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Agility Futility

April 30th, 2009
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Agile development methods have really taken the IT world by storm. In the last few years Agile has become THE way to manage and develop software, especially among young, emerging companies. It brings to the table a flexible model for communication and progress as well as a sense of anti-corporatism which is heavily embraced in many IT workplace cultures.

While this almost hippie-ish movement of peace, love and agileness has really relaxed a lot of work cultures and has been a boon for productivity and customer interaction, there are some often ignored pitfalls which eventually leave a work culture devastated and disallusioned.

Do it for the right reasons
It’s not enough to adopt Agile just because it works well for some or because you read about it on a trade blog. Agile, or any other hastily adopted process or methodology, cannot solve all your problems. It will simply make you more of what you already are. Your weaknesses, if not already apparent, will eventually surface and you must be ready and willing to acknowledge and address them.

Successfully adopting any methodology like this requires that you have an adequate paradigm about people, business and clients which instills respect and integrity and is in sync with the methodology. If your efforts are only surface-level rhetoric, and no paradigm shift occurs, the process will fail and you’ll be looking for the next “great thing” to fix your woes.

Use best practices
While Agile lends itself to a more rapid pace of development, it can be easy to leave crucial parts of the SDLC out of the equation in the interest of time. Adequate quality assurance and testing are often the first to go. Test-driven development, which utilizes a testing process as part of your development, is a great way to minimize QA overhead while maintaining work quality. Building test code as, or before you develop may add a little to your initial timeline but will result in fewer deployment panics and provide built-in specifications for your code to adhere to.

Don’t sacrifice quality
Cutting corners is a big no-no. Decide what are features and what are bugs. Determine which of them are in your critical path and develop them properly. If you can’t do them right, choose not to do them or arrange for more time to complete the project. NO ONE benefits from poorly thought out, shoddy work. Management only seems happy until they realize the problem they rushed you to fix ends up worse than before. It is the developer’s job to speak up and communicate risks and issues which then translate into proper timeline and feature negotiation.

Don’t ignore problems. Moderately plan for the future and proactively address problems and improvements through iterations. Ignored problems build up over time and eventually result in a complete rewrite. Iterative development can be your friend. Keep track of issues and slip some into each iteration so you can keep up with the change.

Be realistic
There is an old project management addage that explains how with every project, three factors are desired: speed, low cost, and great quality. You can pick two. Having all three is a fantasy propagated by poor sales teams. This is because any improvement in any one or two of the factors will negatively affect the third. For example, if speed is crucial, it will likely affect quality and cost. If very low cost is required, completion times will often be longer and quality will suffer. The only way to realistically improve one of the factors is to improve your effectiveness in all three of them. Attempting to use Agile development concepts to short-sightedly manipulate any of these factors is counter-productive.

Avoid burn-out
Finally, keep in mind that overworking your developers is counter-intuitive in an Agile model. With a more top-down, waterfall approach, you may get away with piling on extra hours, shoving more into a deadline and driving with a whip. Burn-out doesn’t make for solid code, good morale, communication and low turnover; all which are factors behind a well-functioning Agile machine. Utilize iterations to drive realistic deadlines and continually reassess based on top priorities to keep everyone focused on the same goal.

Development, Technology , , ,

Flash on an iPhone?

April 10th, 2009
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Flash is not supported on the iPhone

Flash is not supported on the iPhone

As many of you know, I love Apple products. Not to the exclusion of the everything else, but I’ve got to hand it to them. They’ve created product lines that, despite the often steep cost, attract users and keep them reeled in with great user experience and phenomenal practicality.

One thing has really been bugging me though… this whole issue about Flash on an iPhone. It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon and if it does, it will likely be a trimmed down, “do nothing” version. See the Wired.com article.

While I love my iPhone and a great part of the internet can be seen on it, it really ticks me off that they are essentially censoring my use of the internet. Not because of content appropriateness or service bandwidth issues and restrictions. They are censoring the internet on my device simply so they can keep a tight grip on the money they get from the App Store and the other paid-for downloadables that they provide. If you’re going to give me the web… give it all to me and let me decide what to view.

Sure I am missing a few fun games and other things from the world of Flash. But I am also missing access to some very important websites and data that I would like to get on my iPhone, including Adobe Flex-based reporting interfaces from work.

Apple, if you’re not going to allow Flash on the iPhone, at least give me a legit technical reason or something. Otherwise, find a way to make it work. It seems ridiculous that the “most advanced” phone device in the world, that does SO much, cannot even offer Flash. Meanwhile, other second-rate devices are, simply because they can. iPhone users pay good money for their phone and service (not to mention all the other Apple products they have also likely latched on to). It’s an insult really, that many of us professionals own these fantastic phones that we use for so many facets of our business and personal lives… but we can’t have Flash because Apple wants to take an even bigger slice of our paychecks.

