There is enough evidence in this chapter to slice-and-dice much of the nonsense that passes for software project wisdom. The problem is, there is no evidence to suggest what might be useful and effective theories of software development. My experience is that there is no point in debunking folktales unless there is something available to replace them. Nature abhors a vacuum; a debunked theory has to be replaced by something else, otherwise people continue with their existing beliefs.
There is still some polishing to be done, and a few promises of data need to be chased-up.
As always, if you know of any interesting software engineering data, please tell me.
Is the product owner role impossible to fill well?
Do we set product owners up to fail?
Have you ever worked with a really excellent product owner? Someone you would be eager to work with again?
The lack of really outstanding product owners isn’t the fault of the individuals. I think product owners are asked to do a difficult job and are not supported the way they should be. Worse still, in many organizations the role of product owners is misunderstood, they are seen as a type of delivery manager when in fact they are a type of product owner.
There questions have been on my mind for a while, next month I’m giving a new presentation I’m Oredev in Malmo – and which coincides perfectly with the publication of my new book The Art of Agile Product Ownership (funny that). So by way of preview…
1. Skills: the kind of thing a product owner learns on a Certified Scrum Product Owner course are table stakes. Yes POs need to be able to write user stories, split stories, write acceptance criteria, understand agile and scrum, work with teams, plan a little and so on. While necessary such skills are not sufficient.
The bigger question is:
How does a product owner know what they need to know in order to do these things?
How do they know what customers want?
How do they know what will make a difference?
Product owners need more skills. Some POs deliver products which must sell in the market to customers who have a choice. Such POs need to be able to identify customers, segment customers and markets, interview customers, analyse data, understand markets, monitor competitors and much more. In short they need the skills of a product manager.
Other POs work with internal customers who don’t have a choice over what product they use, here the PO needs other skills: stakeholder identification and management, business and process analysis, user observation and interviewing, they need to be aware of company politics and able to manage up. In other words, they need the skills of a business analyst.
And all POs need knowledge of their product domain. Many POs are POs because they are in fact subject matter experts.
That is a lot of skills for any one person. How many product owners have the right skills mix? And if they don’t, how many of them get the training they need?
2. Authority: Product owners need at least the authority to walk in to a planning meeting and state the work they would like done in the next two weeks. They need the authority to set this work without being contradicted by some other person, they need the authority to visit customers and get their expenses paid without having to provide a lengthy explation every time.
3. Legitimacy: Product owners need to be seen as the right person to set the priorities. The right person to visit customers, the right person to agree plans and write roadmaps. They need to be seen as the right person by the organisation, by peers and, most importantly, by the development team.
Authority and legitimacy are closely related but they are not the same thing. While the product owner needs both the lack of either results in the same problem: people don’t take their work seriously and other people try to set the agenda on what to build.
Unfortunately Scrum contains a seldom noticed problem here: product owners are team members, they are peers; the team are self organising and are responsible for delivering the product. (There is an egalitarian ethos even if this is only Implicit.)
But Scrum sets the PO as the one, and only one, who can tell he team what to do.
There is a contradiction.
4. Time: Product owners need time to do their work – which is a lot, just read that skills list and think about what the PO should be doing. And don’t forget the PO is a human being who needs to sleep for seven or eight hours a night, may well have a family and a home to go to.
When does the product owner get to do all of this?
Leave aside the question of where you find such people, or whether our companies pay them enough and ask yourself: do product owners get the support they need from their companies and teams?
So often the PO ends up in conflict with the company about what will be built and when it will be delivered, and they end up in conflict with their team about… well much the same issues every planning meeting.
Think about it: do we ask too much from our product owners?
Do we set up product owners to fail?
I’d love to hear your opinions, comment on this post or drop me a note or leave a comment.
At school I had this friend, Jamie, and he once said to me that he always preferred having a band’s live album to their studio album of the same songs. His example was Queen’s Live Magic. To me, then, this was madness. It didn’t have all the same songs as It’s a Kind of Magic and the production isn’t as good. Let’s face it, unless it’s Pink Floyd, the production of a live album is never as good as in the studio. I avoided live albums for years.
Pink Floyd’s Pulse was the first live album I really got into and then there was nothing until the teenies when live albums from Emperor, Immortal, Arch Enemy, Dimmu Borgir and Blind Guardian got me completely hooked.
The latest live album I’ve bought is ‘The Siege Of Mercia: Live At Bloodstock 2017’ by Winterfylleth. It’s amazing for a number of reasons. I was at Bloodstock, watching the band, when it was recorded. It’s a fantastic performance of of some brilliant songs. It’s got a, atmospheric, synth version of an old track at the end. It’s encouraged me to relisten to their studio albums and enjoy them so much more.
Winterfylleth are a Black Metal band from Manchester. Their lyrics are based around England’s rich culture and heritage. Some of their album covers and songs depict the Peak District. You’d have thought a song about Mam Tour, a hill in the Peak District, might be a bit boring, but it’s not! Maybe because, being black metal, you can’t really hear the words, but as always the vocal style, heavy guitars and fast drums make for the perfect mix.
I currently have the Siege of Mercia, along with some similar new albums from the likes of Borknager, on my regular daily playlist and it just gets better and better.
During the early years of a new field, experimental data relating to important topics can be very thin on the ground. Ever since the first computer was built, there has been a lot of data on the characteristics of the hardware. Data on the characteristics of software, and the people who write it has been (and often continues to be) very thin on the ground.
