Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Apply Elegant Architecture to Your Dev Team: Part I

There is another way to think of software development which allows you to leverage your skills as a developer and apply them in a new way. The process of developing software is, in effect, an algorithm implemented with various technologies. You can think of your team, the technologies you use, and your development methodology as a piece of software.

What do you do with software? You improve it. You add new functionality, you increase its performance and usability and you remove bugs. Also, software itself is a document: source code. It is a description of how to perform a set of tasks. You improve the software by changing the source code. Let’s call the combination of your team, tools, and techniques: “the process” and the source code for the process “the process document.”

Not only can you think of your development process as software, you can think of your whole development organization and the people in it as a combination of hardware and software with various communication links. I don’t recommend that you take this advice literally and think this way on a regular basis, or treat people as interchangeable cogs in the machine! However, by thinking about it this way you can leverage your technical design skills to think about how to organize and optimize your development organization and development process. You can leverage well-known design patterns. For instance, consider the communication aspect.

In the world of information transfer there is bandwidth, latency, and connectivity. The best environment for communication is high bandwidth with low latency that is always connected. The worst environment for communication is low bandwidth with high latency that is infrequently connected.

This gives a well-known context for discussing human interaction. On one end of the spectrum is self-communication. If you are responsible for two interdependent modules, then when you make a change to one, you instantly know you need to make a change to the other. You won’t misunderstand yourself or need to have a back and forth conversation to really understand. You just know. On the other end of the spectrum you have two people from different cultures revising a document via e-mail who live exactly half way around the world from each other. In between you have pair-programming, collocation, people working together but sitting on different floors of the same building, folks with a great deal of physical separation in the same time zone, a different time zone, etc.

Then there are different forms of information interchange such as video link, phone, e-mail, IM, wiki, document, etc. This way of thinking can guide your decisions about where to seat people, the value of having high bandwidth links, etc.

Next: Apply Elegant Architecture to Your Dev Team: Part II

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