Thursday, April 1, 2010

Things ought to be simple

I come to believe that most product development environments and processes are just to damn confusing. Not by nature, but manmade. Let's look at bug tracking. I've spent too many hours of my live with QA and product managers to prioritize a list of bugs.

P1, P2, P3 and P4.

P1 and P2 need to be fixed ASAP because you cannot ship the product with them. Tough luck for P3 and P4 as they probably will rot in the system as there are too many P1/2.

Now let's look at a classical scenario. Programmer A writes code for two weeks to implement feature F for product P. Once he is done -- it works on my machine -- he reports to his manager and moves on to the next task. Meanwhile the testers are busy testing another product S for two more weeks. Then, after two weeks, tester T looks at feature F and discovers some issues. Let's say four of them. Two are bugs, one is a requirement misunderstanding from tester T and the last one just a minor cosmetic thing, a spelling mistake 'Tset' instead of 'Test'. After three days T is done logging all issues in the issue/bug tracking system.

P receives per mail the list of bugs but ignores them as he has to finish another feature. The following week he is done and addresses those issues. The spelling mistake is fixed easily, it takes him only 20 minutes in total. The two bugs are more tricky especially since 3 weeks have past since the implementation and the code is not fresh in mind any more. It takes some time to isolate the problem and fix. 4 hours for either. Now, the requirement misunderstanding. He reads the description again and again and is sure that the current implementation is right. So he amends the entry for further clarification and emails -- ping-pongs -- T.

The next day T looks at the request for more details and, after some mental swearing, adds more details and ping-pongs the bug back to the developer.

P is busy for another two days finishing up another feature and then looks at the bug again. After two hours he is sure that T is mistaken and puts his conclusion in the system. Ping-Pong once more. T reads the reply the next day and actually agrees with P. He sends an email to M the product manager asking for clarification. Luckily, M works long hours and forwards the email at midnight to S the subject matter expert. After two days S replies to M who forwards the clarification to T who puts it into the system and pushes it back to P. Ping-Pong. As it turnes out P was right but not completely so he needs to make one minor change and send it for a final review to T. T looks at it the following week as she is busy working on another product. Six days later T runs a final test and checks it off as complete.

Wow, what an amazing game of Ping-Pong. Corporate Ping-Pong.

Let's analyze it quickly. The whole implementation and testing circle lasted for over 8 weeks. It is driven by the wrong believe that working in batches and specialized silos makes us more efficient. 100% workload equals to 100% productivity. This is plainly wrong.

How would Agile have handled it. I will give a short description using Scrum as the method. First you work in time boxes which are fix, you don't ever make a sprint longer or shorter. (You can adapt sprint length but usually you plan it ahead; also this is often a sign of ScrumBut). In each of those sprints you deliver value to the customer in the form of running and usable software. Being 80% done does not cut it. It is either all or nothing. The Product Owner specifies what she wants ahead and the development Team estimates how much can be done in one sprint. Once the feature set is decided the acceptance criteria are defined with the product owner. Until those are met there is no chance the product owner will accept the feature. Actually the acceptance criteria are only one point in the Definition of Done. The Definition of Done -- DoD in short -- can include all kinds of requirements to be met. Popular are, automated Unit Tests (Verification) and Story Tests (Validation) for all code. If working in a regulated environment, often the DoD also includes the required Documentation.

Next, in Scrum there would not have been two different departments. The team is co-located and cross functional. In our case P, T and M would have been in the same room. M might not be there all the time but a couple of hours each day. So, the corporate ping-pong would not have taken place at all. The typo bug would have taken 2 min without the entire bug tracking system overhead. The fixing of the bugs less then the 8 hours. Let's say 6 hours as the code was still fresh in mind. Finally, the requirement misunderstanding would have lasted not more then 3 days at most. P and T would have discussed it side by side for about 1 hour and then spoken directly to M. Assuming that S still takes 2 days, the 3 days are rather generous.

Altogether we are looking at two weeks, the length of the sprint. Compare this to the 8 weeks in the high productivity setup. Slack, for some people this words is associated with very bad things. In agile, you need some slack to be able to react fast without too much task switching. A good book about this topic is Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency.

Actually, I’ve started to throw out the bug tracking system altogether. It is just too much waste. Don’t allow bugs by building quality in. Whenever a bug pops up, it is being addressed immediately. This might look counter productive but in the long rung it speeds you up. I like to use this metaphor; a bug is like a pothole in the road. So getting from A to B gets slower the more bugs you have. In order to go fast you need to improve the road condition by fixing the bugs. Once you have a state of the art road condition, you can move at high speed continuously as upcoming holes – bugs – get fixed immediately.

I like Sports but not Corporate Ping-Pong!

The future is lean agile!

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