Tuesday, January 12, 2016

'The Force Awakens' or How awake the communication channels on a development team?

Introduction

I’m actually not a follower of the Star Wars saga even when I saw all the seven movies – the last one as a cinema pirate copy – plus some episodes of animated series and also including some TV movies with the Ewoks when I was younger.

An Ewok
Who didn’t heard the story about Anakin Skywalker? The boy that was trained as Jedi by Obi-Wan Kenobi who eventually was turned – by his trend to the dark side of the force  and also influenced by a Sith – into Darth Vader, who also was the father of Luke – the new hope to get the balance of the force – and the princess Leia and so on.

Probably I missed something, some of these movies are too long and actually, some characters make me sick. But the true is that these movies were a turning point in the world of the visual effects.
Star Wars - The Force Awakens poster

I won’t talk about the movies but the title of the seven episode “The Force Awakens” inspired me to write a new post. 

The concept of the force, such energy field with source even genetic - cell with something call “midi-chlorian” - that empower the jedies knights  to move objects with his mind, get great reflex and anticipation, and also great skills as pilots, is actually unreal but in some scenarios could reveal its presence. 

Let me show you the way you can found an expression of the force as a result of an approach that allow you awake the team communication channel from a hypothetical scenario. 

Common communication channels

On software development teams the communication is a key factor. Not a few agile practice talk about it including informative workspace, release the plan, sit together, pair programming, ubiquitous language or even poker planning.  I have no doubt that every single agile practice is about to improve the communication in the team.

From a real life scenario communication channels could look like this way:
Common communication channels
The client tells to the product owner what he wants. The product owner can create a vision of the final product – optionally with a consultant - and share the expected result to the project lead in terms of requirements and also prioritize such requirements. Then project lead and the team should be able to create a roadmap in term of features and small increments to cover all client’s expectation.

The project lead must share systematically all his knowledge or the vision with the team looking for an effective and integrated solution. Notice that the project lead should be the only communication channel between each developer and the people that really knows what the client wants. 

But the world isn’t perfect and the project lead also should be ready to manage the changes on requirements including say NO or defers some requirements. There is a single rule, every single decision must be taken in collective with the team.

Actually, as a developer, I always expect an effective communication system. It could be done through public the iteration plan, plus daily meetings, retrospective, and demos, everything that allow the whole team get an integrated view of the thing that they are building. An informative workspace where they can share the issues or impediments and, of course, enjoy the progress.

Such approach should work and actually does.

But sometimes something happens that drive the team to a complete failure of the communication system.

Breaking the communication channels

Allow me to twist a bit the previous scenario.

Assume that suddenly the product owner and the external consultant start to manage the team in a very odd way. They do direct tasks and components assignments in private instead thought the project lead. From another side, but not less important the project lead always saying YES to each the product owner request without team consulting. At some point, the product lead also stops to communicate with the team at all, probably just a few emails or comments about some new client expectation, but not in real team dynamics.

The issue here is about product owner and consultant vision. They don't want to know about small increments. They want the final solution and production ready now. They don't know about the team dynamics or how they manage the source or about components integration. They also expect for some magical entity do the coordination work. But such thing doesn’t exist in software development.

The result: a completely broken communication system.

Broken communication channels

Awaking the communication channels

Could be spent some time before you really notice the disaster. The bug corrections lead to other incongruousness or to regressions. Even worse, people sitting together can't found a real way to coordinate their work. But something remains immutable, no one talk about the system beyond a few individuals' virtual chatting sessions. 

At this point, some practices could save them all. So, also assume that the team have a full dependency in a build automated system (just a build server), and have a well configured a deployment pipeline that run unit and integration tests and also run the deployment routines into quality assurance servers (including product owner's server).  

You as team member could ask yourself: Why don't use this to trigger the communication back?

So, you as a team member with integration needs can start to write a lot of integration test. For instance, for each disagreement, for each incongruousness, every assumption, every of non-final decisions, everything that anyone told aloud, you can translate it into an executable code that immediately will run on the build server, and eventually this approach will lead to stopping the deployment pipeline due by the tons of errors.

This is a point when a sort of energy field (a.k.a 'the force') should start to play its role. The product owner needs upgrades. But the upgrades are locked because the deployment pipeline is locked. So, eventually, someone would need to start talking again.

Conclusion

There aren’t nothing more effective to improve – not only to awake – the communication in your team than the integration tests. That is because coding is actually the communication channel that never dies. Even better if you really use practice like continuous integration you are already empowered – without “midi-chlorian” – to awake you communication channels at any time.

By the way, while I´m writing this lines, I noticed that Multivision channel - on Cuba - started to broadcast the saga again. So, if you never saw it, it's a good timing ;)

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace at Multivision

Remember: Your focus determines your reality. 
May the force be with you.

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