Category: Technology


In my view, agile can only really operate if we have the right level of knowledge in the team.  Further, I would argue that if you have a knowledgable team, they will find a way of delivering anyway – irrespective of whether we use agile, waterfall, or nothing at all. I’ve seen it. It works.

1. What is good?

Because agile contains many ideas and theories which appear at first glance to be innocent enough and uncontroversial, they slip by without people properly considering the implications.  One of these is the idea of agile  ”making a good team great” Beck and others set a lot of store by this statement. And it seems  reasonable enough. But what does it actually mean in practice? I would suggest that “good” means ‘knowledgable’. Knowledgable in the sense of being up to speed and confident with the business domain, implications of the requirements and so on and so forth.  In other words, the reason for doing the work in the first place.

2. It’s not about the technical side.  Sorry developers..

“Good” in my mind, absolutely doesn’t mean ‘technically competent’. We can assume you haven’t enlisted the cleaner to do your development, so it is fair to assume that the people you have are technically competent. That is not in question. What I am talking about has nothing to do with how good people are at polymorphism. It is not about knowledge of dependency injection. Not about multi view controller or anything else.  Believe it or not, your business users and the people paying for your project most likely don’t care about any of this.  COBOL 74 is just fine if it gets the job done. 

3.  It’s about what you know…

What is important is whether  we have a knowledgable team. If – and only if – we have this, we are in a position to embrace the agile ideas properly and do the things that the phrases imply – such as  ’inspect and adapt’.  We can start to be flexible and pragmatic.  Knowledge of Kanban, test automation, automated deployment, and other ‘agile’ techniques don’t really help us if we don’t understand the fundamentals of the work itself. We can be successful without any of these in fact. I am sorry if this is upsetting to some people but it is the truth.

4. What if we have ‘knowledge deficit disorder’?

Having established the principle,   the big question is: What happens if you don’t have a knowledgable team?  The agile gurus offer no guidance at all.  Obviously because they assume the situation never arises.  Yet it does arise and is a very serious and real problem in many organisations.   The problem of people not having the business knowledge required to do their work is a theme that has run through pretty much every  job I have ever held. And I am knee-deep in it once again, now.  This might be coincidence but somehow I don’t think it is.  I actually think it is intrinsic to software development and one of the most serious issues facing IT departments; the only difference between organisations being whether they are prepared to admit it or not.  Or better still, deal with it.

5. Is this all just some kind of whinge?

You might view all of this as some kind of obscure whinge. But if it is a whinge, it’s not an obscure one. It is serious enough to cause projects to be abandoned in their entirely. At most, or at best, slowing down delivery and making our profession look like a bunch of idiots.  Sometimes you get all of this rolled into one as I have witnessed on many occasions.

6. Conclusions…

So what are we to make of it all?  Well, a couple of years ago, I instigated an initiative which I have written about on these pages previously. It amounted to a knowledge management strategy. These sorts of initiatives sound more dramatic than they possibly are. For me, it grew out an aspect of business analysis I have observed repeatedly over the years and always found frustrating, if not concerning: That is how frequently pieces of work seem to entail re-constructing information and knowledge we should already have. Often at much time and expense. When this starts to happen every time, often with the same cases being revisited over and over, you form you opinion that there is some obscene waste taking place. Something is seriously wrong.

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The slightly depressing conclusion to this is that I have met few of my peers who share this opinion.  Spending weeks on end re-constructing the past rather than focussing on the new requirements, seems fine to them.  If I were a psychologist I might perhaps find this interesting, but I’m not, and I just find it very annoying frankly.

….the World Wide Web, since you ask.

Well soon anyway.

By my reckoning, the web is coming up to it’s 18th birthday. I daresay people will challenge the dates, but as far as I am concerned, it all started in 1994 when one of my university lecturers handed us all copies of an article from The Guardian newspaper. It explained all about this new fangled addition to the Internet that would enable pages of information to be created and distributed.

The reason I mention this isn’t just because I was wondering whether anyone will be doing a collection, organising a card, or maybe baking a cake (though doesn’t seem much to ask for, all things considered). What I was thinking about was just how much of an impact the web has had, and I thought I would get in before the self-appointed ‘experts’ start wading in.

About a year after the Guardian article, I was writing web sites commercially. This was a pioneering time, and exciting, rewarding and frustrating all at the same time. The ‘frustrating’ part was because the tools and technologies were so limited and it was very time consuming to do – by today’s standards – some fairly basic things.

In 1994, the web was mostly seen as a publishing medium. Interactivity was limited and confined to fairly basic facilities like message boards, feedback forms and the like. ‘Getting a company on the web’ tended to start with people asking to have their company brochures and promo materials converted into a web version. and that was it.

