Saturday, July 25, 2009

Great Principles to Live By

Patricia Sellers posted an article up on her blog a few days ago about David Ogilvy, called by some "The Father of Advertising". In the article she shares the business advice David once told her. All of these are great, most of them strike to heart of humanity and leadership. Here are ones that relate most to me:
  1. Remember that Abraham Lincoln spoke of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He left out the pursuit of profit.
  2. Remember the old Scottish motto: “Be happy while you’re living, for you are a long time dead.”
  3. If you have to reduce your company’s payroll, don’t fire your people until you have cut your compensation and the compensation of your big-shots.
  4. Define your corporate culture and your principles of management in writing. Don’t delegate this to a committee. Search all the parks in all your cities. You’ll find no statues of committees.
  5. Stop cutting the quality of your products in search of bigger margins. The consumer always notices — and punishes you.
  6. Bear in mind that the consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Do not insult her intelligence.
I have six of the seven posted. I am not in advertising so I don't relate to that one specifically, the rest however are all great. They seem very relevant in today's tough market, with companies downsizing or looking to penny pinch. At the end of the day, good leaders will inspire others to to success.

Which ones do speak to you the most? Which ones would you add?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Good Technical Debt vs Bad Technical Debt

Early today I was reading a short blog post over at Scrumology on an age old argument about the fine balance of technical debt and releasing early.

Accumulate too much technical debt and your product's development will slow to a crawl attempting to service all the debt you have burdened yourself with. If you spend too much time keeping yourself debt free, you will miss your opportunity as your product's all important time to market is too slow.

So where do you draw the line?

I think we can draw a lot of parallels with financial world. As the article and its links point out, there is good debt and bad debt. Good debt is debt that builds value (business loan) or the opportunity to build value (student loan) and/or builds happiness (mortgage). Bad debt is debt accumulated to gain things that rapidly decrease in value; they worth less than the debt took on. Think clothes, or that new big screen HDTV.

For technical debt to be good debt you need to gain more then it will cost to retire it.

If you can close a big deal by adding a feature to your product within a really short time line, then it makes sense to do so. You after all have bills to pay, you can get feedback from your customers, and your team will get to celebrate a success and build momentum off of a big win. This can really help morale. (Of course adding features to win deals from specific customers is its own bag of worms, but let's just assume for the sake of argument that this feature is an awesome feature that you were planning on releasing in your next major release, but the customer couldn't wait that long.)

Another example of where technical debt is good debt is in cases where the product/solution is a one off, spending too much time and effort on a clean design is simply wasted effort and not needed. The code will rarely be modified. In these cases you only add to the cost of the product.

And in those cases where the products are not one offs, there is a concept of "luxury design" in my opinion. Especially when considering architectures that need to "scale" or other such "not needed yet" nonsense.

If you are creating a new product to release you don't need to worry too much about "scaling" upfront. Having scaling issues is a "good thing". It means you are successful. It means you have the resources and the business case to go ahead and put the right architecture in place so you can scale to the next level. But putting that in too early and you could miss your market window. You have missed your chance to build value and wealth, and to gain customers.

There are of course cases where you cannot accumulate that debt because the cost is simply too high. For example, adding a new feature to a successful ecommerce website where if the customer experience drops due to performance or bugs you get big a drop in revenues. Here you have the data to prove it that the debt is bad. There is a direct and immediate cost.

Of course with gobs of money and time, you can have the best of both worlds. With a proper user-centered design approach to product creation, your user experience team will be doing user research, and running user tests with mockups and wireframes while your team off building components and backend pieces. It's too bad that this is not more commonplace, users around the world would rejoice.

There is an old adage that nothing in life is certain but death and taxes, and in product development I will advance a new adage for consideration. "Nothing in product development is certain but technical debt and too early release cycles".

What do you think? Should technical debt be kept to an absolute minimum, or is a more pragmatic approach needed?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cyclomatic Complexity Debunked?

I have always taken for granted that code with a higher cyclomatic complexity number (CCN) is more bug ridden then code with a lower CCN. This has been taught/assumed for many years. and apparently the old adage about assumptions (ass-u-me) holds to be true again.

I was doing some quick research to find a free tool I could use to measure the CCN of my project as part of its continuous integration environment. This is a best practice of many agile practitioners, and good software engineering to boot. According to this article however, it isn't as useful as it was assumed to be.

What the survey did not show, however, is that code complexity does not correlate directly to defect probability. Enerjy measured complexity via the cyclomatic complexity number (CCN), which is also known as McCabe. It counts the number of paths through a given chunk of code. Even though CCN has limitations (for example, every case statement is treated as equal to a new if-statement), it’s relied on as a solid gauge. What Enerjy found was that routines with CCNs of 1 through 25 did not follow the expected result that greater CCN correlates to greater probability of defects. Rather, it found that for CCNs of 1 through 11, the higher the CCN the lower the bug probability. It was not until CCN reached 25 that defect probability rose sufficiently to be equal that of routines with a CCN of 1.

There is no correlation between CCN and bug counts for code that has a CCN of 1-25! For software engineering wonks, and process improvement gurus this must come as a bit of a shock. So I ask the readers, is the measurement of CCN a sacred cow that should be slaughtered with the rest of those asinine bovine as we move to a more agile and lean software development process? Or is it still a useful tool that should be kept, just interpret the results pragmatically?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lead, don't follow

It's been a rough 6 months, heck, for many people it has been rough for a lot longer than that. The global economic crisis, economy melting faster then ice cream on a hot July summer day in Ottawa on Bank Street. Admittedly that is not saying much with this summer's unseasonably cool weather.

The fact remains, many people are feeling very uncertain about their jobs, job satisfaction is at an all time low for many people, fear for the safety of their jobs, or the stability of their employer is weighing heavily on many people throughout the country.

With all this doom and gloom what is a leader to do?

There is little a leader can do about the economy, and there is little a leader can do to create job security where there is none, but a great leader can do many little things to reassure his followers, and to bring some light to these difficult times.

A good leader must be able to self-motivate when he is feeling sad, insecure, sick, or tired. This means that you are smiling, positive, and upbeat where ever you can be. This doesn't mean you are to be dishonest, or not genuine, just remind everyone of all the good things that are going on right now. If you cannot motivate yourself to get up, and get going then no one else will be able to.

Celebration time
Celebrate all victories, even the small ones. You don't have to throw a lavish party in Las Vegas (though if you do, please invite me), but a thank you card, a small get together after work, or even the a verbal pat on the back can do a lot to motivate people. Rewarding people in an ad-hoc manner with small little things will do wonders for morale, and little to your pocket book.

Invest in people
Don't stop investing in people. Don't stop investing in the tools and software your team needs to do their job. In the grand scheme of things, most of these things are "pretty cheap", but mean a lot to those that need them to do their jobs. This will help improve someone's job satisfaction. If you can improve your company's benefit package without busting the bank then go for it.

Keep the lines of communication open. Communicate the good, the bad, and the ugly with everyone in your company. Get up and out of your desk or cubicle. Talk to the people you are leading outside of your day to day job. Talk about the weather (rain), talk about sports, talk about the vacation you just had. Just talk. People will get comfortable with you and may talk about more then just trivial things, perhaps you will learn something that might keep that key player at your company.

These are four simple things that can help improve the morale of those on your team. There are many more small, simple, and yet thoughtful things that can be done to help your team's morale flourish.

What do you look for a leader to do in these tough times?