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Creating and Maintaining a Virtuous Cycle – Quickly Growing a Software Team and Continuing to Deliver

This post was originally published on my LinkedIn profile.

As Software Professionals we all strive to work for teams and more importantly organisations who work in an agile fashion. The reality is often different to what is sold, but I think the difference is the way in which we cope with change.

The Hut Group is a company which embraces change and its ability to thrive with change is a major reason why it has grown, and continues to grow, at a phenomenal rate.

Recently, a slow-burning project sprang into life over the course of a couple of weeks. The upshot was that the software development requirement was intimidatingly large, critical to the delivery of the Group’s largest ever single investment and constrained by hard dates. This is not an unusual prospect for any of us, we can all regale stories and tales of woe in this regard.

At the time, there were three Engineers working on the project – a lot of time had been spent on setting up the architectural plan and understanding the problem and code had been cut. This all felt as though it was waiting for something to happen, it was obvious it couldn’t deliver in its current guise, but there was a lack of drive and urgency around the whole project. Conversations were happening as though the decisions being made were final, but in retrospect, I’m not sure any of us believed that.

The new impetus had to be used to kick this beast into life.

It was clear that the team had to grow to meet the demand, but it was also clear that the new team would need shorter goals than the final delivery of the project over twelve months away. The first short-term goal was agreed, the goal would drive out the delivery of core functionality and force the organisation to prioritise only the critical requirements. The goal was to be delivered in eight weeks’ time.

The challenge of growing the team was helped by the fact that the work was greenfield and allowed us to use golden phrases like ‘devops’, ‘cloud’ and ‘AWS’. We were passionate about what we were building, it was interesting, challenging and put the team 100% in control of everything – selling this was not difficult. We initially aimed to grow the total team size from four to twelve. By the end of the eight weeks, it was fifteen. We met people we really liked and we overshot a little. The new recruits came via transfer from other teams at THG and people new to the Group.

During the eight week period it seemed that every few days a new member of the team was joining. We continued with our two week sprint cycle, our retrospectives, standups and showcases. I firmly believe that this is what kept us in control. The pressure of wanting to showcase new functionality every two weeks and the goal at eight weeks was key to the team retaining its focus. There was no time for anyone to be ‘the new guy’ – most people qualified for that badge!

I believe that it was the iterations that gave us the ability to manage all this change whilst still delivering. The iterations made us constantly strive for adelivery and the retrospectives that came with the iterations allowed us to change our process repeatedly as the team grew and some of our old processes became inadequate and less efficient.

The constant change of requirements, dev process and new people arriving was therefore a force for good. Not only did the team become bigger, but everyone within the team became more productive and happier. When an individual feels more productive, they’re happier, they’re more relaxed and they become even more productive – it’s a virtuous cycle.

To the world outside of the team, the increase in size was not immediately obvious (during the initial increase in size, we also moved the team to a dedicated space nearer the business owners – away from our HQ). The only visible change was the improvement of the quality and quantity of work in the showcase.

At the end of the eight weeks, the goal was achieved – there was the odd late night with pizza in the run-up and not every showcase went without a hitch but the goal was achieved and it was important that the team celebrated the achievement. Within the space of two months, the team had more than tripled in size, delivered a major milestone, was together and flying.

Before the bulb on the projector from the final showcase had cooled, work began on the next goal – in fact on the next four goals. It was important to continue to ride the wave as long as we could. The momentum of a team is so important. From a management perspective, we need to be vigilant that this momentum doesn’t come at the cost of quality – that’s why the dev process has to be be there, be strong and be followed. To truly be followed, it needs to be a process that the team feel they own, that they have complete control over.

It’s now over a month since the end of the first eight week goal and we’ll soon be reaching another goal. The dev process continues to be tweaked every two weeks and today, we’re working far closer to the business owners than we ever were in the first eight weeks. We all work hard to maintain the virtuous cycle. We’re not perfect, we are better than yesterday and not as good as tomorrow.

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Thanks for reading this far, please share if you enjoyed the post.

I’m always looking to meet people within the industry and learn about others’ experiences. I also have opportunities within this team for Software Engineers with varying experience and specialities.

If you’ve any questions, comments or feedback or to enquire about working with us, just drop me a message or leave a comment.

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How valid is the implied legal advice in Jay-Z’s “99 Problems”?

Whilst reading a pdf I’d saved to pocket, probably from an RT on twitter, of the best questions and answers on Quora 2010-2012 I came across something of a gem that I wanted to share…


How valid is the implied legal advice in Jay-Z’s “99 Problems”?

Ryan Lackey, Mostly harmless.

Fairly valid, although it depends on the state; I’m not familiar with the laws of 1994, and the location is unspecified, but from the video, possibly Brooklyn, NY.
Here’s my take on the song:

The year is ninety-four, in my trunk is raw
In my rear-view mirror is the motherfuckin’ law
Got two choices y’all, pull over the car or (hmm)
bounce on the Devil, put the pedal to the floor
And I ain’t tryin’ to see no highway chase with Jake
Plus I got a few dollars, I can fight the case

Not running from the police seems like excellent advice.

