Whiteboards for Everyone!

Do you like designing on whiteboards?  I do.   Colorful markers against a clean, white surface inspire all kinds of creativity and fun.

Recently David Crossett of Ready Receipts gave me a great tip.  He told me that instead of going to your local OfficeBOX superstore and paying $200 for a 4×8 whiteboard, just hit HomeDepot instead and get a $12 piece of showerboard.  It works just as good and if you need a smaller size they will cut it for you on site for no additional charge!  At that price, you can line your walls with thinking space.  Power to the Consumer–thanks David!

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

Software Development Best Practices – Software Requirements Management

I recently hosted Red Rock Research’s second weekly software development best practices seminar for the general public.  Our topic was Software Requirements Management.Requirements Management is perhaps the most controversial topic in software development.  Everyone seems to have their own technique.  It is also the most important skill-set–statistically more important than development skills–to the overall success of a software project (Standish CHAOS Report, 2009).Let me say that another way because this principle is not intuitive…if you want to improve the performance of your development projects, improve the skill-sets of your business analysts who generate requirements.  Statistically, this has more of a performance boost on a projects outcome than any other skill-based area.Many published requirements management techniques exists, and yet in a $220 Billion industry with a project failure/delay rate of 64%, it appears that most of these published techniques are not embraced.Our seminar covered Eliciting, Prioritizing, Validating, and Documenting a requirements baseline.  We discussed the progression of system context diagrams, UML actors, use cases, data-flow diagrams, High-Level Overview diagrams, High-Level Design diagrams and finally the Software Requirements Specification document.   We talked briefly about  a Concept of Operations document and a System Design Description document.We discussed the difference between a plan-based documentation stack, and a minimized Agile-development documentation stack–which would be generated during a Sprint-Zero.  (Yes BTW, you DO create documentation for Agile projects!)We discussed techniques to control scope creep after the requirements baseline, and then discussed techniques for dealing with what I call ‘approval noise.’What puzzles me the most about this topic is an entrenchment I encounter occasionally, as expressed by one of the seminar participants.   He stated, after the seminar, that all of this was interesting in a textbook-like manner, but that he felt none of it was pratically applicable.I asked him to explain how his company performs requirements practices and he said “Well, we have nothing written.  We have everything in our head and we just talk across the cubicles.”  He then told me he was frustrated at some additional items he was asked to add to his project that morning because it was supposed to be completed two weeks ago.  He also told me that the owner of his organization wished they had a structured approach to software project management, and that–oh, by they way–many of the programmers were given layoff notices at the beginning of the week because the company is failing.Hmm, it’s almost as if the problem is not properly in focus.  Downstream problems are caused by upstream actions or omissions.  I mean no disrespect, I just wish to point out the obvious that if companies like this would adopt upstream structure they would benefit from downstream success.You see, the problem proper requirements practices solves is not at the development effort level, it is at the project management, estimation, budget, and strategy planning–or business level.Software centric business level practices become predictable and executives can be proactive if their projects properly consume the time estimated.Projects will consume the time estimated if they include all of the functionality needed for a desired level of business value, and those functions are identified in whole, at the beginning of the project.  This way the software project time-frames and feature-sets can be included accurately in the estimation, budgeting, resource planning, and strategic planning of a company.  This way, scope creep will be minimal, and the whole company will benefit from a predictable project delivery process.Without proper requirements skills, entire feature-sets get missed upstream and need to be added ‘at the last moment’ downstream,  the risk of re-work increases drastically, and recurring cycles of this erode project managers and the development team’s credibility in the eyes of the executive team and the waiting customers.  In worst case scenarios, this can lead to layoffs and finally company failures.If you haven’t been trained on proper requirement management techniques, you are holding your organization at risk.  Attend our next three-day Software Requirements Management training course held September 7-9 in SLC.Mike J. Berry, PMP, CSM, CSPMwww.RedRockResearch.com

Software Development Best Practices – Software Estimation

Posted by mikeberry | Plan-based Development,Software Estimation,Software Requirements,Uncategorized | Friday 10 July 2009 11:02 am

Red Rock Research held our first of a weekly series of seminars on software development best practices yesterday at the Miller Campus – Professional Development Center.  Our topic was Software Estimation.

We covered the typical informal methods: Fuzzy Logic, Wide-band Delphi, Planning Poker, and the primary formal methods: Function Point counting, the Putnam Model, COCOMO II, and COSMIC-FFP.   We also discussed how to estimate the percent of defects still in your application at the time of release.

