Transparency, XPlanner, Making Dates

Once I asked an IBM employee that worked on the Eclipse project (a dev) how they could turn around builds so quickly and he said roughly paraphrasing “my current boss, most likely my next boss, and all my friends know what I said I’d do because it’s right there in the specs on the web. If I miss my dates, everyone knows.” As much as some might argue that (as Tom points out in his article) “familiarity breeds contempt,” I believe that transparency breeds accountability, understanding, and ultimately more buy-in to what we are trying to accomplish together.

“Transparency, snowmobiling, and other potentially dangerous, but rewarding endeavors?”

This reminds me of something interesting Alistair Cockburn said in his ITConversations interview:

[P]eople find in the Agile projects there’s no place to hide. And you get the weak developers, the pompous developers, you get people who just fill space. They get pushed out really fast, because it’s “show up and contribute or get out of the way” and some people have said, “There’s just no place for the weak people to hide.”

We’ve slowly been adopting XPlanner at work — we’re just using it to track our backlog now. Essentially, it’s a scaled down MS-Project on the web, except it’s XP-centric so there’s stories, iterations, and all sorts of funky XP-talk instead of the usual project-management jargon.

Anyhow, what makes XPlanner “transparent” is that everyone can see what everyone else is working on, their estimates, and their progress. People tend to cringe at this at first. Indeed, I’ve heard some stories of XPlanner going horribly wrong: if you show this stuff to people who don’t understand software development (it’s not just 8 hours solid everyday of typing away at the keyboard…shocking, I know. I thought it’s be just like factory work too!) they start using it to track the coders in a bad way, and then people start putting in bogus data, and it’s useless as anything but a check list.

Back to the point: one of my more interesting philosophy professors had a pet theory that shame was an incredibly effective tool in keeping society together. In fact, he said, it’s not used as much as it could be. People can be motivated to Do The Right Thing to avoid feeling ashamed at having done something wrong, or, feeling ashamed at having failed to do something. Of course, it works ex post facto as well: if you feel ashamed at something you’ve done, you’re likely to fix it.

The connection between transparency and shame is put well in a phrase much favored now-a-days:
“sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
Which is to say, brining it back to software, with everything schedule-wise out in the open, as XPlanner provides, people are (probably) going to do higher quality work than if everything was locked up in an MS-Project file or spreadsheet somewhere.

Don’t confuse using XPlanner with the broader point here. That point being: in 90% of the cases in software development, the more knowledge that’s “public” in your team, the better off the resulting software and process will be.

Email as Documentation

In a FC Now post noting that the WSJ marketing dept. bans email on Friday (promoting more personal forms of communication like phone calls), Philip Reichert makes this interesting comment about email:

I experience of email is that people use it as a documentation tool. EG: If you have doubts about a project then you send an email. If you have comments on a document then you send an email. etc etc. Almost all work that gets done is documented in an email.

Email has become the omnipotent-documentation program with the ethos, “If in doubt – email it!”

Pulling Up Information

You know, I don?t see that many of them, but based on this conversation Hugh, I will see more of them (laugh). I think, you know, when you get to the four-star level, you fight to get information from the troops and you don?t want to be a victim of just getting fed what the staff brings you every day. The way you work that is through the internet as you just mentioned or you visit places. You go to Iraq, you go to Afghanistan and you try and get down to the individual soldier, airmen, sailor, Marine level, coastguardsmen duty, civilian and look them in the eye and say, ?How?s it going?? and establish enough rapport that they?ll tell you, and at my level it?s a constant fight to make sure that you get the straight skinny. I think it?s a good idea that I plug into some of those too in my spare time.
General Myers about military blogs

I think it was in The Agenda where someone told Clinton, once he’d been elected, “be careful when you’re in the Whitehouse, no one will tell you the truth, just what you want to hear.” Indeed.

Also, on the bid’ness side, as Jeff Nolan (where I found the link) put it:

“In the private sector it’s only a matter of time before CEO’s, at least the better ones, start figuring out that the best way to get the straight scoop on a topic is to drill down to the field by reading the blogs that exist within the company.”

He then seems to fish a tad for enterprise, secured versions of Technorati or Feedster, with a hefty dash of bid’ness intellegence built in to them.

RSS Feeds for BizJournals

I just noticed that has RSS feeds. They’re obviously confused about the benefits of providing free info through feeds: you have to login to get an RSS URL. The URL appears to have a Guid, or something else unique, in it so they can track which users are reading the feeds.

While I’m happy to be getting the info — I can keep up with the Austin business stuff — they’re going to kill their bandwidth with this approach. With something like bloglines, any number of users can read an RSS feed (from 1 to thousands), but the feed just gets downloaded once. With this approach, every one of those users downloads an RSS feed. That’s just silly.

If they’re concerned about tracking who read what, the solution is simple:

  • Provide only summaries in their feed.
  • Once someone clicks on to read more for any entry, require them to login before seeing the article.

That’s it. If they don’t click to read the rest of the article, you couldn’t really fairly count them as a reader anyhow…nevermind what how they actually do these metrics.

Let Down by iTunes

Just like this guy I was let down by iTunes tonight. We bought some songs from the iTunes store the other night, and tonight we bought a cheap (cheaper than the price shown on
the page
) MP3 player.

I was worried that Apple’s file format wouldn’t work on just any old MP3 player but I (naively) thought, “I don’t know…Apple’s impressed me so far with their software…surely they’ll make it easy for me, and say screw it to the RIAA…”

Oh, but wait, millions of dollars and massive FUD are involved…”do what would be best for me”? No, of course not!

So, I can’t just plug in the cheap MP3 player and drag a playlist to from iTunes to it. Oh no, I’d probably have to spend at least $200, if not more for the pleasure of that.

Stupid Apple. In The Coté Consumer Respectdex,” Apple inched down today from “strong buy” to “reluctant purchase.”

The computer and recording industry need to figure this shit out. I told Kim about all this special file format bullshit, and her answer was elegant in it’s shortness, “What the fuck? We paid for those songs! Macs suck!”

So, my advice: stick to CD’s, they’ll work with the cheap MP3 players without a bunch of horse-shit.