Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Dear boy, have you ever tried programming?

I sometimes come across teams who are wrapped up in discussing what they should be building. OK, I suppose this is because I hang out with too many management types. Sometimes there are only a couple of programmer, occasionally one, or maybe they haven’t got that far.

Sometimes I come across pre-teams, people who will form a team to do some work but haven’t started yet. I guess the project folk would call this “pre-project phase” and there is a lot of discussion: “Should we do Agile or Waterfall? Scrum or Kanban?” and “Which outsourcer will we use?” and “If we are agile how will we….”

In short these people are wrapped up in agonising about what might happen.

On these occasions I’m reminded of a story I once heard about the actors Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman. In the story Hoffman, who is a famous method actor, says to Olivier something like:

“Mr Olivier, I am honoured to be working with you, but please tell me how do you learn you character? I mean do you use the method or some other approach? What should I do?”

To which Olivier says:

“My dear boy, … have you tried acting?”

This is what I feel, but usually don’t, to these teams, managers, analysts, whoever:

“Have you actually tried developing and delivering some software?”

Some planning, some forethought, some agonising is good. It helps you think things through. But it quickly becomes a game of diminishing returns. Its the old Eisenhower quote again:

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

Which is a natural follow on from Helmuth von Moltke’s observation:

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

Peter Drucker has a similar, though to my mind better, quote too:

“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”

So let me say:

“No plan for software development survives contact with the code. (Double so for legacy code.)”

“No requirements roadmap ever survives contact with the market.”

(According to wikipedia the Olivier-Hoffman exchange happened during the filming of Marathon Man and isn’t exactly true but does contain a grain of truth.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book of the Year

I’ve been asked by several people lately - mostly for their own blog posts! - for my book of the year. Well thats easy…

From a professional point of view, that is, if you are asking me as someone who advises software developers and teams, and is well know as an “agile supporter” then my unreserved book of the year is… drum roll…

Scarcity: The True Cost of Not Having Enough by Mullainathan and Shafir

I wrote longer review of the book back in June, “Scarcity, not Slack.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

#NoProjects: videos + Q&A

One of the reasons this blog has been quiet recently is that I’ve been putting my efforts into video: The #NoProjects Video series.

This is now available as 16 short episodes on YouTube based on my popular #NoProjects/Beyond Projects conference presentation. If you have seen the conference presentation you know what to expect although there are some changes. My hope is that by making the presentation available as 16 short (I think the longest episode is 5 minutes) pieces the argument will reach a wider audience.

I have also been directing my efforts at another Beyond Projects endeavour: the Managing without Projects one day workshop which I will be holding in London (Bloomsbury) next month (Friday 15 Jan). I’ve got a few people signed up for this and I know a few more bookings are in the works but the more the merrier so please come too!

Blog readers can get a 10% discount on this workshop with the code BlogDec15 which is good for the next week (until 14 December.)

There are a few questions I’ve been meaning to clarify about #NoProjects / Managing Without Projects and now is as good a time as ever:

Q: Isn’t “No” rather negative?

A: Yes it is, I’ve had a go at changing it but attempts so far haven’t caught the same feel. Perhaps this is because “No” is so definite or because “Beyond” is 4 characters more and 4 characters on Twitter is a big deal.

For a while I preferred the name “Beyond Projects”

Lately I’ve been calling it “Managing without Projects”

But perhaps “Software without Projects” might be better still, that would lend itself to the hashtag #SW2Prjs

Q: Is #NoProjects actually #NoEstimates?

A: No

The hashtags and ideas originate with different people. There are parallels and the ideas might be symbiotic but while I know some #NoEstimates people would like to see #NoProjects as part of the same idea I don’t.

Estimates are a complex area and right now its difficult to have a rational conversation about them - perhaps it was ever so. But, I still see value in “estimates” in some context. Its all a question of “What question are you really asking?” using estimates might help or it might now.

While most of the conversation on “estimates” implies “time estimates” there is another form of estimation: “value estimates”. These don’t get anywhere near enough attention or use. I use them and I help my clients use them but I don’t see them elsewhere very often.

I should expand on this another time.

Q: Does #NoProjects mean #NoManagement, aka “Self managing teams” ?

A: No - I have no argument with management itself. I have an argument with the concept of projects which I think leads to poor management of software development.

I see management as a skills, the same as Java, SQL, Testing or Analysts. Unfortunately very few people actively learn about management or try to master it as a skill in the same way they might Python or Java.

When they do try and learn “management skills” people often start with “project management.” I sometimes thing of “project management” as “management lite.”

As a result an awful lot of “management” of technology (specifically software development) is poor. In such conditions removing management (i.e. self management) can actually improve things.

Again, I should really write an extended piece on this subject.

Q: What about Project Managers?

A: I treat each and every Project Manager as an individual. They can bring valuable skills and experience to a team. Unfortunately many of them don’t and add little. In part this is because they are asked - both by their employer and their professional bodies - to manage using a model that is inappropriate to the software domain.

So I don’t see mass redundancies of project managers, rather I see the good ones being allowed to manage properly using a better model.

Q: Isn’t this a pretty radical position when so many companies revolve around the project model?

A: Yes, my hope is to get people to talk about the issues I raise. Even if companies don’t abandon the project model completely I hope they can get better by finding their own ways to address these issues.

Besides, I’m a consultant and I’m only too happy to talk about these issues myself and give advice. Just call me.

As a consultant few of my clients actively set out to become a NoProjects company and I don’t try and make them so. They and I want them to do better. I find that if I think in a NoProjects way I can understand the client better, and if they still have projects I can then map the ideas across.