Agile Software Design, Architecture and Planning Tools

Dr. Dobbs published the Jolt Awards for Design, Architecture and Planning Tools today. The Jolt judges make a very important introductory point before discussing the specific winners.

“On large projects, it can be difficult to state requirements, do the design work, and still maintain Agile's orientation towards accepting — even welcoming — new changes from users.

“Those issues notwithstanding, I've noticed that most large or mid-sized projects with mission-critical implications invariably do indeed gather requirements carefully and design the product accordingly. Agile, if it's in use in the organization, typically is most evident in the coding and testing stages.

“Tools that can capture requirements, help illustrate and validate design, and plan the implementation are still very much needed.“

One of the greatest misunderstandings of Agile software development is the assumption that if one thing is valued over another, the thing with lesser value has no value. Let us review the manifesto:

Manifesto for Agile Software Development

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right
, we value the items on the left more.

I have added my own emphasis to highlight the point that is so often overlooked by Agile critics and enthusiasts alike. The critic decries Agile for eliminating design, architecture and planning, and yet Agile does nothing of the sort. The enthusiast rushes to write code thinking that Agile is a magic bridge over the need to endure the tedium of design, architecture and planning, and yet, nothing could be further from the truth.

After all, how can you set out to intelligently implement a use case if you do not first fully understand the design and architecture that supports the use case? And how will you know that you are implementing that use case at the right time without proper planning?

As the Jolt judges point out, the design, architecture and planning tools we choose to use in an Agile development shop “must be less heavy than in years past and more easily configured to fit the needs of the organization, rather than implementing a specific methodology to which the organization must migrate its orientation, if not its processes.”

I’m excited to check out the winners the judges have chosen. Visit the link at the beginning of this post and check them out yourself.

Whatever tools you choose for doing your design, architecture and planning, do not make the mistake of thinking that these critical phases of development are eliminated by Agile. You may go about these phases with a new attitude toward what is important and with a more realistic view of the realities of the evolution of a product during all phases of development, but you will not ignore them without significant risk. In fact, I think they need to be embraced by Agile teams remaining focused on the use cases and not the frameworks.

Seek to Establish a Corporate Culture of Honesty

In April of this year, an executive of another company told me in a telephone conversation, "Everybody lies. You just have to get used to it."

I was stunned by the statement and have given it a lot of thought since then. It reminded me of a scene from Babylon 5 that went something like this:

Garibaldi: Everybody lies.
Edgars: That's a very sad view of the universe, Mr. Garibaldi.
Garibaldi: Yeah, well, it's the only one I got. And it works for me.
Edgars: The truth will be revealed in a couple of days. How many people can say that?
Garibaldi: I don't know. But I think the last guy got thirty pieces of silver for the same job.

Dishonesty in this technological age has even produced its own vocabulary, specifically the verb "to blag." The third definition of "blag" in the Urban Dictionary:

To convince another person that all the stuff you just made up is in fact true and worthy. Example: "Caught in a tight spot, Harry blagged his way through the conversation and somehow got the job."

I do not wish to accept the dim view that everybody lies. And I certainly do not wish to get used to it, in any way shape or form. And yet there is growing evidence both anecdotally in my own professional career and globally that the enterprise often creates a dishonest culture. Author Brian Amble in Management Issues filed a piece in 2005 entitled Corporate Culture Encourages Lying. The author mentions "blagging" and makes these three very interesting points:

"The rot starts at the top, revealing a surprisingly ambivalent attitude amongst...bosses towards the honesty – or otherwise - of their staff."

"The vast majority of company directors and senior managers believe it is wrong for their employees to lie to them. But almost half are comfortable with those same employees telling untruths on their behalf to their customers – with female bosses even more tolerant of this sort of behavior than their male colleagues."

"[Microsoft] encourages decision-making [using a] technology-based process that creates permanent digital records and maintains the integrity of the information on which those decisions are based."

In my experience blagging is most especially prevalent in the world of software development where management clings to the notion, and consultants sell the latest process magic to reaffirm the assumption, that building software is like building a house, sufficiently predictable and repeatable so as to accurately establish a firm budget, timeline and resource commitment before ground is broken. Software artisans then find themselves in the very uncomfortable position of feeling pressured to lie to their patron bosses who clearly do not wish to know that building software is often as much an unpredictable art as it is in any way a predictable science.