Along with ‘how’ to estimate software projects accurately, we discussed how to manage the expectations of the executive team and the investors who typically want everything now.  Chris Perry, from the Utah iEEE CS chapter was in attendance and said “All the things your talking about I’ve been living for the past 10 years!”

Join us this Thursday, July 16 for our 2-hour seminar on Software Requirements Management.  The cost is only $10!

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

Don’t miss these Software Development Best Practice Workshops…

I’m hosting weekly Software Development Best Practice workshops each Thursday during the next four weeks.  These are held during work hours so ask your manager/VP/CIO and perhaps they would like to come along.  The topics are different each week.

This is basically a summary of my three day courses that I am now offering.  I’m giving the info away to get some attention in the valley.  Each workshop is from 3:00 – 5:00pm Thursday afternoon at the Miller Campus – Professional Development Center  This represents a tremendous value as I have put over 3000 hours of research into the material and consumed over 100 industry books.

Topics

Software Estimation – July 9th

Software Requirements Management – July 16th

Software Quality Systems Management – July 23rd

Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) Management – July 30th

Event Calendar and Info

http://www.utahtechcouncil.org/Events/Community-Events/Community-Calendar.aspx

Hope to see you there!

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

How to compute % defects removed from release candidate code

Recently someone on StackOverflow.com asked me to explain how to compute the defect removal rate for release candidate software.  There are two methods for producing this number and I teach both in several of my seminars, but I’ll explain the simpler method in this post…

Lawrence Putnam presented this model in his 1992 Book titled Measures for Excellence.  His book reads more like a math text than a software development guide, and suffers from an unfortunate formula typo which has lead to widespread confusion about his models in the industry, but I will  explain his defect removal rate calculation process.  (I hired a math wizard to examine his data and correct the formula!)

1. For a typical project, code is produced at a rate which resembles a Rayleigh curve.  A Rayleigh curve looks like a bell curve with a long-tail.  See my ASCII graphics below:

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|||||||||||||||||
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2. Error ‘creation’ typically happens in parallel and proportional to code creation.  So, you can think of errors created (or injected) into code as a smaller Rayleigh curve:

||||
|||+++|||||
||||+++++|||||
||||+++++++||||||||

where ‘|’ represents code, and ‘+’ represents errors

3. Therefore, as defects are found, their ‘detection rate’ will also follow a Rayleigh curve.  At some point your defect discovery rate will peak and then start to lesson.  This peak, or apex, is about 40% of the volume of a Rayleigh curve.

4. So, when your defect rate peaks and starts to diminish, factor the peak as 40% of all defects found, then use regression analysis to calculate how many defects are still in the code and not found yet.

By regression analysis I mean if you found 37 defects at the apex after three weeks of testing, you know two things:  37 = 40% of defects in code, so code contains ~ (37 * 100/40) = ~ 93 errors total, and your finding about 10.2 defects per week, so total testing time will be about 9 weeks.

Of course, this assumes complete code coverage and a constant rate of testing.

Hope this is clear.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

A Free Software Requirements Specification Template (SRS)!

Need a good software requirements specification (SRS) template?  Use an industry-standard SRS.  Can’t find one?  Well now you have-get it here for free.  Enjoy!

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com
Software Development Process Guidance

25 Most Dangerous Information Security Programming Errors

Want to visit ground-zero for data security?  Experts from SANS, MITRE, SAFECode, EMC, Juniper, Microsoft, Nokia, SAP, Symantec, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National Cyber Security Division last week presented a listing of The Top 25 Most Dangerous (Information Security) Programming Errors.  Expect to see future government and big-money RFP’s mandate these items be addressed.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

Excellence over Heroics

I value Excellence over Heroics.

‘Excellence’ can be defined as “the crisp execution of established procedures.”  Think about that for a minute.

Do you know of a software development shop where several prominent developers often stay up late into the night, or come in regularly over the weekend to solve high-profile problems, or put out urgent mission-critical fires?

The thrill of delivering when the whole company’s reputation is at stake can be addictive.  I remember once staying up 37 hours in-a-row to deliver an EDI package for a bankers convention.  I was successful, delivering the application just before it was to be demo’d.  I went home and slept for 24 hours straight afterwards.

The problem with ‘Heriocs’ is that the hero is compensating for the effects of a broken process.  Think about that for a minute.

If heroes are needed to make a software development project successful, then really something upstream is broken.

Most problems requiring heroics at the end of a project stem from improper effort estimations, inability to control scope, inadequate project tracking transparency, mismanaged Q/A scheduling, unnecessary gold-plating, or inadequate communication between the development team and the project users/stakeholders.