So I, pull over to the side of the road
“Son, do you know why I’m stoppin’ you for?”
Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hat’s real low
Or do I look like a mindreader, sir? I don’t know
Am I under arrest or should I guess some more?

In general, not volunteering information at a traffic stop is great advice.

“Well you was doin fifty-five in the fifty-four;
license and registration and step out of the car –
are you carryin a weapon on you? I know a lot of you are”
I ain’t steppin out of shit, all my papers legit

Unless the cop can testify to reasonable suspicion [RS] that the defendant is armed — in which case he can search the driver and immediate vicinity for weapons for self protection — you shouldn’t need to get out of the car. Pushing back on this makes sense, if only to ensure whatever RS grounds would be documented, so they can get the case thrown out later. If the RS was invalid or not present, all evidence coming after that is “fruit of the poisoned tree” and discarded.

Jay-Z 99 Problems

“Well do you mind if I look around the car a little bit?”
Well my glove compartment is locked,
So is the trunk in the back,
And I know my rights, so you gon’ need a warrant for that

Consenting to a voluntary search is never a good idea, especially if you have felony weight on you. The standard to search the glove compartment is actually fairly low in California, since it’s accessible to the driver. Even though it is locked, the tenth circuit court of appeals has found that during a protective search of the vehicle (i.e., looking for weapons with RS), the glove box can be searched since it being locked may not prevent the driver from gaining control of a weapon. [1] The trunk can be opened if the car is impounded, for inventory reasons, which is a common way to get evidence. However, a locked case inside the trunk will not be opened (depends on the state).

“Aren’t you sharp as a tack! You some type of lawyer or somethin,
somebody important or somethin?”
Child I ain’t passed the bar, but I know a little bit
Enough that you won’t illegally search my shit
“Well we’ll see how smart you are when the canine comes”

A canine can only be used during a routine traffic stop if it doesn’t unduly delay the driver — it’s reasonable to walk back to your cruiser to get a dog, but you can’t wait to call one in.

This all goes out the window if reasonable suspicion is developed.

I got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one
Hit me!

[1] US v. Palmer, 360 F. 3d 1243 – Court of Appeals, 10th Circuit 2004
http://www.quora.com/l/boq-ryan-lackey


I will continue to read the pdf and report back with any more gems…

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If…

Trying times always remind me of If… by Rudyard Kipling. A cliché it might be, but that doesn’t stop being a great mantra to try to live by.

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

Is the most meaningful snippet in my opinion; that inner strength is the most valuable trait.

This may well be the most bollocky blog entry I ever write.

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A Sit and A Think

A good sit, there is little better than opportunity for a good sit, particularly when you are busy and a pause in itself is more than welcome.

Well, over the past couple of days, I’ve had ample opportunity to sit and little hope of doing much else. Except maybe a variation, a lie down. It soon becomes apparent that you can have too much of a good sit.

You might say, the true value of the sit is intrinsically linked to the scarcity of the opportunity to sit and the proximity to the last sit you had.

I should, at this point, define what I mean by ‘sit’. Sit is not merely the action of resting your weight on your soft bit. It is almost a state of mind, a meditation. I’d go as far to say that the most important part of the sit is the opportunity to think.

With a nice brew, maybe some background music/noise, peace and a blank mind. This is the opportunity to sit, sit and think. Your mind calm, heart rate slowed and muscles relaxed, sit begins.

It was during a good sit today, I started to think. In dire need of something besides TV sport and playing on the Wii to keep me occupied on the winter weekends, I need something to occupy me constructively.

An idea is what I need. I am able to comprehensively develop web sites, supporting systems and could, with a not insignificant amount of work, set up some sort of website for myself and start advertising myself as a small-scale web developer.

Although, in doing this, I would be putting myself in competition with a huge number of similar people, some who do this for as a full time job and others who are considerably better than me at it.

I thunk on some more, I am keen to create a service/product/website/idea myself. My web skills should just be another tool to help me, not my product itself.

A great idea I’d thought around was the website Rated People. A site which links local workmen to local jobs. Where both parties are interested and is not just another Directory service.

I think their website and service is a good one, but I think it can be better.

So, to surmise, this is the kind of thing I thought about today. I suspect, I shall be spending a lot of my sit thinking over the coming weeks mulling it over and developing it.

AW

–Congrats on making it this far, I hope future blogs will be more concise and less of a mind dump as this has been.–

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Hello world!

Welcome to my Wynne Myself blog.

Name is purely chosen as it was the only one available that I’m likely to remember.

 

I guess, the posts you are likely to find on this blog will be things that I want to say that aren’t able to fit inside 140 characters on Twitter.

 

All will become clear, to both you and I…

 

W

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