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How to deal with software development schedule pressure

Matthew Heusser | April 10, 2013
The work is due next month, but you know it won't be done for three months. Now what? A group of programmers and consultants met at a recent software development conference to swap war stories and discuss management and firefighting challenges.

Unless You're Facebook, Buggy Features Aren't Acceptable

Kaufman: Most of us don't work [on] Gmail, and most of us don't work on the space shuttle. There's a middle ground. The pressure is to do a bad job coding to get this feature done, which makes the next feature slower. That's the part that is hard to quantify, hard to measure, which makes it appealing psychologically. It's invisible-and easy to cut.

Barcomb: As long as you can align the strategy so your bugs are someone else's problem, you're OK?

Keller: When can you pursue that kind of a strategy-where buggy features are acceptable?

Hajratwala: Facebook is a great example.

Kaufman: Right. How many automated tests did Mark Zuckerberg write before he got to market? We try to define quality as binary, but it's usually somewhere in the middle. There are 500 shades of grey with regards to software quality.

Keller: Facebook is one thing, but lots of companies have compliance issues where the consequences of missing a deadline are millions of dollars in fines.

Hajratwala: Right. And if Zuckerberg's company went under, so what? He could get a job.

Kaufman: People don't have the courage to step up.

Keller: I've been in situations where the entire team is asked to do things. They hear the request, walk away, and say&"I can't believe what I just heard."

Kaufman: It goes back to trust. If you have a high-trust environment, people will speak up.

Barcomb: I used to have a number on a piece of paper-the amount of buffer we needed in the bank for when I lost my job. One day, my wife called and said we had hit the number. Suddenly, I started to speak up.

Keller: Once you feel that you have options, you suddenly feel empowered.

Barcomb: If you want people to be more forthright, talk to them. Have the one-on-one conversation: "I'd like you to speak up more. What's going on?" Another conversation to have is about predictability. We can move closer to predictability, but it's not a shop floor-and it isn't going to be one, certainly not if we are defining objectives at the bullet-point level.

Kaufman: One thing we can focus on is change the conversation from executives asking the technical team, "When this will be done?" to instead having the team ask the executives, "What amount of money are you willing to game on this amount of scope?"

Ask Your Software Development Questions

Lunch ends, and we scoot off to a session or to practice. We do manage to get together in the evening, after the event, to share notes over beverages.

During the conversation, I have to wonder: How many people live in towns without a Council of Elders, a group to turn to when times get tough?

If you have questions, ask them in the comments below. We'll encourage the council to monitor them.

Plus, you know, we do need a topic for next year's Agile and Beyond.


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