Monday, August 29, 2011

What Will Microsoft Give Away at the Build Conference?

In just over two weeks, on September 13th, the Build Windows conference will begin in Anaheim, CA. Microsoft is expected to unveil Windows 8 and show software and hardware developers how to use it. The good ol’ guys in Redmond have kept a really tight lid on what exactly is going on there, and even now, at the time of the writing of this post, they haven’t revealed any information about the agenda and the sessions.

There have been several posts, some seem better informed, while others seem like baseless gossip, regarding what is going to happen with WPF, .NET and the rest of the existing development tools Microsoft have supported for the last decade or so, given some unfortunate remark regarding HTML5, CSS & Javascript being the new tools of choice for developing Windows 8 “immersive” applications.

One thing that they have kept extremely quiet about however, is what they will giveaway as gifts to those who came to the conference


The year 2011 is, without doubt, the year of the tablet. IPad2, several Android Honeycomb tablets and now the demos that Microsoft made at Computex and Channel9 (all of which show case Windows 8 on tablets) all point towards a tablet being the main focus of development this year.

Moreover, in Google I/O 2011, Google handed out 5000 Samsung 10.1 Galaxy Tabs, one to each registered guest.

Microsoft can’t afford to, with all the hype created around Windows 8 and tablets this year, do any less.

It is my best, educated guess, that Microsoft will be handing out tablets with the latest build of Windows 8!

So, What’ll it be, exactly?

In the aforementioned Computex demo, in the 19th minute (18:30, to be exact), Mike Angiulo, Microsoft’s Vice President of Windows Planning demoed the new ARM based developers’ tablet (designed especially for software and hardware developers, with extra ports, and all), and said, and I quote:Windows8DeveloperSystem

“Now we have these developer reference systems that are all up and running… these are systems that are built for hardware and software developers… what they do represent are integrated, working PCs”

Mike went into some detail about the developer tablet’s specs:

  • ARM based, Snapdragon, 1.2GHZ chip
  • 13mm thick
  • 11.6” Screen
  • Extensive USB support (seamless connection to a DOK was demonstrated, worked as expected)
  • 720p rear camera
  • All of the common sensors (proximity, orientation, etc.)

It looks like it runs (“flies” even) beautifully, instantly loading and playing an H.264 full HD video. Real-world usage will probably not be as good as demoed, but still…

Based on this, I believe that we (yes, I’m registered, and going to be there) will receive the developer reference tablet running Windows 8.

Remember, if I was right, you read it here first!

See you at “Build”,


Friday, August 12, 2011

Alternatives to Planning Poker

This blog post is inspired by a tweet I saw:


The best thing about planning poker, and in my opinion the one thing that it brings to the table that no other system does, is the escape it offers from herd mentality. Planning Poker allows each member of the team to make his own opinion uninfluenced by others, and then allows the team as a whole to use Wisdom of Crowds to reach a good estimate.

The downside is that it is silly.

At least that’s how it looks from the outside. I mean, come on! A bunch of grownups spending precious hours of the work day, at the office, taking up a conference room while playing cards, until someone pulls a Joker (or whichever card signals the need for a coffee break)? I know the value of games and having fun at work, but I’m pretty sure that most adults are capable of enjoying good solid productive work without having to look goofy.

Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Discuss the PBI (Product Backlog Item) for a short while (2 minutes seems like a good average).
  2. Everyone takes a quiet moment to make a gut estimate. It doesn’t matter how it is made – relative (i.e. story points), absolute (ideal days) or rough (T-Shirt sizes), and writes it down.
  3. Alongside the estimate everybody lists the top reason (or few reasons, if you must – but that’s all!) he believes his estimate to be true. Examples could be:
    1. “We’ve done this before. Just extract and modify the ACME algorithm”
    2. “Nobody’s done it here before”
    3. “The data access layer is a mess. It will take a week to refactor”
    4. “Only George knows how to do it, and he’s off, snorkeling in Aruba…”.
    5. “A simple state machine and we’re done! I’m the state machine guru!”.
    6. “Haven’t got a clue. Just want to play it safe.”
  4. When everyone is done, merge the reasons, and decide on the best estimate.
  5. Rinse and repeat: If consensus is reached, repeat with the next item. Otherwise, repeat with the same.

