Surprise Requirements

I was working on designing solutions to some new client needs recently. Our process is to map all requirements to sections of our design. It is a little tricky when more than one team works on a set of requirements. I mapped those requirements I thought my team fulfilled. Then I passed the mapping document over to the other team involved.

Sometimes I am able to detect some requirements that are not necessarily new. They are just newly documented. It is a problem that they are just lumped together with the new requirements. But that is a story for another post. There were there requirements at the end of my mapping which seemed strange to me. They did not seem to be related to the new functionality. They also did not seem to be things the system already did.

I decided to get in touch with our requirements lead. Apparently these were requirements previously collected but never implemented. They need to be completed along with all the changes I am working on. That is a bit tricky. They should not be mapped to the new design I produced. They need to go with a future design that was yet to be written. Tricky.

Timesheet Recording

The suits on the project want to record how much time we actually spend working on new features. They think we are spending too much time on them. Guess what? They are half right. We are spending a lot of calendar time ... doing things other than working on new features.

The little time we actually spend on the new features causes the schedule to drag on. Our team decided to record the time we spend on tasks during the day. Iteration one is using Excel spreadsheets to track everything. Hey. I am game for anything that tracks actuals.

Initially the team wanted me to record start and stop times for tasks. Dude. I work on all kinds of tasks and get interrupted from each all the time. There is no time (no pun intended) to record all those starts and stops. The goal here is to collect duration of tasks. Therefore I am only record the daily duration on every task I do.

The team lead thought we should record down to the 15 minute increment. Nope. Thirty minutes is the least I can do. Otherwise I am going to be wasting more time recording the stuff. Pretty soon I hope we can use a tool to collect this data. But spreadsheets are good enough for right now. I find that I am even more diligent in recording everything I do, including all the interruptions.

The Use of Metrics

Our project does a lot of estimation for new work we shall perform. The customer uses that information to determine how many new things we can handle per release. Recently there has been a push to collect actuals on how much time we spend on this new work. Must be some type of CMMi activity.

This is the trick for collecting metrics. You don't want the job of collecting the metrics to take up a lot of time. You also want it to be accurate. I remember when I used to track the time we spent fixing each bug. I had to collect all the info. Then I would put out reports on the subject. I did this until I was able to convince my boss that it was not time well spent.

I had thought that the goal for this new metrics collection would be to fine tune our estimation process. That way we can have more accurate projections on how long new work will take. My manager said he thinks this will help us report status on the new work as well. Let's just hope I don't have to start spending my life collecting metrics from the team.

Drawbacks of Being a Guru

I have been working on my project at work for almost 15 years. See it all on the project. Been involved with a lot of pieces of it. So I usually know about things that go on. That's great when I want to get stuff done. I got the business info.

Other people lean on me for help. Hey. That's usually not a problem. I can give some good developers a few pointers. It will help them cut through a lot of confusion to get their work done.

However there is some abuse of my help. Slackers want me to hold their hand while they do their work. That might benefit them. But I got my own job to do. Can't let people waste my time. Not sure how to communicate this to the slackers. Maybe I will just not take their calls.

Schedule Estimating Software

We have customer requests for enhancements to our legacy system all the time. The customer first needs an estimate as to how long it will take to develop, and thus how much it will cost. The way we respond is that we first try to figure out what it is exactly that the customer wants.

Then we get experts to think about a type of design in their mind. Once such a design has some meat, we will try to count up all the parts it will take to implement that design. This includes different GUI screens, interfaces, database code, and so on.

Once we know the pieces of the implementation, we decide to quantify them and rank them as being easy/medium/hard. Then we plug in how experenced the resources are that will implement the solution. This all goes into an Excel spreadsheet that has some smarts built into it. The result is a number of hours it will take for software completion.

Wouldn't it be easier if we did not have to rely on the experts to do all this analysis? I would like to send a business developer out to the customer, and have them be able to quickly estimate what the work is going to cost. We need something like Software Schedule Estimator for this job.

Wrong Estimates


Some performance problem popped up in our production environment. A bunch of us developers got together and sketched out possible solutions. We brought in some DBAs and came up with an optimal approach. After this initial huddle, a manager and developer went off to research the solution further.

This weekend I got the notice that I needed to implement the solution ASAP. Then I was asked for an estimate on how long it would take to knock this out. I used my trusty estimator spreadsheet. I have found it to work pretty well. Since we already designed a solution, I cut out the design hours.

On day one, I tried to manually check out the solution. Oooops. The SQL would not compile. I spent a day struggling with it. I called in a bunch of managers, developers, and DBAs. At first nobody else could get the design to work. Eventually a DBA and developer came up with a related desgn that would work. Problem was that now I was a day behind schedule.

Design


I am working on a new change for our system. This has been a rush job. All jobs are rush. But this one is really a rush. I started to think we were in trouble when a requirements analyst asked me for questions, then was unable to answer them. You can’t meet rushed schedules if you don’t know what you are doing. I decided to just go with some assumptions and run with them.

I knocked out a design document for my changes. This document assumed you already knew how the existing system worked. It also assumed that you knew what the new changes were about. My goal was to make sure a coder could read the design and immediately implement the thing.

A day before the customer was supposed to receive my design document, I passed it to some managers for review. One of the managers was new. He did not know what I was talking about in my design. Well yes, it was written for system experts. I did take the comments and reformatted my design. I wrote it from the viewpoint of a newbie.

Luckily I left the pseudo code section the same. That is the most important section. I got PL/SQL code in there that is pretty close to ready to compile. Now that does not mean you have to cut and paste my code verbatim. But if you know PL/SQL syntax, you will know exactly what you need to code.