I’m very curious to see how they handle this issue. I’ve loved Apple because of the flexibility, the power, the beauty of it all. But, this issue seems a bit too Micro$oft for my liking.

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Something NOT New for a Change?

March 27th, 2009
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I’m never really that surprised when I see the latest gadget on the shelves or on one of the many gadget websites that are for the express purpose of flaunting the fact that you don’t have the latest and greatest “thing”. New things are…. well old. There is always something new. There is always an “upgrade”, “new model” or something “totally revolutionary”.

Revolutionary? That word has been so watered down over the years… it almost lacks meaning altogether. Is shoving 100 gigs of ram onto a USB thumb drive revolutionary? Well, no… cool and complex, but not revolutionary.

Worm Poop in a Jug

Worm Poop in a Jug

Today, I saw something that ACTUALLY impressed me. Not in the “ooh”, “ahhhh”, “gotta have it” kinda way. It caught my attention in the overall purpose and drive behind the innovation. I’m talking about the company TerraCycle, Inc..

Okay, so I’m not typically the tree hugger type, but I consider myself conservation minded. Regardless, this is just cool. TerraCycle, Inc. takes trash, just everyday trash, and makes stuff out of it, reuses bottles and other packaging, etc… What caught my interest is that most other companies continue create new “stuff” that adds to the constant barrage of “buy this” and “get that”, while adding to the mountains of trashed iPods, disc players, spent PC’s and other trendy junk already in the landfills.

While I’m not likely to go out and buy one of their “Capri Sun” handbags or a jug of worm poop, it’s their tactic and business model that I find interesting. What if we applied this to technology? What if instead of making yet another shopping cart, blog system, CMS or code framework, we actually put effort into building on top of or improving what we already have access to? What if we could find TRULY creative ways to reuse the mounds of rejected hardware filling up our landfills for something other than sculptures and doorstops? Sure, there are several developers and companies that do that, but most don’t plain and simple.

I think perhaps there is a lot to be learned by looking at this way of doing business, not only as individuals but as an industry. As developers, can we add value to our industry and the world? Or are we filling the net with endless piles of already done cruft destined to be forgotten about next week for the latest and greatest cruft? Admittedly, every day of our career can’t be overflowing with pure innovation and meaning, but looking at TerraCycle, Inc. has me thinking about how I will spend my energy and resources in the future.

See a video about TerraCycle at CNN.

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GE Brings Minority Report to Life?

March 9th, 2009
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Okay, well not quite, but I thought this was pretty amazing. GE “brings good things to life”, almost literally.

Tom Cruise doing virtual computing

Tom Cruise doing virtual computing

For those of you that have seen Minority Report, you know that that people have been trying to recreate that type of computing model in the real world since the movie came out. Well, it doesn’t quite exist yet, but GE may be headed in the right direction.

Tom Cruise doing virtual computing

Tom Cruise doing virtual computing

As a way to draw interest to their Smart Grid energy technology, GE has created an interactive 3D experience that is pretty startling at first. It almost seems unreal… until you realize that it is actually interacting with you. Check out a video of the guys at doppelagent.de experiencing this first hand, although you will want to try it out for yourself.

Okay, so it’s not quite Minority Report level computing. However, with the live human 3D interaction inside of a virtual, yet real, space, all done in the comfort of your browser using Adobe Flash… this is quite amazing, nonetheless. I would love to see this kind of technology take off and be available in a browser… maybe we’re not far off.

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“The Cuckoo’s Egg” – Great Read!

April 23rd, 2008
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A while back, I had the rare opportunity to sit down and enjoy a good book. Well, actually, it took many sittings, in between everything else. It was “The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage”, by Clifford Stoll.

All I can say is WOW!. It’s a true story about a guy who really isn’t all that computer savvy, yet gets a job working with high-end systems at Berkeley. A minor system accounting error turns into a huge trek down the road of tracking a hacker through a maze of connections and red tape.

The story takes place in the late 80′s, however, I found that it still pulled me in. The way he used the technology available at the time and the process he takes you through as he painstakingly tracks the hacker keeps you wondering what you would do and what will happen next. You get inside the mind of Cliff and learn a lot about what the hacker is thinking as he penetrates system after system, leaving a trail of evidence behind him.

Stoll did a great job of making it interesting for the geek and non-techie alike. There’s just enough explanation for a non- savvy type, but a lot of techie gems for a true geek. I highly recommend this book. Check it out!

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