Uncharted Waters

January 16, 2020  4:18 PM

I was wrong

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

wrong way signEarlier in the week I wrote a post, Why Johnny Can’t Agile. The post made a point that we might consider giving up on “saving” legacy code bases. That is, code without unit tests, with a high change failure rate, where a change in one place might break another. Perhaps it is all just too hard, and we should all give up. My arguments were strong, stirring, compelling. And wrong.

To be fair, I had data. Over the past few years I’ve worked with a dozen organizations, and interviewed or been “near to” a few dozen more. Many of them do big public presentations about their agile adoptions. When I visit, they invariably have sprints, stories, and standups. The work may be sliced thinly – perhaps too thinly. I see stories like “a new etr to the table” that could be written as “create a single INSERT statement in a database that is essentially a cut and paste.” Everything seems to take a long time. There is not much joy. The magical feedback and improvement loops that inspired the title of Jeff Sutherland’s book Twice The Work In Half The Time — those simply do not happen. In my previous piece, I called a real agile adoption “next to impossible.” This was my working hypothesis:

I’m starting to wonder if we should say “legacy systems should be managed differently than greenfield development. Count the cost. You may come to different conclusions.”

It was Lisa Crispin, one of my peer reviews, that pushed back strongly on this. After all, she had been on companies that had broken through (as had I), more than a few times. If I wanted to give up on saving legacy projects and teams (which is most of them), why the sudden change of heart?

Continued »

January 13, 2020  5:54 PM

Why Johnny Can’t Agile

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

WrongAfter the new year I wrote this article, then asked for a few rounds of peer review. My reviewers, including Lisa, pointed out that I was wrong. Or, perhaps more politely, they pointed out I could benefit from a different perspective. I decided that I was wrong. Instead of changing things, I decided to present the original post, as-was, and ask for your feedback, before presenting some corrections. Assuming forewarned is forearmed, there you go. Tell me how I am wrong.

Because I am.

I was talking to Lisa Crispin earlier today about the state of devops survey. That survey identifies four levels of “performers.” For performance measures it looks at how long it takes a change to get to production after commit, how frequently new code goes to production, or the percentage at which a change “fails”, creating new problems. These measures are more concrete and “hard.” They are easier to measure, but don’t include all the concepts in Agile software. Collaboration, for example, is remarkably hard to measure. Still, we’d tend to call the companies that are high achievers on the DevOps survey “Agile.”

For some reason, it is next to impossible for established organizations to get there. Continued »

December 26, 2019  9:20 AM

Independent Contractor or Employee?

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

uber has independent contractor probemsMis-classifying in-fact employees as independent contractors is not new. What is new is California’s law, AB5, which strictly defines the independent contractor role. According to the Washington Post, AB5 is “aimed at Uber and Lyft.”

Except, of course, Uber is saying the law does not apply to them.

It seems like something out of a science fiction Novel.

Let’s break it down, and what it means for software. Continued »

December 20, 2019  4:26 PM

Fixing Management

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

John Cutler ImageJohn Cuttler just put up a common conversation on twitter. That is, the “no matter what you are wrong” conversation with management. John’s example starts with management asking what the problems are. The team takes time to create the three hundred tickets to address the technical problems. After a long delay, management says they can allow the team to spend 8% of their time to fix the issues.

The conversation death-spirals.

It’s a good thirty-second read; check it out for yourself.

This problem is so universal. It connects to my own experience — repeated experience. John says the “sad cycle” is “so predictable.” Jeff Kosciejew proclaims “I’ve worked at this company!” How is it possible the same terrible conversation has happened to all of us?

Continued »

December 19, 2019  9:06 PM

Soft Skills

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser
Soft skills

soft skillsLast time I talked about the people-people with the soft skills that had taken over Agile Software Development. It is easy to dismiss them as the “hippies with the flip-flops and the love beads.”

Yet they have taken over.

What, exactly, are soft skills anyway?

How can they be so magically powerful that the people-people always “win”?

Today I’d like to take a hard look at soft skills – and why they matter in business. Continued »

December 17, 2019  11:36 AM

Agile History: Revisited

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

The growth rate of the software field in the USA means that more than half the people have less than ten years of experience. Meanwhile, Scrum has been established as the default way of doing software for about ten years. Combine these facts and you get one stark reality: The majority of people in software today have spent their entire careers in a world where Scrum was “how we do it” and waterfall was “old and busted.”  It seems that on a daily basis I am told that “Agile” is bad and “sucking the life” out of team members. We have forgotten our Agile History.

