Tag Archives: books

Software Project Survival Guide

Introduction

For many people here, writing software is, if not a job, then a hobby. Our enthusiasm is a double-edged sword. Our technical knowledge is usually much greater than people who just develop software for a living. This sounds like a big advantage, but it’s not as large as you would have thought.

Let’s have a look in ‘Software Project Survival Guide’ (SPSG) to see what Steve McConnell, famed author of ‘Code Complete’ and ‘Rapid Development,’ has to say on the subject.

The most relevant bit I can find is in chapter two. It’s a project survival test. Out of thirty-three questions, only one (28: “Does the project team have all the technical expertise needed to complete the project?”) is directly related to our ability to effectively code.

That can’t be right, can it?

Content

While you’re still reeling over the consequences of that last paragraph, I’ll slip in some of the dull things that the book has to cover and finish with some of the more glamorous stuff at the end when you’re brain is back in gear.

Some of the most important stuff is ‘management.’ Whether it’s planning, quality assurance, tracking what’s been developed so far or checking on the number of defects, it’s not the ‘techies’ that are the most important.

At first this comes as a shock, but the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. Unless you know what’s going wrong, you can’t fix it. Unless the complete design is documented a team can’t effectively write the software quickly.

Think about Linux kernel development. It obviously work well, but it’s not terribly optimal. The same bug might get fixed several times and there’s not a huge amount of up to date documentation so people have to dive in at the code. For free software this works fine — since the time is usually free, but if you have deadlines and are under contract to deliver a working product on time you’re going to lose a lot of money.

Good bits

McConnell takes the three hundred pages to explain these past two paragraphs in detail. It sounds very dull, but he has a clear, friendly style that makes it, if not entertaining, then not as dull as it might have been.

He splits the project into stages, explains in broad terms what they are and documents each one in more detail in the later chapters. It’s all very clear and logical leaving you in no doubt what stage you’re currently at and what you should be doing for the successful execution of it.

Bad bits

‘Code Complete’ is a book that just about everyone that writes computer programs should read. ‘Software Project Survival Guide’ does not fall into the same category. The book should be read by “anyone who has a stake in a software project’s outcome” according to the preface, but that is only accurate once you define the type of project it covers.

To cut a long story short, if you write software professionally you should read it. It’s probably more use to managers and team leaders, but you can be a better developer if you know the kind of things that need to be done. Besides, almost everyone will be in charge of people at one point and will need a broader picture than merely what the other modules do. (Well where I work that’s true, anyway.)

It covers projects that have a customer whether that’s an internal customer, an external client or people that buy shrink-wrapped software. What it doesn’t cover are software projects like Linux, massive sprawling projects developed because someone is interested in doing it. This is not unreasonable. Half the challenge in a ‘normal’ project is tracking whether you’re running to schedule. If you don’t have a schedule and cost target it doesn’t matter. However, maybe we could take a few hints from the book to ‘streamline’ the process.

Overall

Steve McConnell has done it again. I don’t think that it will go down as a classic like ‘Code Complete,’ but SPSG is an indispensable book for any developer that has any interest in the process and not just lines of code.

The facts

Author: Steve McConnell

Cost: ?22.49

ISBN: 1-57231-621-7

Buy this book from Amazon.com of from Amazon.co.uk.

Open Sources

Introduction

This is a very strange book by almost any criteria. Firstly, much of the content is available on the web in one form or another. This includes an appendix which is literally a Usenet discussion printed. Secondly, most of the writers are techies first and writers second. You don’t get that kind of admission from most writers, even when it’s obviously true.

Content

There are fifteen essays by eighteen writers. I’m not going to go through all of them, but I shall note some of the highlights.

The style prize, without doubt, goes to Larry Wall for ‘Diligence, Patience, and Humility.’ It’s one of the longer essays, has dozens of useless-looking diagrams and for much of the time seems to go nowhere. You keep reading, though. You may not see where it’s going, but you’re intrigued. And it’s worth it — despite initial appearances, it does go somewhere!

As a Linux-biased web site, I couldn’t miss out Linus Torvalds piece, ‘The Linux Edge.’ His simple message — Linux has survived by having a good design — is thoroughly investigated, but the best bit is that he criticises just about everyone else in the industry, often without much justification, and still comes out the other end smelling of roses! I’m not sure how he did it, but I know I’d hate Bill Gates more if he said pretty much the same things.

As always he comes across as very modest, and attributes many of the good ideas to other people.

I liked Marshall Kirk McKusick’s potted history of Unix too. I think I’ve seen much of that before, but not in one place.