Software craftsmen who boldly stand their ground and declare, "I don't know how long it will take to build that," are more often attacked and labeled malcontent and misfit, shunned by managers who insist that they can bend reality to their will while they ignore what their experts have told them. And lower management who know better are caught in the ultimate catch 22. They may believe their lead developers or software architects when they say, "we cannot deliver all these features on that date," but they cannot report that fact to their own managers or customers, so they choose to lie in order to protect and even advance their own career knowing that if the implementation team fails, they may avoid accountability by throwing the developers under the bus, asserting the implementation team is incompetent and ought to be replaced.

Given the impossible circumstances in which software craftsmen find themselves, they often resort to lying to themselves and their bosses asserting that they can produce some piece of software, despite the general lack of specific requirements and understanding of the problem domain or the target users, within the time budget and resource constraints imposed by management. And then in order to avoid being exposed as just another blagger, the software artisan (or collectively the team) works impossible hours, makes imprudent quality compromises and desperately seeks for external circumstances which can be blamed for delays. Knowing that such responsibility diverting opportunities always arise, the software artisan begins to accept and even embrace the culture of lies produced by her circumstances until she does not even recognize the truth.

I know that this scenario is not universal. There are organizations who take great steps, incorporating technology and constant vigilance, to avoid the traps of dishonesty. These organizations are led by honest people who genuinely listen to their people and avoid the trap of boxing their software craftsmen into a set of assumptions that are untenable at best and downright foolish at worst. Dr. Rhonne Sanderson said it best in an article by Marcia A. Reed-Woodard entitled Don't lie to me: dishonesty can ruin professional and personal relationships:

"Although lying provides an easy out in the short-term, it comes with serious repercussions," says Dr Rhonne Sanderson, a Dallas--Fort Worth area licensed psychotherapist. He maintains that the fallout from lying can hurt others, ruin relationships, as well as rob the liar of integrity, credibility, confidence, and self-esteem. "Lying only exacerbates the real problem."

If we let honesty govern our dealings with our fellow man, we will all be the better for it. We do not need to sacrifice civility for honesty, nor should we mistake an honest disagreement for disrespect or insubordination, for when we do, we encourage others to be dishonest through their silence.

We can boldly speak the truth and expect others to do so. We can hold ourselves and others to account. We need not settle for the notion that everybody lies. And we certainly do not need to get used to it. We can and ought to do and be better.

Fear Corrupts Process and Assures Failure

A certain angel investor chose three companies in which to invest a relatively large sum. In the first, he invested $10 million. In the second, he invested $5 million. And in the third, he invested $1 million. A year later, the first had doubled in value because it had boldly used the capital to execute on its business plan. The second company had also doubled in size because they had taken the investment and worked very hard to grow their business. The third company had run into some problems and was afraid of losing their capital, so they did nothing and had nothing to show for it. The angel investor liquidated his interest in the third company and those people are now looking for work.

Yes, I’ve borrowed the plot for that story from someone much wiser than me. But it applies in today’s world of technology and software development as much as it applies to the context for which it was originally told. Fear paralyzes us into inaction or into making unwise choices which almost always result in the corruption of otherwise sound business processes and just as often leads to complete and utter failure.

One of the greatest fears in software development that corrupts process and assures failure is the fear to tell the client or customer no. In the world of software development, especially in internal enterprise software development, the fear of saying no can be so paralyzing that we often place impossible burdens on teams already pushed to their limits. The fear of saying no can lead us to short circuit our process, skip critical steps and gloss over real analysis and careful design. The fear of saying no can lead to general discord when a team member objects and the manager angrily brushes her off, dismissing her concerns as irrelevant or inconsequential. This fear leads to chaos and assured failure. Failure to deliver on time. Failure to communicate and manage realistic client expectations. Failure to establish credibility and confidence with the client and the organization. Failure to keep and foster a well organized, happy and productive team.

So how can one overcome this fear? You just jump. How does the diver overcome his fear of heights to jump from a platform so high the first time? He just jumps. How does a skydiver overcome her fear of falling to her death from an airplane? She just leaps or is pushed. And then training and preparation take over and fear is overcome. You may never completely overcome the fear of saying no. But if you jump, take a leap of faith, just do it, you’ll find that you have not died and that you will have an easier time doing it the next time.

