torsdag 23. februar 2012

Confessions of a waterfall refugee

Having just switched jobs from a consultancy that favored waterfall projects with few deployments each year to a smaller consultancy favoring clients with a more agile approach has been somewhat of revelation. At this point in time, pointing out that waterfall is not the right way to do projects is sort of a  waste of www-bytes. I've never been a fan of waterfall, but having finally escaped the clutches of upfront design, long development cycles and test phases here are my observations on what the waterfall convicts are missing out on.

Politics and Procrastination
The nature of waterfall with design phases, lengthy development phases and test phases is a breading ground for highly political environments with representatives from each phase digging trenches and preparing for combat as one transition from one phase to another. It's no wonder really. People have been putting all their effort into something for a long time and they are not about to get shot down when they are approaching the finish line. "You'll accept my design/code god damn it!! There is nothing wrong with it, I've spent months crafting it just right!"

These tense political environments are stressful, people will continuously look over their back and make sure they have a scape goat ready if push comes to shove. I can only speak for myself, but this make me an unhappy developer. It also provides ample grounds for procrastination. It's not like the developers work will be visible any time soon, there is no _real_ deadline coming up (in waterfall the 4 week testing phase ending a delivery cycle is always pushed). No one will notice if I don't pull my weight this week, I'll just accept all the meeting invites in my inbox (waterfall projects tend to have more meetings as well) and look busy. Also, I don't want to be the one writing the code that screws up this deployment everyone has been waiting for the last 6 months. If I don't make a lot of noise and don't write a lot of code, then I won't break anything. When deployment to production is a dot on the horizon, you'll delay. It's part of the human nature, it's why department stores are full of desperate people on Christmas Eve. We delay and procrastinate.

Developer productivity
I believe most developers are developers because they enjoy creating stuff. What fun is creating stuff if no one sees it and it's never used. If you are pushing to production frequently (say, at least every third week), the developer will see their code in production, they will see how it works. Or how it doesn't. When you fail it will also feel better than waterfall failure, as you can make it up again in a few weeks.

All this makes a developer more productive, seeing your work being utilized appeals to your sense of achievement. People are willing to visit the same coffee shop everyday to become a 4square mayor or get some sort of a Gowalla badge. Sense of achievement is the second highest level in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, it's a powerful thing. Developers will apply themselves more if they see their code in production frequently, at least that's my opinion.

Beware of the fake agile
I hate using the a-word, one of the reasons is the movement of "adapted agile". You know, we do sprints, we do whiteboards, we even buy the "super sticky" Post-its. We have demos every third week (though mostly by showing powerpoints)...and we push to production every 6 months. You want to push to production when a feature is done, not when the MS project plan tells you it's time.

Bottom line: go into production often
I don't care what you call it. Agile, lean, continuous delivery (or my personal favorite; programming motherfucker!). The effect isn't down to the application of the right buzzword it comes from reducing the time from when code is written to when it runs in production. That is what will motivate developers (at least me) to give a little extra. You'd think everyone knew this by now, but they don't... after I switched to clients doing frequent deployments to production 7 weeks ago, I've seen my code in production twice already, and I'm a much happier and more productive developer!