Sunday, June 1, 2014

Just get it done quickly - whatever "done" means ...

Imagine the following:

You go to a restaurant, order a Chicken Wings with fries ... and then wait.
When you finally ask the waiter, he says "Oh, your meal is ready. The cook already went home".

Bewildered, you go into the kitchen to find out that yes, indeed, your order has been processed. Somewhat. There are unspiced, half-baked chicken wings without spices in the oven - and some mash potatoes in the pot.

Which brings me to topic.

I was working for a client who had one developer working offshore. Because he wasn't part of the core team, he only had specific tasks assigned that could be completed stand-alone.

So, this one glorious Friday, he dropped an E-mail "Done. I'm off for 2 weeks of vacation" - and boarded an airplane right away to a different continent.
He had an assignment with customer impact and a clear deadline.
To our dismay, we discovered that there was no code commit. Maybe his mind was already on vacation, but still: we had an issue.
So, we called him as soon as his plane landed to discover he had simply forgotten to commit his code to the central repository.
He had to call a friend to come over to his house who, with detailed phone instructions, managed to commit the code after many hours.
And that's when things started to get funny. We couldn't even build the software successfully: He had taken the liberty of adjusting the core engine to suit his implementation of the solution!

Needless to say, there went the deadline.

Lessons Learned

There were so many things that went wrong here, I don't even know where to start.
And don't even get me started about hiring a single developer offshore to assist an onsite team: that was a business decision made by someone else.

First things first, it is a mindset thing: "Commit early, commit often". It should be habitual for every developer to commit more often than drinking coffee. We sometimes commit as often as 100 times per day in a small team of 3. If you see that someone isn't even committing daily, seriously - you have a process problem and risk losing work!

We didn't have any automated test coverage, so he thought he was doing fine. Especially when working in distributed teams, it is essential to have good unit and regression coverage, it creates a safety net for developers. We didn't have that, so we essentially created the environment where his mistake was possible!

Of course, offshore communication is difficult, but the problem here wasn't that he forgot to commit. The problem was that although we had some form of CI, he considered it "nothing out of the ordinary" to build the software locally to verify his implementation. Especially offshore teams, but every team, is well advised to have one single central Integration system, as the single point of truth by everyone on the team: If it doesn't integrate, it's not done. Regardless of how nicely it works on your own machine!

No comments:

Post a Comment