Books are sometimes written by the researchers who produce the first data associated with an important topic, even if the data set is tiny; being first often generates enough interest for a book length treatment to be considered worthwhile.
As a field progresses lots more data becomes available, and the discussion in subsequent books can be based on findings from more experiments and lots more data
Software engineering is a field where a few ‘first’ data books have been published, followed by silence, or rather lots of arm waving and little new data. The fall of Rome has been followed by a 40-year dark-age, from which we are slowly emerging.
Three of these ‘first’ data books are:
“Man-Computer Problem Solving” by Harold Sackman, published in 1970, relating to experimental data from 1966. The experiments investigated the impact of two different approaches to developing software, on programmer performance (i.e., batch processing vs. on-line development; code+data). The first paper on this work appeared in an obscure journal in 1967, and was followed in the same issue by a critique pointing out the wide margin of uncertainty in the measurements (the critique agreed that running such experiments was a laudable goal).
The tale of 1:28 ratio of programmer performance, found in an experiment by Grant/Sackman, took off (the technical detail that a lot of the difference was down to the techniques subjects’ used, and not the people themselves, got lost). The Grant/Sackman ‘finding’ used to be frequently quoted in some circles (or at least it did when I moved in them, I don’t know often it is cited today). In 1999, Lutz Prechelt wrote an expose on the sorry tale.
Sackman’s book is very readable, and contains lots of details and data not present in the papers, including survey data and a discussion of the intrinsic uncertainties associated with the experiment; it also contains the table above.
The rest of this book contains plenty of interesting material, and even sounds modern (because books moving the topic forward have not been written).
“Program Evolution: Process of Software Change” edited by M. M. Lehman and L. A. Belady, published in 1985, relating to experimental data from 1977 and before. Lehman and Belady managed to obtain data relating to 19 releases of an IBM software product (yes, 19, not nineteen-thousand); the data was primarily the date and number of modules contained in each release, plus less specific information about number of statements. This data was sliced and diced every which way, and the book contains many papers with the same data appearing in the same plot with different captions (had the book not been a collection of papers it would have been considerably shorter).
With a lot less data than Isaac Newton had available to formulate his three laws, Lehman and Belady came up with five, six, seven… “laws of software evolution” (which themselves evolved with the publication of successive papers).
The availability of Open source repositories means there is now a lot more software system evolution data available. Lehman’s laws have not stood the test of more data, although people still cite them every now and again.
The latest wager that the Baron put to Sir R----- had them competing to first chalk a triangle between three of eight coins, with Sir R----- having the prize if neither of them managed to do so. I immediately recognised this as the game known as Clique and consequently that Sir R-----'s chances could be reckoned by applying the pigeonhole principle and the tactic of strategy stealing. Indeed, I said as much to the Baron but I got the distinct impression that he wasn't really listening.
Why does a particular expression appear in source code?
One reason is that the expression is the coded form of a formula from the application domain, e.g., .
Another reason is that the expression calculates an algorithm/housekeeping related address, or offset, to where a value of interest is held.
Most people (including me, many years ago) think that the majority of source code expressions relate to the application domain, in one-way or another.
Work on a compiler related optimizer, and you will soon learn the truth; most expressions are simple and calculate addresses/offsets. Optimizing compilers would not have much to do, if they only relied on expressions from the application domain (my numbers tool throws something up every now and again).
What are the characteristics of application domain expression?
I like to think of them as being complicated, but that’s because it used to be in my interest for them to be complicated (I used to work on optimizers, which have the potential to make big savings if things are complicated).
The following discussion uses the measurements made for my C book, as the representative source code (I keep suggesting that detailed measurements of other languages is needed, but nobody has jumped in and made them, yet).
The table below shows percentage occurrence of operators in expressions. Minus is much more common than plus in mathematical expressions, the opposite of C source; the ‘popularity’ of the relational operators is also reversed.
The most common single binary operator expression in mathematics is n-1 (the data counts expressions using different variable names as different expressions; yes, n is the most popular variable name, and adding up other uses does not change relative frequency by much). In C source var+int_constant is around twice as common as var-int_constant
The plot below shows the percentage of expressions containing a given number of operators (I've made a big assumption about exactly what Clare So is counting; code+data). The operator count starts at two because that is where the count starts for the mathematics data. In C source, around 99% of expressions have less than two operators, so the simple case completely dominates.
For expressions containing between two and five operators, frequency of occurrence is sort of about the same in mathematics and C, with C frequency decreasing more rapidly. The data disagrees with me again...
My previous instructions for installing a newer Emacs version on Ubuntu still work. Ubuntu (and in my case, XUbuntu) 19.04 ships with Emacs 26.1 out of the box. As usual I want to run the latest version – Emacs 26.3 – as I run that on my other Linux, FreeBSD and macOS machines. I only […]
My previous instructions for installing a newer Emacs version on Ubuntu still work. Ubuntu (and in my case, XUbuntu) 19.04 ships with Emacs 26.1 out of the box. As usual I want to run the latest version - Emacs 26.3 - as I run that on my other Linux, FreeBSD and macOS machines.
I only had to make one small change compared to the older instructions. Instead of running the versioned sudo apt-get build-dep emacs25 I ran sudo apt-get build-dep emacs.