Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Failure to clean

While considering what to do for MQ1, I ran across a presentation (video) that Peter Provost gave for NDC 2009. He has an awesome analogy between coding and cooking at 31m into the presentation:
I was very fortunate to work for a good chef, and one of the things that he taught me was to be constantly cleaning up as I was cooking… [If you are forced to have the big clean up at the end,] as you’re constantly piling on the scraps of food all over the counter, and the dirty knives and plates, it totally gets in your way. At the end you stop and say, “We can’t cook any more food for an hour; we got to clean up the kitchen.”
If you can imagine that a version six product (where a product cycle is about two years long) is like a kitchen where people have been constantly working in for twelve years, and at no time has anyone actually cleaned it up all the way, and finding clean space to work in and clean tools to do the work with is getting progressively harder and harder, then you have a very good idea of what writing software2 is like.
1MQ is Microsoft parlance (perhaps others too) for a “quality” milestone. Milestones is one way to divide up a large set of tasks that you want to work on during the course of a single product cycle, and the ones which add features are generally M1, M2, etc. MQ (or M0) generally starts (or is in the interstice between) product cycles, and generally focuses on infrastructure and code-quality improvements—things that only have a secondary impact on whether customers will want our software, i.e., that we are efficient in making those other changes.
2Well, writing software in a non-agile or limited-agility way.

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