This is a pattern. I’ve seen it before.

And, with a little Agile History Lesson, we can stop it from happening again. Continued »

December 5, 2019  3:44 PM

Test Heuristics

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser
Software testing

When I was against heuristicsTwelve years ago I was complaining about this term, Heuristics. The term itself is incredibly simple in meaning – the kind of thing  you can learn in thirty seconds. People seemed, to me, to be using it to “sound smart”, to create insiders (who knew the term) and outsiders (who did not).

Today I see the value in it – the term is precise. I want to bring you on the inside.

Let’s start with that thirty second definition.

“Attend to what you eat, how you sleep, and exercise” won’t solve every weight problem. You  could have an insulin problem or other medical condition. Yet it is good enough, often enough, that it is a go-to idea for us. The engineering term for an imperfect way to solve a problem is a heuristic.

Many of us have our heuristics internalized. They are implied in the way we work, and can be as simple as “if you want to get anything done for the day,  don’t start with email. Start by doing the work”, followed by “at the end the the day, park your work to start  it immediately tomorrow.” Those are productivity Heuristics. (By the way, it is prounounced “Hew-Ris-tic”) Today I want to talk about my heuristics in software testing.

Continued »

December 3, 2019  10:43 AM

Christmas Gifts for Nerds and Friends

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

community at ChristmasI spent most of my youth – and a good part of my 20’s – obsessed with things. As a mathematics major, then computer programmer, they were abstract things. You couldn’t even touch them. I worked  with ideas. Christmas was something to put off until December 20th, then either guess, or, if I was lucky, work a list someone else gave me. The people in my life that mattered were close family. That is, if I remember them.

Eventually I realized the truth. Ten years from now, no one is going to remember if that project was on-time or a day late. What they will remember is how you made them feel. In IT, you can do better than 20% of people just by bothering to get a card for a few people that matter. Get to 10% by putting a lottery ticket into it.

If you prefer to think of life as a video game, consider this post about how to break above the top 5%.

This year, I’m going to do something unusual. Christmas gifts that won’t break the bank but can blow the doors off. At the end, I’ll review my more historic stocking stuffers, the kind you can get from Amazon for ten bucks that can lead to a great ice breaker.

This year,  I want to do better. Continued »

November 30, 2019  8:27 PM

Documentation as Waste

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser

A few days ago, I put out a post on twitter about Documentation.

documentation as waste

That post was my most-replied-to, most-liked, most popular in weeks.

It’s time we talked about it.
Continued »

November 19, 2019  2:25 PM

Creative Destruction

Matt Heusser Matt Heusser Profile: Matt Heusser
IT, jobs

Long John Silver's at the Frederick Towne Mall - Creative DestructionFor my brother’s birthday party, around age 5, my father rented some horses, kept by a farmer at the end of Route 40, which becomes West Patrick Street. The sides of Route40 were farm fields. During my early childhood I saw creative destruction as the fields were sold to create retail stores and restaurants — “The Golden Mile.” Behind the stores, more farms failed, and the suburbs came. More creative destruction. The central symbol of farm replacement was the Frederick Towne mall.

Today the mall sits locked and abandoned. It has become the Frederick Towne Ghost Mall. The retail shops and the suburbs behind them are failing. This is not demographics; it is not that the rich people moved away. Amazon, Ebay, and Wal*Mart.com make shopping in person dated, if not obsolete. Netflix and Amazon prime made it easier to watch movies than shlubbling down to a store to interact with (ewww) humans.

Commerce killed the farmers, then big box stores killed retail, then online shopping killed the commerce.

Karl Marx and Charles Darwin both observed the pattern, visible since the loom put a few hundred handloom workers out of work in 1788. The trade union that fought the hardest against automation-in-sewing were, no kidding, the actual luddites.

As you’ve probably figured out, they lost.

It was the Austrian, Joseph Schumpeter that gave a name to the pattern. He called it Creative Destruction.

Now think about the low-end worker, who could have been a farm hand in 1970 and worked retail in 1995. Where does that person work today?

Let’s talk about how Creative Destruction works. Continued »

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