Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Age of Idea

Dear visitor,

I didn't write to this blog since April, because I was quite busy in trips and different kind of conferences. But them most valuable thought(s) I heard yesterday. There were few world-wide recognized men on AgileEE, who as I believed were steering the world of Agile. We were talking about generating and evaluating new ideas. I was especially active at this topic following the principle

listen more, speak less, write even less

I have heard many valuable thought regarding this topic, but one thought which was exposed by Mr. X was outstanding. I suddenly realized how complements it all I knew before and understood that now I am possessing something really brand new, something that never was expressed before.

When do idea come?

J. B. Rainsberger after this conference told that ideas never come over night, or they really can after 20 years of a hard work. Another guru named Davis Hussman told that brilliant ideas difficult to recognize as long as you haven't started them. I would like to rephrase what he said:
How many musicians can take note sheet and say "This is gonna be a good melody" before playing it. And there are as few people as people who can take a look on specification and say "This is gonna be a good product!"

And the most interesting thing Mr. X told me after the conference personally:
Normally there is just one good idea comes to single person in a lifetime. Days when there were people who was capable to generate million ideas are gone. I saw you got excited about your new idea, so guess you should stick to it, dedicate some web-site, blog, seminar, try it for some project ...

Yes, people, know I have an idea. My time is comming!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Dedicated to Account Managers

Finally, the day came, when my career at HindiBrain is over. HindiBrain rather differs from anything before I have seen.

I remember my first question when I was employed here. The lady who came up with job offer called herself “account manager”. So I naturally asked “What does account manager?” How strange that I didn’t get strict answer until the very end of staying there.

So what is behind this peculiar position?

There is an explanatory document inside local wiki-look-like knowledge base (one of those funny documents which usually are NEVER read by anyone except who wrote them). I read that document twice, than another time … I concluded I’m lucky to find the most favorite position in our organization. Would you like to ask me why it’s the most favorite?

List of responsibilities is pretty obscure, but it generally covers business and relationship development but excludes delivery satisfaction scores from the partner as well as team satisfaction. So if I not mistaken everything that needed from site of AM is to check budget calculations and keep customer’s mood in fit. And only first is more or less measurable. The latter always can be appealed to delivery satisfaction scores, team satisfaction or “unfavorable environment”. It’s quite challenging to imagine situation when account manager will have to admit that customer dissatisfaction is only his fault and caused neither by deliver nor by bad team spirit.

Another advantage of this position is authority level: It’s equal to top management and can get any project related information.
Administrative power is substantial: development team has to submit the orders of AM irrespective to current state of the project and direct agreements with customer.
List of activities are narrowed by book-keeping and negotiations, activities like requirement analysis, development and acceptance testing is omitted.
And the final responsibility note (my favorite): The activities above do not necessary mean that AM is doing all of them, yet, it means that AM takes the ownership of these items and is primarily responsible for their successful completion. He/she may delegate the particular tasks to particular people within the delivery organization. So the precious thing is freedom to choose what you’d like to be responsible for …

How to become account manager?

You have to be good negotiator and avoid conflicts. Popular opinion among top manager is that this person should be capable to manager multiple projects (don’t forget to include this to CV), be able to speak with managers by using their slang (keep in mind all teams from UAT to CMMI). To some extend organization should trust that man, who is going to be account manager, which is gained by month of work on similar position within organization. This work is normally quite distant from team players and even if you are so lucky to become AM very quickly technical and team leading background is decaying and become weak by that time.
It was funny when AM was claiming to improve team’s performance on 20% just by introducing man responsible for configuration management. Indeed so funny when you’re in team, but customer usually gets better to see something is changed in development team during time of uncertainty.

Ultimate Yes-man.

Well why organization keeps position of secretaries with salary of top managers?
Directors are also people and do not like responsibility, so it’s better to have someone associated with account better than associate accounts with themselves. Customers are always complaining about something and there is necessary to have single contact to them
One of the top managers called this position “backdoor” for the customer. Customer should be sure that there is always another way to get things done. Getting things done in this case is normally to get something team can’t commit or deliver. This normally means to break existing agreements with team.
For instance, customer wants more features within the same time frame. Team always says: well, it’s possible, but we have already plan, so you have to provide us feature we can drop. On another hand, AM always says big solid “Yes” and try to handle something on team level. I don’t know the reason, but AM and management in this organization does believe that there are always methods to increase delivery output immediately. It’s very dubious especially if you keep in mind that there are two levels of management (project managers and team leads) who suppose to increase output on daily basis.

Can this job be done without jeopardizing team efforts?