When we overcome our fear and take a leap of faith, we can accomplish great things. Let us work like the first two companies in our story and succeed.

How to Earn Respect as a Leader in the Workplace

I’ve recently been interested in the subject of respect and the question of whether respect is given or earned. My conclusion is that respect is given most often when it is earned and certainly most easily when that is so. In contemplating and researching this subject, I ran across a post by Bret Simmons that I liked very much called 10 Ways to Earn Respect as a Leader in the Workplace.

I recommend you read the full article but I’ll share a few of my favorites here along with some personal thoughts about each one.

Get to know your co-workers and their families.
This is the author’s first point and I think most important one. It is very hard to give respect to someone who has no empathy and does not appear to be genuinely interested in you and your personal circumstances. A little bit of real care can earn a lot of respect.

Communicate clearly and regularly.
If one does not hear from or speak with his manager on a regular basis, it is impossible for the first point to occur. And if a person is left in the dark with respect to what is happening within the organization, an atmosphere of fear and a feeling of neglect can result in poor attitudes and even overt disrespect.

Make generous use of self-deprecating humor.
When I work with someone who refrains from making deprecating remarks about others but has the self confidence to take a jab at himself from time to time in order to put others at ease, I’m more likely to feel comfortable working with that person and will certainly have more respect for him.

Admit when you screw up.
Nothing can destroy the respect you have earned more rapidly than dodging responsibility for your own mistakes. Nothing can more irreversibly damage your own reputation more powerfully than when you throw a subordinate or coworker under the bus rather than owning up and facing the music. At the same time, the opposite is true. If I have a boss who takes responsibility for mistakes made and asks the team for their support as she takes corrective action, I will have just that much more respect for that person.

Stand behind your staff during times of difficulty.
When mistakes are made by subordinates or coworkers, stand by them. Don’t abandon them in an attempt to save yourself. Chances are you will all survive but you will have lost their respect forever. The author writes, “If you can’t stand behind one of your team members, then you don’t belong in management and you’re certainly not a leader.”

What’s Wrong with Technical Recruiters

I’ve had a series of ongoing discussions with a friend who is also a senior software architect. In recent months he’s become quite dissatisfied with his manager specifically and employer generally. He has put his resume out on the typical job search sites, Dice, Monster, TheLadders, LinkedIn and others, and has been sorely disappointed with the result. Technical recruiters seem to be, with rare exceptions, a sorry lot of would-be telemarketers rejected for lack of integrity by the local call-center-for-hire.

On a daily basis this friend of mine receives emails and calls with a hot job listing that do not generally match his skills or experience like the one that he forwarded to me today, not because he might really be a match but in hopes of sparking a conversation that goes something like this:

  • Recruiter: “I know you may not be a good fit for this job, but do you know anyone who is?”
  • Candidate: “No. I do not know anyone with this skill set and experience level interested in a 6 month contract.”
  • Recruiter: “Okay. I’d like to keep in touch with you and I will definitely call you if something comes through that is a better match for what you’re looking for.”
  • Candidate: “Okay, sure. Thanks for the call.”

My friend reports that he has at least three of those conversations per week and at least two or three such emails as the one below per day. I’ve changed the company names and the place to avoid the chance of embarrassing any of them, especially since one or two of them is a household brand name.

Hello,

I am Recruiter with XYZConsulting (formerly ABCConsulting), a dedicated QRS contractor sourcing service, managed by TenCharms. We recruit solely for QRS Contract Positions. Should you accept a contract position, it will be through our preferred partner TenCharms, an independent vendor chosen to manage this program for QRS.

I saw your resume on a job board. I am currently recruiting .net Consultant for a 12 months contract project with QRS – Chicago, IL.

Email me a copy of WORD formatted resume, along with these details:

  • Best time & number to speak to you:
  • Location:
  • Visa Status:
  • How soon you can start:
  • Work mode, W2, C2C (if self-incorporated):
  • Expectations on Compensation:

Position’s name: .net Consultant

Assignment period: 12 months
Location: Chicago, IL

Required skills
Primary Skills: asp.net, vb.net, Oracle / SQL Server, SQL. Secondary Skills: C#.net, MS Access / VBA

As this is an urgent requirement, kindly respond to it at earliest possible.

