Better software through software architecture and devops

@jamessnape

Posts

  • I have a meeting tomorrow to discuss a number of deployments we have in the next couple of weeks. One thing to note is that all installations come with their own set of problems and I don’t always have the answers. However, preparation is key; as they say - “pathetic preparation makes for a piss poor presentation”.

    One thing I’m going to try is a bit of brainstorming. I’m going to draw up each installation on a white-board and we’ll list up anything that could go wrong. From that we should be able to plan for nearly every eventuality. Hopefully it won’t be a too depressing experience.

    The main stay of my deployment plans is practice. If you have done it in the office without a customer breathing down your neck then the real thing is usually much easier. We try to get hold of a backup from the customer as they usually have data-sets containing unforeseen combinations of data (especially as the source database doesn’t have any constraints - shame on you Cisco!).

    The last thing that commonly trips us up is firewalls - most of our customers are in retail or banking so security is sometimes taken to the extreme. It would be costly for us to reproduce their firewall configuration (one customer has DMZ’s around each server), so a quick tip is to use personal firewalls such as ZoneAlarm to lock down your test servers similar to a DMZ deployment.

    This entry was posted in solution-architecture  and tagged #deployment  on .
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  • I’ve just started reading “Agile Project Management” by Jim Highsmith and it’s looking very promising. Whilst reading chapter one the point slapped me like the Tango Man - it’s the way agile projects are different to others.

    Traditional project are all about deciding what you are going to build and then carrying out your plan whereas with agile projects you have a plan but it’s about how, not what, you build_._ In fact the key point made by Jim is that agile projects are all about experimentation and adaptions.

    He cites a comparison with the pharmaceutical industry which makes things very clear. A few years ago they used to sit down and design molecules for a specific task whereas now they synthesise thousands of molecules at a time and use automated testing to screen for desired properties. The results are fed into a database which the scientists use to make their next steps. This rapid experimentation enables them to generate new drugs much faster even though they don’t know  final until it presents itself.

    Consider this in the context of software development. Rapid cycles of experimentation with unit tests to screen the results and ensure forward motion. These two concepts enable a project to progress in a more efficient way than if a solution were “designed”.

    This entry was posted in agile  and tagged #book-review  on .
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  • Wallace McClure writes “What is the problem with Marketing People?” Where he makes the point that marketing people care more about selling product than learning about their customer’s business.

    I’m not sure this is especially a marketing affliction. In my experience they care more about “the message” that we, the vendor, wants to communicate. There is an old adage that “when you talk you are teaching whereas when you listen you are selling”. If so then their focus is probably correct. Leave the selling to the sales team.

    I do agree though that if you don’t take the time to understand your client’s business model you can end up damaging your relationship with them (and looking a bit stupid too).

    The thing to consider is the difference between commercial and business focus. The first is about sales, turnover and profit whereas the later is concerned with relationships, strategy and growth. Both are required but they need balance.

    Having had recent experience with customers wanting bespoke solutions for pocket change I’m not sure it’s always the best policy to try to get your product in by any means possible. One thought has just occurred to me - if you are a small company, is it better to lead with a product and provide professional services support or start with consultancy backed up by off the shelf product? Also, does it matter if you get the consultancy fee and don’t recommend your product because it’s not right for the situation?

    We used to have a very successful business model with the consultancy first option but have moved to a more product oriented focus. I’m not sure how it’s doing just yet. I’ll let you know.

    This entry was posted in business  and tagged #marketing  on .
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  • We hold these every morning at 10:30 am as it’s a time when everyone can get into the office. Three questions are asked of each developer:

    1. What did you complete since the last meeting?
    2. What blocked you since the last meeting?
    3. What do you intend to complete before the next meeting?

    The answers to these three questions give a snappy status update for the entire team. In particular, the second question is a direct request for me to do something.

    To keep the meetings short there is supposed to be no more discussion beyond the three questions. If needed then it should be scheduled directly after the meeting. However our meetings have recently begun to drag on as I found the “after meeting” gatherings weren’t happening and I let the discussion happen in-line for fear of it never happening (a self-fulfilling prophesy?).

    The side affect of this is to subject everyone to a level of detail that may not be relevant to them, wasting time and boring them. So today I’ve asked everyone to answer their questions in 2 minutes. The benefit of a short meeting is obvious but also it gives people practice at concise communication.

    Hopefully this should work, but if not then I’ll resort to a trick I used at Sony - a two-minute egg timer. Once the time runs out you have to shut up. If you have more to say then you have to e-mail everyone.

    A note for self though - I must make sure the post meetings happen.

    This entry was posted in agile  and tagged #daily-standup  on .
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  • Tomorrow is “Show and Tell” day. This is our take on the Scrum Sprint Review where the idea is to show the team’s progress and direction to the Chickens. The review is open to anyone who would like to come and see what the engineers have been up to for the last month. The format is fairly loose - as all the developers have laptops they can take turns to plug into a projector and show what they’ve been up to. Individual presentations are limited to 15 minutes + question time.

    The benefits are obvious: engineers get a chance to show off their work and direct feedback from the people who are dependent on their creations; Sales, marketing and management get to review progress and provide input.

    There is always a little nervousness on my part because I don’t do much speaking - it’s up to the individual developers. Their view of the world revolves around code, architecture and designs whereas the chickens think about schedules, customers and revenue. With the two positions, there is some room for difference of opinion but regular reviews keep everyone on the same page.

    So roll on the demos…

    This entry was posted in agile  and tagged #scrum #sprint-review  on .
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