A well-organized development group humms along like a well-oiled machine.  Proper project scoping, analysis, design deconstruction, estimating, tracking, and healthy communication between development and the users/stakeholders will bring that excellence that trumps heroics.

Hey, I hear that Microsoft is looking for some Heroes.

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

Software Production Support

In a conversation with a friend once, they jokingly described their inability to play racquetball against other seasoned players as “They are playing racquetball, while I am just hitting a ball around the room.”

I’ll borrow that reference and apply it to Software Production Support.

Is your Software Production Support group “playing racquetball,” or are they “just hitting a ball around the room?”

From a distance they can appear like the same activities.  On closer inspection however, one is much more organized, elegant, patterned, and proactive–while the other is only reactive.

Finding the order from all the choas separates the effective from the ineffective.

There are three particular areas your Software Production Support team should be focus on.  These three areas are:

1. Maintaining Systems
2. Managing Customer Expectations
3. Become a Quick-Reaction Force

1. Maintaining Systems:

Think of your production servers like a fleet of cars.  In a fleet plan, the company sends every car to get an oil change after x number of miles, a tire rotation after y number of miles, and a general tune-up, fluid change, etc. after z number of miles.  This pattern repeats itself for the life of the car that is serviced by the fleet manager.

How often are your server hard drives defragmented?  How often are the transaction-logs backed up?  How often are the indexes reindexed, and the statistics updated?

How often are memory settings adjusted for performance? Latest patches applied? How often are your servers checked to see if there any impending disk space issues?

To maximize system performance, create a “fleet plan” for your servers which checks all of these items at regular intervals.

2. Managing Customer Expectations:

If a server fails, do you know which systems depend on it? If a database goes corrupt, do you know which applications need it, and which corresponding business units will be impacted when that happens?

Do you have a way to communicate to those groups immediately?

Create a dependency map for your products.  A dependency map illustrates which servers host which databases, and then which databases are used by which applications, and finally the names, numbers, and email groups of the business users that are affected by that server/database failure.  This will enable your team to proactively manage your customers expectations.  You can notify them before they have to notify you.

3. Become a Quick-Reaction Force:

The SWAT team, the FireStation, and the Ambulance services all have something in common: they are ready to take action at a moment’s notice.

They have the information they need available to them, and additional services available with a simple call.

Do your products have support information organized and readily available?  Do you have the names and numbers of your account representative for each third-party product or tool you support?  Do you have the product-support phone numbers and your support plan credentials readily available?

Do you know who knows what about each application in your enterprise?  Who programmed it originally?  Who has supported it lately?  Which business units use it?  Where is the source code located?

Keeping information about each system updated in a central location should also be part of your “fleet plan.”

Another effective tool for a Quick-Response group is a monitoring system.  Something that indicates the overall attitude of each of your production servers?  Disk Space available? Will the system reply to a ping?  Is SQL Agent running? Is that required Windows Service up and running?  Monitoring tools like Nagios can do this for you.

Another great idea is to keep a lessons-learned log for each component you support.  Track problems, fixes to problems, assumptions to be confirmed, and ways to test if the component is functioning properly.

All of these pieces in place will make your production support much more effective.

So, think about it…is your Software Production Support team playing racquetball, or are they just hitting a ball around a room?

Mike J. Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

Improving Employee Morale

As a software development management consultant, I’m always looking for innovative ways to improve employee morale.

My friend and associate, Greg Wright, told me about an interesting process for improving morale that his company practices.

They have an appeasement committee and budget.   The appeasement committee is a group with one representative from each department.  Each month, a different member of each department is represented in the group.  If certain corporate goals are met, the committee plans an event for the company for that month.  The events are simple and not too expensive:  bowling, or mini-golf and pizza, etc.

What I find valuable about this example is that five important objectives are met:

  1. The individual employees are empowered by being able to participate in the suggestions to improve morale.  This personal involvement is more meaningful to them, and more appreciated.
  2. If a committee and a budget is in place, morale-building events won’t take a backseat to unexpected fires, or brand new deadlines.
  3. The effort-vs-reward principal is set in motion, which is one of the foundations of capitalism.
  4. Corporate goals get communicated, and emphasized, and are constantly on everyone’s minds.
  5. Team-building outside of the stressed work environment will occur.  This brings a fresh dimension to work-place teamwork.

Morale building is important because it separates the sweat-shop jobs from the career jobs.  This simple process can do wonders for your organization.

Mike J Berry
www.RedRockResearch.com

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