Not everyone shared the vision of the World Wide Web – if ‘vision’ is what it was. One of the directors of the company I was working for at the time said on several occasions that he wasn’t sold on the web, and wasn’t sure we should be dedicating time to it. Not, perhaps, the best decision he ever made. But myself and my manager and anyone else we could rope in, got on with it anyway. I started working on more and more web sites, I visited Telehouse Docklands to help installing the first hardware, I enlisted a university friend to help select and configure routers and bridges and to get involved with more of the hardware stuff I didn’t know about. I did a series of presentations and training sessions to educate the senior staff of a major London department store group of the benefits and potential of the web and Internet generally. I assisted with the launch of a chain of Internet cafes. I attended the annual conference of one of the UK teaching unions and organised and ran a series of sessions demonstrating the web and show it might be used in the learning sector. Interestingly, whilst I encountered many web-sceptical companies then and later, the teachers got it straight away: They could see how the world was moving and embraced it instantly.

And that is just what I can remember off the top of my head. All in about 9 months. Not bad if I say so myself.

Today, much of the web is almost unrecognisable from what what happening in 1994 but some things have stayed the same. In particular the pioneering spirit hasn’t been totally knocked out of us. Not yet at any rate.

But not everything the Web has brought about has been good. The ability to exchange and share almost anything quickly and easily – a miracle in so many ways – causes a problem when applied to properties other people own and are trying to make money from. This isn’t about enriching megastars already living in castles and driving gold plated BMWs. It is about a new recording artist trying to make a living, impossible if their latest music appears for free on file sharing web sites. Does this mean that over time people will stop making music as they can’t survive by doing it? Newspaper sales continue to decline but web based equivalents don’t generate enough money to pay for the journalism and reporting, yet we need journalism and reporting to tell us what is happening. Comment and opinion can be interesting, but as we know, talk is cheap. Information on the other hand (the journalism and reporting itself) is expensive. Will this eventually disappear? Even online shopping, the aspect of the web that has perhaps touched the greatest number of people young and old – seems to be having a negative effect on high streets and traditional shops. Book sales aren’t declining as some of the ‘experts’ predicted they would as a result of the web, but they are certainly not being bought in shops in the volumes they were. Will high streets – which perform a social function as much as anything – continue to decline and become irrelevant? Or even disappear?

Of course none of this is scientific fact. A degree of copying of content has always happened, newspaper sales may well be declining simply because people are less interested in the world around them, and high street decline might be due to out of town superstores. But the Web is undoubtedly playing a significant part. It is fashionable (and a very easy option) to just dismiss all of this as ‘one of those things’, ‘progress’, ‘inevitable’ or even, bizarrely, ‘a good thing’ but I’m not so sure.

Conclusions

There is something in history or philosophy which states to the effect that the most important advances and developments are the ones people never requested. They somehow come about anyway. I have to say I don’t really agree with this – after all, putting a man on the moon didn’t just happen, it happened because of the concerted efforts of a large number of people coupled with the political will in the first place. But in the case of the World Wide Web, there might perhaps be something in it. It did come about without any real request, and crept in unnoticed on the back of enthusiasm and willpower as much as anything. Nowadays when IT projects seem to have have less and less money subjected to greater and greater scrutiny and evaluation (and people often seem oblivious to the fact that the scrutiny and evaluation itself costs money that could otherwise be spent building something), it is a refreshing and heartening story that the Web even came about at all.

Happy Birthday.

So Father Christmas brought me a Wii!! Thank you :-)     Among the reasons I really wanted one was (a) because I wanted to get better at the games (or at least as good as the average 7 year old seems to manage!)  and (b) because I wanted to find out more about what iPlayer is like on another platform – preferably a platform that is, well, my TV.  It was announced in November that iPlayer would be available on the Wii and there is more info on the BBC Internet Blog.

So I downloaded the iPlayer app from the Wii Store.

And I have to say, it’s really very good.  If it sounds as if there is a sense of surprise in this,  that is because I am still rather sceptical about Internet-over-TV propositions for a variety of reasons;  But iPlayer does seem to be having a good attempt at cracking them.  It all seems to work pretty well and on the Wii I even seem to get better performance that I get on my desktop PC or any of my laptops when using iPlayer.

One of the weird things about the Wii, though, is that it doesn’t have an ethernet port.   If like me (or most of the British population) you rarely get more than 2MBPS over your broad(ish)band, then squeezing the most speed out of it is the key: and I still maintain that the best option for performance around the house is, I am afraid, ethernet cables.  And before you start banging on about Powerline Home Plugs (that send data around the electricity main), yes I know all about them thanks and have written about them here. And yes, I’ve also looked at wireless range expanders. All of the options have pros and cons, but frankly, if you want the best and most reliable performance, wire in ethernet around the house would be my advice.

But anyway, as long as your router is quite near to the Wii you should get good iPlayer performance. Doctor Who was a bit pixelated in places but I guess compared to some of the programmes around where pixelation should be increased as much as possible (I refer to X-Factor of course) it’s still watchable I think.

Anyway, back to Wii Sports Resort…

Going into Mobile Phone shops, since you ask. I am looking again at getting an iPhone and also trying to find out what happens after your 1-year of free internet access runs out. No-one seems to know (or nobody I know anyway, since they have all ‘just got them’). Although the concerns about mobile phone safety seem to have died away, its quite clear that what gives you brain damage isn’t the phone itself, but the act of trying to understand the various tariffs and offers…