams within the same organization, use exactly the same process model for software delivery; nor do they keep the same process intact forever. Everyone tailors their process to their own needs and to the realities of their own situation. In addition, most organizations use more than one process, depending on the nature of each particular initiative or work stream.

That is as it should be. Yet, despite the many variations, there are common patterns that can help us understand how we might plan and track the progress of software development initiatives and support activities in ways that help us make management decisions, as opposed to merely following a published guideline for planning and tracking.
Continue reading Process models

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Iron Triangle management

This is the first of three posts dealing with aspects of management that I consider important:

  1. Iron Triangle management
  2. Process model
  3. Delivery mode

The reason I think these aspects are important is that they affect the way we handle various management issues, particularly our choice of metrics. Metrics that apply to one option in one of these areas may be meaningless or misleading when applied to a different option.

As George Box famously wrote, all models are wrong but some models are useful. The model I present here is based on my own experience and observation. It is wrong by definition by virtue of the fact it is a model; but hopefully it is useful, as well.

The order in which the aspects are listed reflects their relative effect on our choices, in my opinion. The strongest effect comes from our approach to managing the Iron Triangle. That is the subject of this post.
Continue reading Iron Triangle management