Monday, June 25, 2007


Anyone who has looked at software development methods, myself included, is probably familiar with the CHAOS report of The Standish Group. I have blogged before about Robert Glass's article that the numbers reported that group simply are not supported by other studies. I was happy to see that referenced on Herding Cats.

The effects of the data they report (189% cost overrun average) are negative for the IT industry. They are used to justify all means of odd process controls and contribute to a general excessive scepticism about the possibility of making a software project a success. The lack of context given for the data (actually, the data is kept secret) means that all of this is based on a very shaky quantitative foundation.

Having just finished "Fooled by Randomness", I am going to take another look at the Monte Carlo approach to estimation. I used it in a couple of cases to provide broad estimates for large projects, but all of the numbers came out quite low. I still the think the only responsible thing to do is to provide a range of estimates, especially when the nature of the work to be done is uncertain. And it usually is. The real benefit of the simulation approach, from the fooled by randomness perspective, is that they allow to take account of the black swans. If you are using a purely inductive approach, you can't account for things that have never happened. Like a 3 day power outage in your server room. Or system administrator that changes the name of your source control server and costs 10 person days of work. Or a new programmer that checks his whole c drive into the source code repository. Well, those 3 have actually happened to me, but they aren't the sort of thing I usually factor into my estimates, particularly when using the methods from "Planning Extreme Programming", which are purely based on yesterday's weather.

The real challenge here is estimating the shifting sands. Until you have a feel for the rate at which requirements change, you are only going to be able to estimate based upon what people thought they might want something they don't understand to do. Of course, if there is a reorganization in a business you are supporting, and there usually is at some point, the rate of change can shoot up. This is where the difference between methods really starts to kick in. If you are using a method that "embraces change" (the subtitle of the XP book), then you can leverage change to be the engine that carries the organization forward. If you try to keep the requirements frozen, you will be one of the projects reported when the Standish Group calls and says, "tell me about your failed projects".

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Many Methods

Cognitive Dissonance development (CDD) - In any organization where there are two or more divergent beliefs on how software should be made. The tension between those beliefs, as it’s fought out in various meetings and individual decisions by players on both sides, defines the project more than any individual belief itself.
-Scott Berkun

I've been there...wondering whether it is better to give up the argument because the other person is so incredibly stubborn. And it would have been better for the actual product had I given up. Not because my idea was worse, but because trying to do it two ways at the same time was worse than any one way.

I've been on projects where people waste all of the time trying to pick a product. I now have the confidence to tell people that most products really are not that good. Particularly ones that are intended to make development easier. So many of these create frameworks that are more complicated than what one was trying to accomplish in the first place, but offer less flexibility.

I was on a project that was trying to replace an ArcView 3.1 data entry and analysis application with about 25k lines of custom scripts with a Java web application based on ArcIMS and ArcSDE. This was in 2001. With a primordial version of Netscape. When all ArcIMS did was push jpegs down the wire. Oh, and they wanted to host it at a remote site. Adding points in ArcIMS at the time was a serious challenge. Adding lines was nearly impossible. I quickly quit. The project kept growing until the first deployment was such a failure they had to hide the bodies.

Obviously a place where Agile would have made a big difference. "Architects" in the ivory tower of the CIO shop had decided that we must have web apps for everything. If they had just put the demo app in front of an actual user, the whole project could have been quickly canceled.

I was listening to Uncle Bob Martin's Agile Skypecast while mowing the lawn on Sunday. It's a must listen. Despite all of the BS and corporate maneuvering around the buzzword, agile has deep principles behind it. I suggest ditching the buzzword and sticking to the concepts.
Early and frequent delivery of working code. Daily customer feedback. Developer testing (I am still working on mastering that one.) And the big one: Embrace Change. Don't fight requirements volatility, leverage it. (of course the trick is keeping the requirements stable during the iteration...)

It is interesting how Scrum leaves a lot of these things out and is, as Bob says, more of a management process that doesn't have much to do with software.

My favorite part of the agile universe remains the XP planning game. Point budgets as a means of giving multiple customers a voice, realistic estimation feedback, and ever so slightly, possibly, a little wee smidgen of fun. We could all use that from time to time.

Anyway, Uncle Bob gives the principles a good run through, worth the time to listen to a podcast.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I never really liked cats...

...but this has pushed me over the edge. The "LOLCATS" madness will pass.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bad code...are you 'aving a laugh?

A little bomb I defused today in an ASP application I am replacing...weirdness explanation at the end.

nextTuesday = ""
showTuesday = ""
gotTuesday = 0
todayDate = weekdayname(weekday(now()))
if todayDate = "Monday" then
holdNextTuesday = date
nextTuesday = formatdatetime(date,1)
' response.Write("got it")
j = 0
'do until gotTuesday = 1
do while showTuesday = ""
j = j + 1

if j > 10 then
response.write("ERROR: Infinate loop
" & j)
end if

nextTuesday = DateAdd("D",j,Date)
if weekdayname(weekday(nextTuesday)) = "Monday" then
gotTuesday = 1
holdNextTuesday = nextTuesday
nextTuesday = formatdatetime(nextTuesday,1)
showTuesday = nextTuesday
end if

'nextTuesday = ""
end if

thisMeetingDate = holdNextTuesday
'response.write thisMeetingDate
previousMeetingDate = DateAdd("D",-7,thisMeetingDate)

The meeting date was moved from Tuesday to Monday and they didn't change the variable names. I have no explanation whatever for the "infinate loop" check. That one just kills me.

Biggest JRuby (Java) Lie

"Nearly impossible to crash runtime or VM" -From Nutter and Enebo's MountainWest RubyConf presentation.

I managed to do it on a daily basis for years, the simple recipe is to add WebLogic to the project.

This is not to take anything away from their achievement with 1.0. It's a Java application running nearly as fast as a c application. I am very curious to see if it's as compatible with horizontal scaling...