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David Kramer's high-entropy blog

Lack of accountability will break ANY process

No matter what your process, and how good that process is, lack of accountability can limit its effectiveness, and the effectiveness of your organization as a whole.  Any model will fail to be accurate when it does not represent reality close enough.

Let’s say your company is using Scrum to manage software development work.  If you have people on your team that regularly do work that’s not on the scrum board, it hurts the effectiveness of the process because

  • The unplanned work being done isn’t being tracked, so resource planning and allocation will be off
  • Part of what makes Agile work is you’re doing the least work required to meet the objectives (when the unit tests pass, stop coding).  Software Engineers often face the “Wouldn’t it be cool if it also did X? This will just take a minute to implement” temptation.
  • The unplanned work being done may not even be desirable or valueable to the Product Owner.
  • The unplanned work may actually hinder further planned work by taking the application in a different direction or prematurely locking the application into a design implementation that may become invalid in later sprints.  This is in conflict with making decisions at the last responsible moment.
  • The unplanned work may become a burden to others.  Either QA finds out about it and has more testing work to do than planned, or they don’t find out about it and any bugs in it can escape into the wild.

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Keep IT Systems Simple

There are a lot of technology options out there.  There are even a lot of free/open source technologies out there.  So much so, that it’s tempting to install too much of it.  Having too much technology can be just as bad as having too little, and “free” can become pretty costly.  Obviously I’m not knocking free/open source, but the misapplication of it.

First and foremost, the more software/hardware you have, the more likely it is that some of it will have a bug.  That’s just law of averages coupled with the fact that no significant software project is really bug-free.

Then there’s the maintenance effort.  The more technology you have, the more effort needs to go into care and feeding of it.  Also the more you have to learn about.

Lastly, just how Agile teaches us to delay decision-making and development to as late as possible, because that’s the point where we know the most about what’s needed, the more technology you put in place before you need it, the harder you make it to implement what you really need when you do.

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Research Before You Buy

Geeks and non-geeks alike should do their research when buying electronic devices to make sure they can actually do what they want, and don’t have unacceptable attributes. In this post I’ll give some examples, and some helpful guidelines.

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Don’t Wait for Big Changes. Do What You Can Now.

I’ve been focusing on change a lot lately.  Thankfully, not because of my day job this time.  This time, it’s more to do with one of the not-for-profit groups I’m involved with.  A couple of other things have planted this bug in my ear, though.  Someone I know told me about the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, which is a fantastic book (so far.  I just got my own copy and am reading it now).  The other thing that got me thinking was an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations I saw recently.  More on both of those later.  The message I want to throw out there is that you can often achieve much better progress making small changes you can make today instead of waiting until there’s buy-in, resources, and removal of obstacles to a much larger effort.  And those smaller changes are likely to have more direct beneficial effect, because contrary to what large corporations like to think, big changes often introduce larger problems.  I have always tried to do this in my personal life and at work, and try to get others to do the same.

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Doing Just What’s Needed

As a creative person (and as a geek), when building something (software or hardware), I often say to myself “For just a little more time and/or effort, I can add this cool feature.” There are many good reasons why this is a bad idea.  I would like to lead with the reason that has caused my blog to be stagnant for months, which is that doing more than you have to gets in the way of actually finishing.  An artist I almost knew once said “The hard part about painting, is not the painting, but knowing when to stop.

Since my last post, I’ve started about six posts that I never finished because I just wanted to add this one last point, or tweak that paragraph one more time.  The result was no visible work output, which is inexcusable for an Agilista. Read on…

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Using And Making Open Source Software

I’ve been using Linux/UNIX for about 20 years.  I am also Assistant Director of the Boston Linux and UNIX Group, and have contributed to several open source products.  In general, I find open source software more flexible, more transparent (no security through obscurity), and more focused on what’s needed instead of what marketing says would be cool.  I like that open source software is usually developed modularly, with separate components each doing what they do well, each designed to be combined with other component, each with its inputs and outputs documented for fitting Tab A into Slot B.    Open source’s community support model (with a sufficiently large community) is often far superior to calling tech support.  All that said, I still believe very strongly in “the right tool for the job”.  Sometimes open source is not the answer.

Just like commercial software, it’s important to evaluate not only how well the software suits your need, but the “health” of the product and its creators.  Just because it’s still available doesn’t mean it’s still supported, updated, and in common use.  That may not be a deal-breaker for you, but it does need to be factored in to the decision.

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