Category Archives: Project Management

Technical Interviewers: Seek Opinions Not Facts

Asking fact questions in technical interviews is like eating a donut, feels great at the time but not so satisfying later.

Let’s say the interview consists of facts like this “softball question”: “What is the default port number for SQL Server?” The linked list of questions is a really good high level study guide for a SQL Server student. If a SQL Server developer candidate answers all correctly, then the interviewer can be confident that the candidate knows a lot about SQL Server. 

However, few development jobs require only technical fact knowledge. Typically, developers must apply creativity when working with unclear or poorly expressed requirements under tight schedules. They must be versatile so that they can take on unforeseen roles in case of resignations or transfers of team members. If you make an investment in an individual by hiring her or him, you’ll look for a return in the form of professional development as the individual grows their skills.

So how do you test creativity, versatility, and ability to learn, while still gauging raw technical talent? My method is to ask opinion rather than fact questions.  Continue reading

Jürgen Klinsmann’s Waterfall to Agile Transition

KlinsmannAndDonovan

How does this sound as advice for an app dev manager leading his or her team from waterfall to Agile?

  • Clearly articulate a compelling end-state vision
  • Work from a position of authority
  • Weather the storms
  • Reward creativity while fostering improvement

A post at scrumsource.com lists leadership, organizational culture, and people as three of the five key factors in making the transition. Another at the Scrum Alliance site describes the transition as a migration from externally-organized to self-organizing teams. In my experience the transition requires leadership by a strong advocate who shows the way to willing, empowered team members.

The US men’s national soccer team (USMNT) is playing out a strikingly similar transition. Continue reading

A Fist Full of Agile Critiques

Out of curiosity I recently reviewed articles critical of Agile Methodologies. I had expected agile-versus-waterfall arguments and attacks from vendors selling new alternatives, but even given the reputation that advocates have for flaming well-intentioned critics, I wasn’t prepared for the level of emotion I found.

My opening position was that Agile techniques are great, but like any other tool there are limits and prerequisites. The critical articles I read strengthened that view. Let’s review three examples that stood out, in reverse order: Continue reading

Data Design Matters

OrderModelAs important as it is, data modeling has always had a geeky, faintly impractical tinge to some. I’ve seen application development projects proceed with a suboptimal, “good enough”, model. The resulting systems might otherwise be well-architected, but sometimes strange vulnerabilities emerge that track directly to data design flaws.

Recently I saw an example where a “good enough” data design, similar to the one pictured, enabled a significant application bug.

Continue reading

What Driving Dogs Tell Us About Learning

Recently the BBC posted this video. On first view it is just funny, but watching those dogs learn to drive really reminded me of personal experiences with IT teams making big learning transitions. To represent those real situations let’s consider a fictional team of SQL developers facing the daunting task of deploying a functional Hadoop-based analytics prototype in two months. The video parallels their critical learning success factors: (1) set audacious goals, (2) learn bit by bit, and (3) know your limits.

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Selected data modeling best practices

Recently I was in a conversation about data modeling standards. I confess that I’m not really the standards type.  I understand the value of standards and especially how important it is to follow them so others can interpret and use work products. It is just that I prefer to focus on understanding of the principles behind the standards. In general, it seems to me that following standards is trivial for someone who understand the principles, but impossible for someone who doesn’t. But there doesn’t seem to be general understanding of data modeling principles. Continue reading

Why is your reporting project late?

In my experience, some BI projects ultimately finish as a success, but exceed budget and schedule targets and fall short of functional goals along the way. On projects like this, somewhere in the midst of report development, things get sticky and tasks fall behind schedule as the team runs into unexpected complexities. Continue reading

Be careful with agile methods if…

I’ve written a number of posts about agile techniques of project management on this site, all in a spirit of advocacy. A comment on the most recent reminded me that agile/scrum isn’t necessarily the right solution in all situations, and in some it may work but needs to be applied carefully. After that comment I thought it would be interesting to write about situations in which agile methods should be applied with care, if at all: Continue reading

So Agile/Scrum Really IS Like Rugby

OK, I’ve lost a five-metre scrum, my pack has been overrun, and the ref has raised his arm between the sticks for a penalty try.  My colleague Margy Thomas, with support of fellow rugger Billy Tilson, has convincingly argued that agile development in fact is very like rugby union. Margy cleverly fended my meager one-point case with a point-by-point list of the ways that agile projects and rugby are similar. I’ll hold on to my view that sports analogies are generally weak in describing application development, but I’ve come to observe a fundamental similarity between rugby and agile/scrum. Continue reading

Project managers: is yellow the new green?

I’ve never understood the obsession with “green” status among IT application development project managers, and the intense pressure put on them to “stay green” by the program management offices (PMOs) they report to. We would benefit from a cultural shift away from avoiding yellow status.

For those not in the field, it is in vogue to express IT project status using a stoplight analogy, where green means things are going well, yellow indicates some quality, schedule, or budget risk, and red means there’s imminent risk of failure.

Continue reading