Well, I know teams usually are not perfect, sometimes they really need some external help to improve their capacities. But this is challenging task for different people, so AM can do literally nothing. It’s better to assume that:

There is no way to immediately increase team performance in 10%

I know one organization about the same size as HindiBrain. They have just one account manager responsible for customer negotiations while we have dozen. Now in crisis their business is expanding, ours is shrinking. Just ask me why …
Their account manager has no power over teams at all. And he has no doubt that customer may have minor report about underlying projects, so he is doing only one way: reveal delivery scores and reconcile customer moods. So if customer comes up with statement “Your team is a bunch of the lazy piglets! You have to whip them properly!” is treated not as action item to perform Chrystal Nacht at team side, but as bad mood of customer. Assuming this by man with excellent negotiation skills can be very useful in organization ...

Monday, 30 March 2009

The gene of the irresponsibility

    One of quality engineers from my former team asked me a stunning question:
- How many hotfix iteration have you been doing on average before the major release?

    You know, there is a special context of that conversation about our project and team, which still continuing without me on board. It was hard to admit that we used to have no hotfix iterations at all. To be precise, assume that hotfix is iteration when no functionality created, but rather fixed, visually improved or removed in order to keep software consistent and to not expose unfinished parts. In reality hotfixes became so usual recently that I didn't pay much attention that I had never done it.
    After rushing weekend I can confess: People, indeed I didn't have ANY hotfix iteration. In fact, I can see no argument why any project or team should have such iterations.

Aren't you able to predict that some certain parts won't be completed before?
Many will appeal to the hectic they suffer in the project and justify lack of strategic thinking. Still irrespective to what model did you choose agile or waterfall there are people whose primary responsibility is to make forecasts. So absence of any prediction can not be tolerated. Regarding our project I still have two arguments:

1. There is a difference between biasing within one iteration and biasing over iterations: I can imagine why team committed to 23 tasks was managed to finish only 20. That's something that forms team performance (or in Agile terms - velocity).
But how can you (team, manager and product owner) do 3 iteration in line and then you need 2 more?
2. We are talking about projects within one team and one product owner. New product implements functionality of the old one. Product owners and developers are mostly left unchanged. Users left the same. Even requirements can be reused. Only things were changed are technologies (I guess that's positive upgrade) and process (...)

Spit and polish in Software

    To my former NTSR project something called spit and polish has been introduced. Spit and polish is an iteration task which includes resolution of minor troubles and fixes.
Examples would be like incorrect rendering in webforms or some minor problems like only USD is supported (in control that suppose to have EUR and JPY).
IMHO, this is our project's KNOW-HOW and arguably the most stupid practice I've seen in IT. Pragmatically I would say there are 2 negative things about spit and polish:
1) everything can be claimed as spit and polish.
2) no one cares about time spent on that.

    The latter requires certain explanations: In fact developers are do not putting much efforts to register hours for tasks pretended to be spit and polish. And what they definitely not do is to describe what exactly has been done within spit and polish (because - saving time on that is primary reason why do we have spit and polish).
    But even if developers would be enough motivated to register time spent on that there is anyway deeper trouble ... From management perspective this time can be treated as nothing but direct loss: you can neither predict nor decompose this time. And that means that you can't do anything about it at all.
    The root causes of this is going through human factor and dissolving somewhere in the deepest aspect of human psychology. Being forced to deliver faster, people tend to shrink their responsibilities. Manager who suggested to deliver the functionality first and then the quality does not care about quality at all. I remember remarkable interview with Bjarne Stroustrup where he was saying
In reality, that's impossible. People reward developers who deliver software that is cheap, buggy, and first.

I guess there is no hope that at some point the gene of the irresponsibility will be extinct. God has special providence for its adherents ...

Friday, 27 March 2009

JIRA Studio tips

I used to work with Atlassian JIRA Studio, which is from technical perspective the most developed project management environment. It provides immensely rich capabilities for iteration planning and for tracking. I can agree that sometimes it's very compicated to use it, since some of features need skillful approach to use them properly. As you can see in Atlassian case studies customers sometimes very happy to have professional environment for their professionals.

Customer's CEO persuaded that JIRA Studio saved up to 20% of time. But I'm pretty sure that with compliant approach you can have even greater advantage. Especially if you are technical professional and not scared with exploiting it.
From management perspective the most informative thing is your dashboard. JIRA Studio is quite tolerant in providing information to everybody in team, but to collect it effectively is really important. And dashboard is either your favorite place already or... you should take care to make it your favorite place.