Since he practically started the whole thing, I need to mention Richard Stallmans ‘The GNU Operating System and the Free Software Movement.’ It’s an interesting piece in that he contradicts some of what the other authors in the book have to say (as has been well documented, he dislikes that phrase ‘Open Source’ and demands that people call it ‘free’ software). It’s clear that he knows exactly what he wants and where he wants to go, but it’s equally clear that he’s going to put a lot of businesses off free software if he keeps going the way he is. RMS, I respect what you’re saying, but calm down!

The final mention goes to the two Eric Raymond essays. Raymond has been at the centre of the Open Source movement since the Cathedral and the Bazaar,’ and fully deserves the opportunity to write two pieces in Open Sources. The first piece ‘A Brief History of Hackerdom,’ describes the key points and people that gave rise to our current position. The second, ‘The Revenge of the Hackers,’ looks to the future.

Like much Raymond stuff, some is ‘personal’ and has a number of anecdotes about himself. It seems that many people hate this, but I feel that where it doesn’t get in the way of the message and while it’s still interesting and well written, it’s fine. The two essays are, indeed, fine.

Overall

I can’t really criticise this book. All the people in it are more influential than myself, better developers than myself, better writers than myself or, more commonly, all of the above. So while I like some of the writer more than others, and while I actually disagree with some of the assertions made, it is, at least, well written and thought provoking.

As a book intended to document the new-found popularity of the Open Source model, the book is a classic and a must-buy.

The facts

Author: Edited by Chris DiBona, Sam Ockman and Mark Stone

Cost: US$24.95

ISBN: 1-56592-582-3

Buy this book from Amazon.com or from Amazon.co.uk.

Oracle Builtin Packages

Introduction
Steven Feuerstein’s ‘Oracle PL/SQL Programming‘ book has, over the last couple of years, become my bible on the subject of writing sizable Oracle PL/SQL programs. As I said in my review, it’s useful because it covers just about everything, including the things that don’t work.

So if that book covers just about everything, why would anyone want to buy ‘Oracle Builtin Packages’?

Content

In fact, as the first chapter of the book explains, this entire book was origianlly chapter 15 of ‘PL/SQL Programming’ but Oracle complicated things by adding more to the PL/SQL programming language (all the pseudo-object oriented stuff in version 8 ) and many more new or enhanced packages. The result: either a single two thousand page monster, or two more reasonably sized tomes.

But like the first book, this is still a bit of a monster in its own right. It stands at 931 pages and there’s very little padding; if only all technical books had such a high signal-to-noise ratio!

It seems rather pointless to go into detail on the content of all the different sections…

The two chapters that I’ve used the most are those on DBMS_FILE, which allows you to manipulate operating system files, and DBMS_SQL. Just about everything I know about these modules I learned from this book. When I was originally writing the code, ‘Oracle Builtin Packages’ was by my side, open at the relevant page. When colleagues mistakenly thought I knew what I was talking about, this book was open beneath my desk giving me superiour bluffing ability.

The main critisism that I can think of is that some of the material is getting rather out of date. The DBMS_SQL package is no longer as necesary as it used to be — Oracle 8i introduced some new syntax to the PL/SQL language that largely replaces it.

Conclusion

I’ll be brutal: in marked contrast to Feuerstein’s first book, if you regularly write PL/SQL code you can get by without reading this book.

But you will be more productive if you get it. You won’t be spending days writing code to do things that Oracle have kindly supplied a routine to do and you won’t give up on PL/SQL and write a program in Pro*C because you don’t realise, for example, that you can manipulate files.

No, this book is less vital than ‘Oracle PL/SQL Programming’ but it is still a thorough, well organised and useful book. It’ll quickly pay for itself many times over, and that’s a very high recommendation.

The facts

Author: Steven Feuerstein, Charles Dye, John Beresniewicz

Cost: US$46.95

ISBN: 1-56592-375-8

Extreme Programming Explained

Introduction

Naturally the key selling point of Extreme Programming — reduced risk and increased fun — appeal to me. I’ve worked on many projects that were either risky, no fun or both and any way to improve that would be a good idea.

However, most of the successful projects were run using fairly heavy-weight methodologies, CMM or ISO accredited, for example. Extreme Programming promises to deliver the benefits while still being simple. I was sceptical. This sounds a little too close to one of Fred Brookes Silver Bullets.

How does it work?

Extreme Programming sounds too simple to ever work. None of its components are new or especially controversial, some are even very common throughout the industry. What’s new is their application together. The key is that the strengths of one part paper over the weaknesses of others.

I won’t detail all the bits — that’s what the book is for — but there are a couple of things I want to talk about.

The one thing that came through in all other reviews of the book was the pair programming aspect. The idea is that whenever writing code, there are always two people sat at the computer. This sounds very wasteful of resources but is based on some very sound theories: reviewing code is good and sharing knowledge around the team reduces the dependency on any one person. XP takes it to the extreme (hence the name) by having, in effect, every line of code being reviewed by two people all the time.

