Careful Software Development

3 Sep, 2009

Enough with this seat-of-your pants "eXtreme Programming", this twisty-turny "Agile" bollocks, and this anorexic "Lean"! You're all a bunch of cowboys!

The time has come for a return to a more sensible, conservative approach. Just be a little more careful, okay?

Careful, don't waste your money (and time)

It's sensible to ensure that what you're building has real business value. Ideally, you should be building the highest-value stuff first. Anything less, and you're being careless with your (or someone else's) money.

Careful, make sure it's useful

It's worth saying again ...

If you build stuff that users don't want, nobody's going to end up happy. I suggest you keep in close contact with them. Show them what you're building for them as soon as possible (yes, even before it's "finished"), so they can help keep you pointed in the right direction.

It's important to listen to your users, but don't forget that they (like you) only have part of the picture. You need to work with them to find the best way to solve their problems, rather than just implementing their proposed solutions without question.

Even when you eventually understand what the requirements are, the rest of the team might not. So you'd best write the requirements down somewhere. Somewhere safe. Code (in the form of automated tests) is an excellent way to express requirements, because (unlike other options) it's hard to misinterpret.

Careful, don't miss the turn-off

Plans are great; make sure you have one. But don't follow it blindly. Once you get going, you'll probably discover lots of things you didn't know when you made the plan. You may even stumble upon some useful short-cuts: ways to deliver more value, for less cost! Don't let the plan prevent you from taking those opportunities.

After all, even if you have a map, it's still useful to look at the road ahead. Where'd you get that map, anyway? Oh, you drew it yourself?! Well, why not slip that back into it's protective plastic cover, so it doesn't get grubby. There ya go. And keep an eye out for road signs, okay? Excellent.

Careful, free stuff isn't always cheap

You may find something that looks like it might solve all (or some) of your problems. Perhaps some free software, or a product you already have licenses for. That would be nice.

But beware! Adapting your problem to someone else's solution is hard, and if you fail, leaves you in a delicate situation. In some situations, rolling your own solution works out cheaper in the long run.

Careful, don't bite off more than you can chew

Q. How do you eat an elephant? A. One bite at a time.

For god's sake, don't give yourself indigestion by tackling the whole trunk at once! I had a cousin who did that, and she still can't ride a bike properly.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Careful, don't break the stuff that's already working

Software's not easy, you know. It gets complicated inside that big box. And hot. You might accidently trip over some important wires while you're in there installing the new fnord-wangling module.

You know those automated tests, ummm I mean requirements, you captured earlier? Just run them again. Actually, run them as frequently as you can; that should alert you to any inadvertent mistakes as soon as they occur.

Careful, don't let it fail in production

Oh boy, if it goes wrong in production, your users are going to be mighty grumpy. That's embarassing. And these things tend to happen whenever it's least convenient. You might just have to cancel that ski-trip.

Careful, too, to have good processes for finding and fixing production issues if and when they do occur. Make sure you can turn fixes around quickly. You may make the ski-fields yet!

Careful, don't step on your own toes

Make sure that the team is all working towards the same goal; all pulling in the same direction. Yeah, unfortunately that means talking to each other. All the time. But otherwise, you'll just get in each other's way.

Careful, don't be left holding the (ugly, vomiting) baby

There's a chance (actually, let's call it a certainty), that the rest of the project team will desert you. The clever ones are likely to leave first.

So, I suggest you ensure you have a decent understanding of the system before they go. Documentation might help. But probably not: most of it tends to be kind of useless. You're probably better off working with them a bit while they're still around. That way you can ask them questions.

And if you work together, you'll likely produce a more maintainable result, anyway.

Okay, then

In the immortal words of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus:

"Let's be careful out there."

Thanks for listening.