So, pay some attention to the switch on the left top. Managing dashboard allows you adding and customizing different portlets. Many of them are useful, but first thing you have to do is to remove surplus: keep here only information about 1-2 projects you really interested in.
After you have released space you may want to populate it with useful information: It's better to replace projects portlet with single project portlet:

My favorite portlets are
Created vs Resolved Issues - this very good overall statistic for any project. Just try to guess how deep is rabbit's hole.
Average Time in Status and Average Age - This allows you to define to keep in balance QA and development teams.
Bamboo Plan Summary - yes, sure I always can view Bamboo's dashboard, but how good is to have everything on one page.
Recent Changesets - good monitoring tool if developers lean to demonstrate their laziness.

The disadvantage is that all this things (that belong to unexplored functionality) is badly supported and extremely slow. So after your Studio project exceeds 3000 issues you have to wait very long before you'll get dashboard statistics. Fortunately, dashboard can be interrupted anytime and there are workarounds to get summary you need.
The key is to use {sql} and {sql-query} tags. This is not only very flexible mechanism to retrieve information from JIRA, but also unrelenting security violation (oops ...) This queries allows you to get any info directly from database. Even if it's restricted accordingly to security rights. For instance if you are restricted to view document named Server access policies. All you need is to create page and put this wiki markup:

select bc.body from content c inner join bodycontent bc on c.contentid = bc.contentid
where c.title = 'Server access policies'
order by c.version desc limit 1

Where ConfluenceDB is database name where all wiki pages are contained.

But how to get information about Db objects? Well, you have to grow in postgre and learn JIRA database objects. The best way is too post this wiki page for everybody's disposal

Let's use [DB Schema|] and [PostgreSQL|] to retrieve information from JIRA Studio.

h5. How to get all databases
select datname from pg_database where datistemplate <> 't'

h5. How to get all tables? {run:autorun=false|hideRun=false}
SELECT tablename FROM pg_tables WHERE tablename NOT LIKE 'pg_%' and tablename not like 'sql_%'
order by tablename

h5. How to get all table columns? {run:autorun=false|hideRun=false|replace=tableName:jiraissue}
SELECT attname , pg_type.typname, atttypmod FROM pg_attribute, pg_type WHERE
typrelid=attrelid AND typname = '$tableName' and attname not in ('tableoid', 'cmax', 'xmax', 'cmin', 'xmin', 'oid', 'ctid');

h5. How to get all tables from Confluence? {run:autorun=false|hideRun=false}
SELECT tablename FROM pg_tables WHERE tablename NOT LIKE 'pg_%' and tablename not like 'sql_%'
order by tablename

h5. How to get all table columns from Confluence? {run:autorun=false|hideRun=false|replace=tableName:content}
SELECT attname , pg_type.typname, atttypmod FROM pg_attribute, pg_type WHERE
typrelid=attrelid AND typname = '$tableName' and attname not in ('tableoid', 'cmax', 'xmax', 'cmin', 'xmin', 'oid', 'ctid');

For instance if you wish to know how many tasks assigned to your people and what are those tasks let's use this wiki markup
Opened tasks:
SELECT pkey, issuestatus, summary, assignee, reporter FROM jiraissue where
assignee in ('john', 'viktor', 'ashoka', 'kolyan', 'boss', 'vlado', 'kim')
and issuestatus <= 3

How many tasks assigned with references to people:
SELECT '[~' || assignee || ']' as Assignee, Count(*) FROM jiraissue
where assignee in ('john', 'viktor', 'ashoka', 'kolyan', 'boss', 'vlado', 'kim')
and issuestatus <= 3
group by assignee

The latter part is undocumented functionality of JIRA, so it might be changed if JIRA Studio is updated.
JIRA Studio is quite avarice to give information about itself. To get all information you have to trigger some exception inside: This differs from version to version but in most cases errors are connected with issue navigation. Fresh errors can be retrieved from here

There are many more tricks to make JIRA Studio to a dream collaboration tool.

Grateful acknowledgments to Dmitra and Mykola R. who helped me very much in collecting information about JIRA Studio tips and tricks.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Internet dog

    I remember good old times when in the late 90s this image appears on my very first mailbox.

    It wasn't as cute as any other jokes, but I remember that my conscience was totally agree on that: yes, said I, no one knows and nobody really cares who I am.

    Later on this message from the past is turning to be very dubious. Nowadays I'm convinced on Internet anyone knows that you're dog. Moreover be sure, they know everything about you: how often you bark, how often are you beaten by your host, how many puppies you have. The reason?