I can certainly see the benefits, but I can imagine a client being very suspicious when you suddenly have two people appearing to do a job you previously only had one doing. He also proposes using a utilisation metric which documents that people are actually not doing genuinely productive work all the time.

Anyone that writes software will immediately recognise that a lot of time is spent helping colleagues, in design or review meetings and any number of other things that are not directly and visibly related to increasing the functionality of a program. Making it more visible sounds like a much harder “sell” than is suggested in the book.

Is it easy to understand?

Brock is clearly very enthusiastic about his methodology and this shows in his prose, which is clear, friendly and concise. It’s sensibly organised and it usually answers questions you’re thinking of in just the right place.

However, it only does all that if you remember what the book is trying to explain. It’s trying to explain Extreme Programming not how to implement it effectively. I had a little difficulty seeing how you could automate tests in some environments. We tried and failed with Oracle Forms (or whatever it’s called this week) for example. I don’t disagree with the principle, but there are some definite technical barriers that are not even acknowledged.

I’m not sure that the distinction between describing what XP is and how to implement it is a good one. It sounds like an excuse to sell two books when only one would suffice. Why would anyone be interested in learning the theory but not the practice of a simple methodology?

Disadvantages

Beck does not claim that Extreme Programming works in all circumstances. There’s an entire (albeit short) chapter on it, which is quite refreshing. Most people would claim that their baby was ideal in all circumstances!

I only thought of a couple of other problems that are not addressed, although neither are necessarily any more of a problem with XP than with other methodologies. (However, they are areas that are claimed to be addressed.)

Documentation is never kept up to date anyway, and in XP there is a much greater chance of at least one person knowing how it works. Couple that with a full set of tests, the ‘business’ person being on the team right from the start and, well, what’s my problem?

The problem is identified in Death March. Who are the stake holders on the project? Is it your team-member (the end user)? Is it their manager, who might want a bunch of reports? Is it the CTO who doesn’t actually care what the system does and just wants a success of some kind in order to get promoted?! The book and the Extreme Programming approach treat the problem of requirements as something that is eventually known and is fix-able given close enough interaction with the users. I wish that were true.

Beck might suggest that this ‘unknown’ is just another form of change than can be managed in the normal manner, but my guess would be that the magnitude of changes required by people that don’t have day-to-today access to the team would be too big and would break the process.)

Or perhaps this is just a size issue. With a system, with a small number of well-defined users there’s no reason it couldn’t work.

Conclusion

I think my initial and immediate dislike of XP stemmed from the fact that most of the projects I’ve ever worked on have fallen into the “won’t work” camp. Now that I understand its background I can appreciate it much more.

And it’s only fair to note that this appreciation comes solely from the book. It’s worth reading even if you don’t plan on implementing Extreme Programming.

The facts

Author: Kent Beck

Cost: $29.95

ISBN: 0-201-61641-6

Free Software HOWTO

v1.2, 17 January 2001

With the current Linux trend towards multi-million dollar IPO’s and “Open Source” software, much of the emphasis of “free” software has been lost leaving people new to the fold confused and not completely understanding all the implications. This HOWTO will, hopefully, reduce some of that confusion.

Introduction

What’s in here?

This document talks in non-technical terms about free software, what it means and why you should care about more than just the cost of your software.

Who is this HOWTO for?

People that have been hacking for years will already be fully au fait with the content of this document. Or at least you should be!

The Free Software HOWTO is aimed at people new to Linux, Open Source or free software.

New versions of this document

The official home of this HOWTO is here. You will always find the most up to date version here.

Disclaimer

You get what you pay for. I offer no warranty of any kind, implied or otherwise. I’ll help you where I can but legally you’re on your own.

Credits and Thanks

I welcome any constructive feedback on this HOWTO and any general software licencing issues, although my opinions are just that: a subjective view. You should understand what each licence means before committing to one for your own software or documentation..

Licence

This document is copyright 2000, 2001 Stephen Darlington. You may use, disseminate and reproduce it freely, provided you:

  • Do not omit or alter this copyright notice.
  • Do not omit or alter the version number and date.
  • Do not omit or alter the document’s pointer to the current WWW version.
  • Clearly mark any condensed, altered or versions as such.

These restrictions are intended to protect potential readers from stale or mangled versions. If you think you have a good case for an exception, ask me.

(This copyright notice has been lifted from Eric Raymond’s Distribution HOWTO.)

Overview

Introduction

Until now, you’ve probably never given much thought to software licences. No-one can blame you. They’re usually pages and pages of legalese telling you what you can and can’t do with the CD you just bought. If you actually sat down and read it all, you would probably never agree to it!

