Just over one year ago, we released Security Auditing SP2. In the last few months of 2009, we were bug fixing and preparing a new product line to present at Microsoft Management Summit 2010. We were at a turning point for development and had a new direction to introduce a structured and formalized processes to help ensure a solid product delivery.
After a series of releases with this structured and formalized process, I’ve learned a lot of things that were quite obvious many other software development shops – I’ve read about them on many blogs and at ALT.NET events. The hardest part about software development isn’t the coding or testing. It’s finding the right process that fits not just the development team, but the entire company as a whole. From Sales and Marketing to Customer Support and all the way up to reporting to the investors, there has to be a good team chemistry.
I’ll highlight a couple things I’ve learned and things that I’m hoping to change in order to make sure we can attain a better team chemistry in the upcoming months and hopefully start 2011.
The Right Communication
No communication is bad and when you’re working in silos it’s unbelievably horrible. Even worse is when everyone has their own “order of importance for communication.” Here is mine:
- Face to face
- Yelling across the hall
- Instant Message
- Phone call
- Voice Message
- Snail Mail
Oddly enough, this order also reflects my “response time”. The more crap you put between the communication, the longer you’d better expect to wait for a response from me. Telepathy is just something I’ve learned to ignore, hehe.
Lesson learned? The best communication is an open communication. Sharing what was agreed upon with other key players is the best way to ensure understanding and maintain accountability.
Lack-of and Over Documentation
When I first started at Secure Vantage, I knew nothing about the requirements for documentation. I just happily went along developing what was asked for me to create and relied on myself for unit testing. It was great since the person QA testing my products sat literally next to me and gave me feedback pretty much immediately. The problem with this is solely due to lack of accounting for my hours and time dedicated to the project. It can be seen as a good thing or bad thing. It was all based on trust, honesty, and openness.
In Q3 of 2009, some changes in staff and management moved in the direction of a less flexible and more structured development process. The first problem we ran into that completely overwhelmed the team was documentation – something we’re all unfamiliar with, but still expected to deliver.
- Change Request Form
- Requirements Intake Document
- User Requirements
- Product Definition Document
- Data Analysis Document
- Technical Analysis Document
- High Level Solutions Document
- Cost Estimate Worksheet
- Risk Analysis Matrix
- Quality Assurance Plan
- System Infrastructure Requirements
- Software Requirements Specifications
- Interface Requirements Specification
- Performance Requirements Specifications
- Data Development Document
- Software Development Plan
- Marketing Communications Rollout Plan
- Testing Plan Checklist
- User Manuals
- Project Assurance Signoff Letter
- Change Log
- Release Notes
- Equipment Installation Plan
- Deployment Rollout Plan
- Support Plan
Realistically, all these mean nothing if they aren’t discussed and reviewed. It’s great to present this list as something to do, but it is completely pointless if no one takes leadership and ownership of this ginormous list. It’s even worse if the person responsible for them delegates them without reviewing them once they’re done. After the first couple documents I created, it seemed like what I delivered was useless. It was quite frustrating – no one likes making something no one uses.
Looking back, I probably could have stood up and took ownership of these documents, but instead I was tasked to take more of a development lead role and left the documentation responsibilities in the back burner until someone actually reviewed documents I created. Bad idea.
Lesson learned? If you see something wrong, don’t just push back and question it, change it. I failed to change something I saw was wrong despite how much I voiced my opinions.
Meetings Meetings Meetings
First of all, I hate meetings. It’s not the concept of a meeting that I hate, it’s how most people make them: “Weekly Monday Meetings”, “Weekly Status Report Meeting”. I don’t believe in creating a meeting based on a recurring time unless each and every meeting has a proper agenda. Whether it’s a checklist of tasks, a document, an agreement on a decision, or even just a meeting to make sure everyone reviews and agrees on a priority list of work items that will go into the next release, they all have a resulting deliverable.
Holding a productive meeting is hard when one of the ten topics goes on a tangent or when you waste 10 minutes waiting for everyone to join because they haven’t installed the GoToMeeting software on a new machine. Sometimes pushing off side topics for another discussion is necessary to ensure the current list of topics isn’t forgotten. It prevents the meeting from lasting, what feels like, FOREVER.
Here is my recent favorite article on meetings: How to Run a Meeting, by Rands in Repose.
Lesson learned? If there isn’t an agenda for a meeting that you’re required to attend, ask for one when it starts. It will help prevent it from getting sidetracked and in some cases you’ll find there isn’t one. If this is the case, you’ll be able to go back to getting shit done instead of just talking about it.
Things aren’t going quite as I wanted or expected, so you might ask me why am I still here? (A lot of my friends have.) It’s plain and simple – I’ve changed my mentality from, “follow the rules, hierarchy, and follow the more experienced” to “I don’t give a fuck, I’m going to do what I think is right unless you can prove me wrong.” Cocky huh? Yeah, I admit, it’s pretty ballsy and out of my character, but I can’t just sit around and watch it fall apart.
I wouldn’t say it’s a rebellious move, but instead a determination to help make the Development Team’s environment better and later down the road a better company as a whole. I’m hoping to not just learn from the experienced colleagues, but also teach them some new tricks.
It’s been a couple months now since I’ve had this mentality and I can confidently say that here at SVT, we’re getting much better – proper communication, just enough documentation, and productive meetings. It hasn’t just reflected in the Development Team alone, but with the Sales Team and Customer Support Team too. Everyone, including our CEO, has seen such a drastic and positive change, YAY!
We’re currently winding down our first really successful iteration and things are going really great! I’m finding myself looking forward to going to work again, excited to see what we can accomplish at each day’s end.
The one big thing for us to fix is the epic battle between creating new products and features versus maintaining our old ones with limited development resources. If it were my choice, I’d follow The Joel Test for being a successful software team: fix bugs first.