  1. Internet still makes you feel safe and carefree (It's better to say careless) about your privacy

  2. ... but becomes extremely effective in searching

    What if someone cares to be aware who you are? I was amazed how much information people can learn about me just googling my name: my profiles in social networks, my articles, publications, connections, out-dated CVs ... I'm not sure that I can memorize all those things better ;)
    How about specialized services to get information about people? Recently I have discovered PIPL.
    Oh cool, here I can type e.g. name of my classmate and find extensive information that he was graduated his college, then was hired by Morgan Stanley, then in one year got fired with some peculiar circumstances ...
Let me try to type my ex-girlfriend name: she's got married in USA and in two years got divorced (I can see it in her CVs). How about my former chief? My German language teacher? My friends? My enemies?
Do I need to know all these things?

    In most cases information is scarce: most of people (fortunately to them) do not have adequate representation in Web. Wait a minute! What if I type my name?
    Woosh! Those people who created PIPL know their job well. And if you get embarrassed with result to the right side you can see proposal to defend your reputation.
    Cool, isn't it? Have you ever though you have public reputation?

    Reputation defender will be happy to track news, messages, comments, suggestions and rumors about you from your lyceum's alumni journal to Forbes and Wall Street Journal in order to defend your reputation.

    Embracing Agile ideas I never think that openness and transparency is bad thing. And now I didn't change my mind. All you need to know is that you're responsible for your representation from the very beginning of your career and you only who cares about your privacy. In XXI century no one can expect that information told to someone or written somewhere will be not exposed to publicity. Whatever it was living journal, facebook or your profile at gay-portal.
    That's shocking, but not as bad as it seems to be at first site. Although many people will suffer from this, in most cases they are just people who are succeed in trying to be better than they are. No mercy to them. In most cases no one need to slander your name and you will have more or less adequate self-portrait in public sources

Have a nice day!

Saturday, 7 March 2009

C# vs. Java. Slight differences

So, there is a one month passed since I became Java developer ...

Long before I've started to develop something essential on Java, this language invoked very contradicting thoughts in my mind.

In early 2005 when I have started my career in IT, I've started mainly with VB and C#, but there were dozen of languages I used as supplementary: Python, Perl, PHP, VBScript, JavaScript, batch, NAnt scripts and so on. Among them Java turned to be something prominent. Since it was and is lingua franca of IT industry I extensively used literature and articles written by Java developers and architects. Even if they were created to be used by exclusively Java teams. Thus besides Anders Hejlsberg and Andrew Troelsen not only people like Martin Fowler and Mike Cohn, but also Craig Larman and Bruce Eckel became my masterminds in IT branch. Later on when I grown up enough to make presentations how to do software and how not to do I was leaning to make code snippets either Java, still being quite distant from development in Java itself. But to be honest I was never felt uncomfortable talking to my colleagues in Java. Java and C# is in fact very close to each other, but there is one more peculiarity that makes couple Java-C# very similar to language couples: C# developers normally better understood Java then vice versa.

Now when I delved deeper into Java, I realize how many peculiarities in Java are actually different: Java has larger heritage from C++ then C#.

In practice you can try to evaluate this code in both languages:

String a = "Falafel";
String c = "fel";
String b = "Fala" + c;
System.out.println(a == b);

In C# you'll have to use System.Console.WriteLine instead of System.out.println
In Java you'll get false, while in C# you'll get true. Why? Simply because Java compares addresses of a and b, while .Net compares content. You should use equals (before 1.6) and StringUtils (since 1.6) in Java to compare strings correctly.

How about casting? Have you ever tried evaluate this expression


Experienced Java developers will answer: (byte)-1 will cause overflow, so you might expect something like 65535 on the very end. C# gets obviously the same answer, but by default C# compiler refrains to compile such a mess. You'll be kindly asked to use unchecked option on your own risk:

    int i = (int)(char)(byte)-1

Working with numbers is very messy in Java (I will keep using references whenever I worked with arithmetic operations
Hex number 0xfa1afe11 will output positive result in C#, but negative in Java. The reason is that hex number with leading 1 treat as negative.
Floats can also challenge you: Java expression

System.out.println(2 - 1.1);

outputs 0.8999999999999999
while in C#

Console.WriteLine(2 - 1.1);

gets 0.9

NB: I must admit, that in .Net trouble with floating point operations are not finally resolved (MathLab and Maple in any case do them better)

Java has special class BigDecimal to perform operations with additional precision or value, but you might be careful using them either. Don't you know what is the difference between two following expressions in Java

BigDecimal dec1 = new BigDecimal(.1);
BigDecimal dec2 = new BigDecimal(".1");

Can't you guess?
Oh, you might be surprised that first one will output huge ugly number


Gurus highly recommend to use constructor BigDecimal(String) and not convert primitives to BigDecimal directly

Expressions like i = i + k; and i += k; are not equivalent in Java, although many Java developers think they are.

