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.

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