Does it look familiar? It should. But shhhh! Don’t tell anyone. Let’s keep it our secret.

Oh, and you can call it team estimation. Now that’s a good, serious meaningful name, isn’t?

Now run along, have some fun (the good productive, serious kind, not the goofy kind).


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Another Stab at Work Estimation

The Story

A couple of days ago, I was at a client, helping with his company’s migration from one version control system to another. As part of the work, we had to get the latest version of the source (i.e. download them to a local folder on the PC), copy it to the target system’s workspace (i.e. perform a standard windows copy to another folder on the PC), and then check in the sources.

I want to discuss the copying process. Yes, the copy.


Not much to copying you say? Well, essentially, you’re right. You select the folder that you are going to copy from (I selected a folder that was just over 1GB in size, and just over 50,000 files altogether) . Then you copy it to the target folder. That’s it. Oh, and you wait.

That’s what I really want to discuss. The Wait.

This was my experience:

  1. First I had to wait for a few seconds (I think it was about 10 seconds) while windows calculated
  2. Next, it started copying, and said it would take roughly 3 minutes.
  3. After a few more seconds, of copying it reevaluated the work at 4 minutes or so.
  4. After that windows started to progressively update the estimate until it reached about 5:30 minutes.
  5. At that point, the estimation seemed to be on track, as the remaining time steadily went down.
  6. About 5 seconds or so from the end of the copy, it began taking longer for each second to complete (i.e. it took longer than 5 seconds to complete from that point, and it took longer than a second to tick off one second from the remaining time).
  7. Finally, Windows reported that it was done. 0 remaining seconds. Means it’s done, doesn’t it? I thought so. Windows seems to have a different definition of done, apparently. It took 10 more seconds till it was really done.

Sounds familiar to anyone? It should. Anyone who ever used a computer (I’ll hazard a guess that other PCs and operating systems have similar experiences) probably doesn’t even notice it anymore, seeing as it is such a common occurrence.

That’s not what I’m talking about, though. I’m talking to all of you corporate developers, team leaders and managers.

The Moral

In my experience many (perhaps most?) teams go through a frighteningly similar cycle whenever they estimate the cost of development on a feature, or a project.

This is (all to often) my experience:

  1. The team spends some effort “calculating” the effort required to develop each feature. Usually, it seems like the same 10 seconds are spent, the results are equally optimistic, and just as “accurate”.
  2. The team makes their estimate (optimistic and inaccurate).
  3. Next, they start working on the problem. Soon enough, the team encounters the first problem they didn’t think of. The estimate goes up.
  4. This goes on several times, pushing the deadline into the slack assigned to development.
  5. Eventually, the team reaches some rhythm, and it seems like the team is on track. At least they report that they are.
  6. Towards the end, when the deadline is just around the corner. In what is sometimes called “Crunch-time”, or the “robustness” phase, the team keeps announcing “we’re almost done”, or “we’ll finish tomorrow”. This usually takes quite a bit more than a day, of course.
  7. Then they say that they’re done. Only they’re not. They completed part of the work – coding. “Testing? What’s that – that’s what QA are for. We meant done coding, not ready to deploy. What’s the matter with you?!?” It will take some more time before it actually is fit to let out in public.

And everybody is surprised.

That is what I don’t get. A computer, performing a copy, one of the simplest and straightforward tasks, can’t get the estimates right. And I was copying locally! And that was to another folder on the same disk (even the same logical drive).

How do you expect a human being, performing an act of research & development, doing something nobody did before (or at the very least not done by this human being, in this environment), to out-perform a computer?

I know managers and customers depend on these numbers. I suggest a 12 step program to deal with that. There are alternatives.

Welcome to the world of Agile development.

See you in the next post..


P.S. The next folder I had to copy, I used FastCopy. Took me less than half the time. Didn’t waste any of it on estimations.