In any case my way in Java has just begun and it will take couples month until I will be able to cause another overproduction crisis in IT ...

Friday, 20 February 2009

Motivated by challenge

    Today I was meeting a customer as the representative developer. Fact that I was invited against all odds flatters me much: it looks like representatives were carefully selected by our management. I would be probably not frank, if I say that there was either pure truth or barefaced lie. And for sure exposing here what exactly was wrong would be incorrect. But to my surprise all lies became innocent comparatively to one tremendous truth that I heard today.
    Customer representative asked our manager Ron how we keep our people motivated. And the Ron’s reply was like this: our people are usually inclined for challenges. It is like part of our national identity. Our people always want more and more “interesting” tasks.
    Was he wrong? I wish he was. I would like to see my colleagues more pragmatic. This contradicts some values, I used to follow. But I have never heard about IT business dismantled because of some evil will: it is always good intentions which put business on the way to destruction.
    But he was more right then wrong! In reality every single day I confirm common truth: there are lots of people who are motivated by challenge. You can easily recognize them by their ambitions and deeds: They always commit before estimations, they overtime, they suffer, they estimate, they do, but then ... they commit again.
    Dear Ron, I must admit, I’m not a person of that kind, although I still like challenges. Sometimes I can afford to resolve easy task by a difficult approach, just because I like it, but a difficult task will be never resolved by even more difficult approach: I’d better apply easy one for a difficult task. And I argue that challenge motivates people. IMHO, it’s responsibility that motivates them.
Q: But what if people have spoiled sense of responsibility? And what if they not motivated at all?
    I guess this book can be guideline for people who would like to learn more about motivation. Who wants to know will know.
Q: What about people who are not motivated to learn something about motivation? ;)

Monday, 26 January 2009

Advanced search for advanced users

    German language is very famous for giving one-word description for very peculiar things. Advanced search functionality which forces user to fill several controls with different ranges is not exclusion. It can be described by word benutzerunfreundlich (User unfriendly). This is very good word because its pronunciation is as unfriendly for English-speakers as substance it describes.
    About five month ago I’d met introducing this functionality with a great skepticism and finally yesterday advanced search functionality has been finally removed from one of our products called Lupris.
    Lupris is system to perform research in goods data base to mine data for another system called XUT. Main feature of Lupris is browsing large amount of data. It also allows inputting market notes to the goods. Data records about goods are quite inhomogeneous and can belong to one of 16 different types. Some of those attributes like “Price”, “Short Name” and eventually “Type” are ultimate for all. Others like quantity for one type and weight in kilos for another can be treat as the same fields and merged in reports.
    Advanced search pretended to be good addition to existing full text search: product owners decided to create powerful search for advanced users. And eventually this functionality appeared to be poorly tested, badly developed and unused.
    This is very usual how so called functionality for advanced users terminates. But why advanced search is so unpopular? I'd better explain more generally: why functionality for advanced users is so unpopular? During my last visit to customer, I discovered that actually advanced functionality in our system already unknown to end-users! I have several reasons for that:

  1. In complex systems even advanced users are often advanced in one direction, but very naïve in another. That’s why advanced users rarely have common definition how things like advanced search should look like.

  2. Advanced users are rare. Unless we are are talking about usual enterprise systems, not something very specific or software development tools. Otherwise they are simply outnumbered by common users, which will find advanced search functionality at least useless.

  3. Among 10 advanced users there should be one even more advanced who will blame functionality in any case.

    In fact we should not prove why functionality for advanced users won't be used, but vice versa:
Before introducing functionality we should prove that it will be used

    Statement that advanced functionality would be popular one day is implied from very dubious assumption that every common user wishes to be advanced. That's not true at all: even for people who uses computer on daily basis.
    From technical point of view there are even more reasons: E.g. advanced search is very difficult to test and for bug fixing. Practically if your advanced search form has 10 input fields there should be like 100 possible cases just to conduct surface test of happy path.
    I have good example how quite large and successful company had burned its fingers on that. Microsoft has hundred of millions users and millions of advanced users and probably could count on strong community of advanced users, but their bid was IMHO wrong when they created search companion in MS Windows XP
    They were even forced to introduce Windows Desktop Search as something more usable. And since then many people still believe that advanced search can be usable an masse. XUT and Lupris product owners still appreciate advanced search and promotes it in XUT and other products within our organization. Ironically, they all use Apple, Sun and prefer open source products having apparently strong anti-Microsoft sentiments, but still repeat the same way of thinking. It reminds one of the suggestion about Microsoft
Can’t Live With ’Em and Can’t Live Without ’Em