Best Regards,
Bad Excuse (name changed to protect the guilty)

Recruiter | XYZConsulting (formerly ABCConsulting)
A TenCharms Solution
Dedicated QRS Contractor Sourcing Services

My friend has shown me many other emails that are far worse than this one. Many of them are poorly written, lacking proper grammar and teeming with spelling errors, yet they claim to represent well known companies. I wonder if these companies for whom these recruiters work ever bother to review the practices and general quality of the communications of their agents. Somehow I doubt it.

In some of the emails my friend has forwarded to me, it becomes clear that the recruiting company has employed some shoddy keyword matching algorithm to select from a list of candidates who have put their resumes out into the swamp of job sites (see above mentioned sites). In some of these I have been able to identify one or two specific keywords that match my friend’s resume. I should know. I helped him write it.

Sometimes the keyword match is even close, such as, “architect” or “jQuery.” But since my friend is a .NET architect and the job is for a J2EE architect who also knows jQuery and PHP and Oracle while my friend does not mention Oracle or PHP on his resume at all, it is clear that the recruiter’s matching algorithm, whether it is their own or provided by one of the job sites, is severely lacking in even the most basic intelligence.

Either that or the recruiter is far more interested in spamming the candidate with a job posting that is clearly not a fit in hopes that the candidate will do the job of the recruiter for him or her or it.

To all such recruiters, please for the love of Pete, what’s wrong with you? Stop wasting my friend’s time!

Winning Teams Have Winning Coaches

How many games will an NFL team win if the coaching staff and the owners remain in the locker room during practices and games, coming out only at half time and between quarters to ask the team members what they can do to win the game?

ESPN’s Worst NFL teams of all time include:

#1. 1976 Buccaneers (0-14)
It was their season debut. They were shut out five times and averaged fewer than nine points per game. Defensive lineman Pat Toomay said, “The coach stopped talking to us after the third game. During the week, he wanted nothing to do with us.”

… (You can read more on the page linked above. I’ve included snippets here of the two that I felt illustrated my point.) …

#9. 2001 Carolina Panthers (1-15)
”The energy has been sucked out of our organization and our fan base,” said owner Jerry Richardson, after firing head coach George Seifert at the end of the year.

Great players cannot win consistently without great coaches. The same is true of software development teams, or any other type of team for that matter. If the coaches remain in the locker room, the team, being paid professionals, will still play, and they might even score, and with ideal conditions, they might even deliver a win or two, but a losing season can be guaranteed when the coaches and owners can’t be bothered to be a part of the game.

On the other hand, we have great examples such as Vince Lombardi who went to work for the Packers and turned a 1-10-1 in 1958 team into one of the greatest teams in the game and with five NFL championships before he left nine seasons later. He was in the game. He was a motivational leader. He was a great coach.

Or how about Tom Landry and his goofy hat who coached the Cowboys for 28 years and had a 20 year winning season streak. He was a great coach.

This list of winning coaches is long. Only the losing players on a losing team remember their losing coaches beyond the losing season. Winning coaches are remembered and revered long after they’ve left the field.

And how many games do you think those winning coaches missed?

Who was your greatest coach? And why? I want to hear from you.

The 4 Keys to Effective Management

Effective management is simply pushing the right buttons and pulling the right levers at the right time. This requires sufficient information, analytic thought, rational decision, and consequential action. Asking questions and thoughtful contemplation are not enough. If you cannot make decisions and act upon them, you are a researcher; you are not a manager.

  1. Sufficient Information
     
  2. Analytic Thought
     
  3. Rational Decision
     
  4. Consequential Action

Every healthy human being manages something. You wake up hungry (information) and you think about bacon (thought) and you decide to limit yourself to two pieces (rational decision) and you throw three pieces in the pan (consequential action) just in case one of them burns even though you know you’ll eat it anyway. Okay, we’re not all perfect managers. Actually, I’ve never met one, so I’m not sure there is such a thing. Excuse me while I take a break to finish that third piece of bacon…