Monday, 19 December 2011

People Related Classic Mistakes

In my last blog I mentioned Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules by Steve McConnell, which although has now been around for at least 10 years is still as relevant today as when it was written. One of my favourite parts of the book was his treatment of Classic Mistakes

As Steve’s book states, classic mistakes are classic mistakes because they’re mistakes that are made so often and by so many people. They have predictably bad results and, when you know them, they stick out like a sore thumb. Half the battle in shipping quality software is avoiding making mistakes - something that is easier said than done. The other half of the battle is using efficient development practices that ensure well written, thought-out, designed and tested code.

The idea behind listing them here is that, once you know them, you can spot them and hopefully do something to remedy their effect.

Classic mistakes can be divided in to four types:
  • People Related Mistakes
  • Process Related Mistakes
  • Product Related Mistakes
  • Technology Related Mistakes

Today’s blog takes a quick look at the first of Steve’s categories of mistakes: People Related Mistakes.

Undermined Motivation

Avoid doing things that undermine the motivation of other members of your team.

Weak Personnel

Hire the best people you can find. Never hire from the bottom of the barrel.

Uncontrolled Problem Employees

Not sacking problem employees results in lower motivation for the rest of the team and the reworking of their areas of code.


Allowing heroic gung-ho developers is similar to putting a bull in a china shop. Gung-ho heroics threaten the schedule because slips aren’t detected until its too late. Some managers praise heroic developers working all hours battling away to get a project completed on time.

Isn’t it better to have steady, consistent 9 to 5 working and progress reporting. Get a life. If you have to work heroically then project is in big trouble.

Adding People to a Project Late

Adding people to a project that is behind schedule does more damage than doing nothing.

Noisy Crowded Offices

Workers who occupy quiet, private offices work better than those who occupy noisy open plan offices or cubicles.

Friction Between Developers and Customers

There is often friction between developers and their customers to the extent that it is not uncommon for both parties to consider cancelling the project. Friction is primarily caused by poor communications leading to poorly understood requirements and poor user interfaces. In the worst cases the client can refuse to accept the product.

Unrealistic Expectations

Here managers or clients expect that something can be done within a certain time scale - usually with no sound basis. This doesn’t lengthen time scales as such but gives the perception of missed deadlines and schedules that are too long. Software development takes as long as it takes.

Lack of Effective Project Sponsorship

Every project should have some one high enough, or capable of saying NO when some other high level manager tries to force you to agree unrealistic time-scales or make changes that undermine the project. This is important as lack of project sponsorship virtually guarantees failure. A high level sponsor should support aspects such as realistic planning, change control, practices etc.

Lack of Stake Holder Buy-in

Close co-operation only occurs when all major players in the project, from the top to the bottom put their intellect and personal force behind a project. Team work pays off.

Lack of User Input

Projects without early end user input risk allowing misunderstandings to occur in the requirements. This leads to time consuming feature creep later.

Politics Placed Over Substance

A team (or manager) that puts politics over results will tend to be well regarded for about six months. After that someone generally sees through them with fatal consequences.

Wishful Thinking

Wishful thinking isn’t just optimism. It’s closing your eyes and hoping something works when you have no reasonable basis for thinking it. It’s knowing that something can’t be done but agreeing to try anyway. Wishful thinking at the beginning of a project leads to big blowups at the end. It undermines planning and is at the root of more problems than all the other mistakes combined.

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