Schedules & Teams

I’ve been thinking a lot about schedules lately–software production schedules, deadlines, sprint plans, etc.–and I found this from my PauseOnError session 4 years ago:

Below, I’ve proposed 8 “blockers” that, if true, seem to reinforce my skepticism that you can’t really share FileMaker development: that anything bigger than “one developer – one project – start to finish” starts to break down pretty quickly.

1. We have no accurate way to quantify the productivity of a developer.

2. Yet we have a gut sense for “productivity” and the productivity of individual developers differs greatly, often by an order of magnitude.

3. FileMaker code is not legos, and no mater how adept we may be at making things discrete and reusable, the stuff just doesn’t plug and play.

4. We can’t run someone’s code through a spell checker, and we can’t look at the code and know what it does.

5. “In any sufficiently powerful system, failure is undetectable” – John Gall

6. “The key problem with software methodologies [Agile, etc.] is that, implemented by smart people, the kind of people who invent methodologies, they work. Implemented by shrubs, who will not do anything more than follow the instructions they were given, they won’t work.” – Joel Spolsky

And when you see a software project that did work, was the methodology the factor, or was there just one, really productive programmer at work?

7. “It may well turn out that one of the most important effects of open source’s success will be to teach us that play is the most economically efficient mode of creative work.” – Eric S. Raymond.

Can you have a consulting business that is mostly play? Is that why I’m drawn to the product side vs the professional services side of the software business?

8. Many of these problems were already fully articulated in the late 1960s. Thousands of very smart people have worked on this since then and I don’t think we have any real answers.

Having launched a ton of product since that talk, and done 2 years on Blueprint, I wonder if I’d say any of that differently.

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2 Comments

  • Hey John, great post! After building quite a few complex systems in fm I can’t agree more. (#5) Fail points are rarely evident in anything but ‘production’ conditions, especially if there are a lot of moving parts. Trouble shooting can be a real challenge. Often requiring skills of visualisation and conceptual reasoning. I don’t think test driven programming or even agile will save you from poor design or challenging trouble shooting. I think that is why programming of complex systems is so interesting. It requires such a mix of high level skills. There is also no where to hide. The thing either works or it does not. Then of course, is it easy to use? Does it look beautiful? Perhaps some of the greatest challenges are that to be a great programming team you need to liberate those skills of visualisation, conceptualisation as well as the ability to handle details and be analytical. The challenge is that those skills rarely reside in the one person. If they do, that person will often become frustrated with working with others. To create a true development team, requires starting at the recruiting end with an awareness of exactly how to put together and manage all those aspects. Applying ‘test’ driven or ‘agile’ programming methods will rarely work without excellent leadership great recruiting and top notch team management ‘day to day’. Thanks, Lance

  • So true, so true.
    One programmer – one project!
    Maybe Todd Geist’s project ModularFileMaker, can help us change that?
    True interchangeable code semgents.
    I wish we could make real code segments in FileMaker. And share them
    Arild Schönberg

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