06 March 2011

Team Intelligence & Tectonic Shifts

Tectonic shifts have become the norm. To cope with tectonic shifts, collaborators might do well to consider
  • Environmental Adaptability,
  • Direction & Approach, and
  • Team Intelligence.
Environmental Adaptability

Smart, adaptable & flexible buildings have a better chance of riding out earthquakes.

The same is probably true for people & organizations. That is,
Building, person, or organization – Rigid will likely fail.

The shake-table simulation of building structures (shown above) demonstrates a powerful innovation in building technology called base-isolation. The materials in both buildings are the same, but the material weaknesses (e.g., tensile strength) of the building on the right are isolated from the sudden shifts of the shake-table.
Software development teams benefit from isolation from extraneous churn and irrelevant chatter.
Rigid materials and rigidly constructed building materials, as well as baking in a rigidly un-adaptable approach to environmental conditions, like tectonic perturbations, increase the chances of failure.
Adaptability is not imitation. It means power of resistance and assimilation.
~ Mahatma Gandhi

Direction & Approach

I learned sailing in a Sunfish. I never graduated beyond a Sunfish, but I learned to jibe.
A jibe is a maneuver where you steer the boat, which is moving in the same direction as the wind, so that it arcs the stern through the prevailing wind resulting in the wind pressure shifting from billowing out one side of the sail to the other.
My intent in navigating the Sunfish might have been to sail from shore to the deepest part of the lake. That required tacking – a back-and-forth series of intermediate and indirect jibe maneuvers.

The sailing lesson in tacking is applicable to software development teams
Stay true to your direction, but remain adaptable & practical in your approach.

An intelligent team, while adaptable, continually checks and confirms direction.

Team Intelligence

Six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan on teamwork
Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.
Team intelligence requires determining a direction and staying true to that direction, all the while remaining adaptable & being practical in approach.

One way to spread team intelligence is to be vocal about the "gotchas" encountered. Another is to graciously accept guidance from teammates. Yet another is to be vigilant about checking and confirming direction.


Be a student of conditions - study and anticipate environmental conditions. Check your approach and confirm direction. Look for ways to spread team intelligence. And remember, in all likelihood, rigid will fail.

02 March 2011

Legacy of Crumbling Legacy

A software middleman's pitch to work on a re-write of legacy code might read like
This ad was also allegedly placed in London newspapers by explorer Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922). Shackleton's fame followed several harrowing Antarctic expeditions to reach the South Pole -- none of them successful.

The excuse for dishing up the heaping spaghetti bowls of legacy code developers increasingly encounter is short-sighted profit-taking.

Thinking of legacy code, I think of a leg -- a leg dragging a ball on a chain. Few in the business sphere seem to consider a long-view. And to be fair to those folks, what good is a long view when just about everyone is one thin access card away from permanent severance? It's a current cultural deficiency.

Executive Consultants

If you're an executive, executive consultants aplenty are ringing your bell to tell you what you should already know...the obvious.

Amusement and amazement differ by two letters. The made-up word amuzement describes my impression of executive consultants making a living by
Stating the obvious.
In the scholarly sounding article The Financial Implications of Technical Debt, a well-regarded Agilista, Jim Highsmith, states the obvious. Devoid of cynicism, I might imagine an executive's response to reading this article as something akin to
No shit Sherlock
Surprisingly, the apparent reality given the Gartner Group Executive offerings, is that most CIOs must eat this shit up like it's revelatory Kool-Aid.

Mr. Highsmith springs a new acronym on me: CoC or Cost of Change. And to think, I snicker at vacuous acronyms like ROI.

To my amuzement, thinly cloaked business science is music to executives. But here's the executive summary:
If the CoC graph is somehow an ah-ha moment for you, shit's already oozing into your tassel loafers.
Two all-too-common software developer head-scratchers when burdened with fixing the plague of legacy code, or recovering from the prolonged ignorance of technical debt are
  1. How did this crap ever work? and
  2. How could they have waited this long?
There are business sectors notorious amongst developers for letting their software infrastructure crumble while they wring out every copper-wire of short-term gain.

Most seasoned contract developers can tell you what those sectors are. There is something about having wads of funny money to incinerate that somehow manifests organizational stupidity. A startup must spend judiciously. Yet
An organization that falls within the fat, dumb and happy Venn diagram can burn cash for heat.
Do you know who invented the copper wire? Fat, dumb and happy. The legend goes like this
Two fat, dumb and happy managers spotted a copper penny. Henceforth, the copper wire.
In the distant past, the practice of wringing out profit without re-investing in infrastructure was disparagingly known as:
"Running the company into the ground"
Today, turning a blind eye to re-investment is standard operating procedure. Companies decree institutional thumb twiddling until the door handles fall off.

Perhaps the pendulum will swing back to judicious re-investment.