What is your design budget

We all want to have good longterm software architecture. Build it right the first time. But some organizations fall into the trap of trying to get a perfect design before they start building.

They include more stakeholders, try to plan for contingencies, develop a high availability strategy. 

Those things are all good to have. But you don’t need them before you have users. If you have no users you shouldn’t be thinking about high availability. If your product doesn’t work yet you don’t need scalability.

Users > working product > scaling limitations > high availability

Another problem is having a committee to approve architecture proposals. One or two people is fine. But having three or more people who can block the start of the project is a recipe for pointless delays.

The reason we switched to agile methodologies is because it’s hard to know what the difficulties will be before you start building the software.

Be careful to structure your organization such that design doesn’t become more important than delivery.

A working product with customers is always more valuable than a product that doesn’t have customers but is highly available.

A design budget is a way to avoid falling into this trap. Simply budget a week or a month or whatever for designing up front. At the end of that time enforce a hard stop on doing more design. No more committee reviews or deliberation. If the architecture isn’t developed enough to start building, do a spike on a smaller scale. 

Away team work

Away team work is a critical component of high performance software organizations. It is a way for high priority teams to work around other teams’ manpower constraints to deliver software. Without a well established culture of away team project work your organization will default to a standard of ‘shut up and wait while your item is in the backlog’. 

What is away team work exactly? Away team work is when your team implements a feature or integration in another team’s codebase. Strictly speaking in away team work the host team does not review or approve pull requests. Your team’s senior engineers will get approval at an architectural level then handle pull request review themselves. 

The Away team process allows your team to unblock itself when dependencies don’t have manpower to spare. The key component is first that your team not the dependencies team does the work. Both the implementation, testing and code review. Some effort obviously is required of the host team, but it should be minimized. 

Away team work acts as a release valve on the conflict between the host team’s priorities and potential client’s goals of delivering features to customers. If the host doesn’t have manpower available your team can provide the engineers to make it happen. 

Without away team work your organization will have to make more tradeoffs on the scheduling side. More often than not you’ll have to pick a migration over the new feature. But Away team work would have enabled your organization as a whole to deliver both. 

What do you need to make away team work happen?

The key thing is that you have to make a formal process that specifies the maximum standards. You can’t allow teams to be squeamish about it. If the requirement is that two senior engineers approve that’s fine. Or maybe only senior engineers can do away team work in your company. Thats fine but you need a formal standard to avoid negotiations happening on a per project basis. 

Bookshelf Post

I have gotten back into reading Software Engineering books. It has been a good change of pace to study a bit in the mornings. My current focus is on Estimation. I want to come up with a better more accurate way for us to estimate software projects in agile environments. 

These two books are great references. Designing Data-Intensive Applications is a good read and believe it or not my workplace still uses Java 8 so Java Performance is not out of date.

I got these two management books back when I was a manager for a few months. But I haven’t dug into them yet. 

Agile Software Development was a textbook back in University. It is a funny book since it has about as much space devoted to Agile as it does to Object Oriented programming. The Mythical Man-Month is fun because of all the references to technology in the old days before the modern web. 

Building Products for the Enterprise is a product book, but I really like how it really explains what those Product Owners are up to all day.