Licences, however, are at the heart of what free or open-source software is all about. Let’s take a look at a number of very broad categories of licence.

Commercial software

The first type is the commercial licence, like the one that Microsoft or Lotus might insist you agree with before using their software. The basic premise is that you don’t own the software, you have an agreement with the author that allows you to use it within certain guidelines. As the copyright owner, they can impose whatever restrictions they want. Common conditions include limits on the number of concurrent users, number of copies, and what you can use it for (for example, “non-commercial use” or a ban on reverse engineering).

The emphasis is what you can’t do, and all the power is in their court!

One thing to note, and this will become more relevant later on, is that none of this relates to the cost of the software (or, more properly, the licence). You can get commercial software, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer, for no cost and still be forced to abide by the publishers conditions.

Shareware

The next kind of software, shareware, is sometimes called free, although as we shall see, that’s not correct.

Shareware was started in the early eighties by Jim Button when a few of his friends started passing round some software he’d written and he started getting phone calls asking for support. Eventually he added a request for $10 to the startup screen and shareware was born.

In short, shareware authors allow you to try out their software for free but request payment for continued use. Many of the same restrictions as for commercial software remain, including the limitations on reverse engineering, concurrent use of the full version, etc, stand. Additionally, the “free” downloads are often broken in some way, perhaps limited functionality or splash screens.

Interestingly, Linus Torvalds describes shareware as combining “the worst of commercial software (no source) with the worst of free software (no finishing touches).”

Public Domain software

All the licences we’ve seen until now have been designed to reduce people’s ability to do what they want with the software.

At the opposite extreme is public domain software. This is software that has no copyright and, therefore, no restrictions on its use. You can copy it onto as many machines as you like, reverse engineer it, make modifications and distribute it as you feel fit.

This is the first kind of software that we’re come across that can rightly be called “free.”

Normally, whenever you write something you automatically own the copyright, even if you don’t add an explicit copyright message. For public domain software, the author throws away these rights allowing everybody to do what they like with the software.

Unfortunately, “anything” also includes selling it. Imagine spending a huge amount of time producing your masterpiece, giving it away and then finding that someone else was able to sell it and make their fortune with all your hard work! Worse, people don’t even have to give you credit for your work; they can legally take it, replace their name with yours and distribute it.

This might be why there isn’t a huge amount on public domain software.

At this point it might be worth looking back at free commercial software. Both public domain software and a free piece of commercial software cost the same, but the freedom you’re given to use it varies. A common phrase you hear with free software is “think free speech not free beer.” The difference between public domain and commercial software show the opposite extremes.

Free software

By now it should be clear that there are many different kinds of free software and not all are equal. The version of free that this section relates to is the one promoted by Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation.

But first, a little history.

The Free Software Foundation was formed in 1984 when a printer manufacturer refused to give Richard Stallman the source code (the computer instructions required to make a program). It had been leading up to this for some time — the increasing number of non-disclosure agreements, new software that banned sharing of information, etc. — and the printer manufacturer was just the straw that broke the camels back.

Stallman decided that he could not, in clear conscience, sign a non-disclosure agreement or work with a company that restricted his ability to share information. While most people would have given up at this point and gone to work, for obscene amounts of money, for a big company writing proprietary software, Stallman stuck by his principles and decided to make his own operating system, free of the constraints of commercial systems.

The process leading up to this is documented in more detail in Steven Levy’s excellent ‘Hackers.’ You’ll note that Levy calls Stallman ‘the last real hacker.’ Happily he was wrong, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this!

As we can tell from the background, “free,” in this context, relates not to the initial cost but to freedom. Stallman was unwilling to surrender the right to make modifications or improvements to any software he used — and to do this you need the source code.

This may sound just like public domain software up to this point. The difference is that there are clauses in the licence that attempt to keep the software free no matter what changes are made. The most famous free software, Linux, uses the most famous free software licence, the GNU General Public Licence. It is sometimes also called Copyleft, as it very cleverly uses the current copyright laws to do the exact opposite of its original mandate.

The way it does this is by insisting that the code and anything derived from it is also released with the GPL licence. In some senses it is ‘viral’ in nature and it is this that is central to many people’s objections.

Also, it’s worth noting that the word ‘derived’ is a little too vague. Does a library linked to a GPL’d program need to be GPL’d also? Does a program running on a free operating system need to be GPL’d?

There’s no clear, obvious answer for either of these with the current version of the GPL. The new version (3) is intended to fix some of these shortcomings, but it’s viral nature will remain.

Open Source software

Open Source software is, in many ways, exactly the same as free software, despite what Richard Stallman says!

It was started in 1997 by Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens as a response to the increasing confusion over the use of the word “free” in relation to software. (Confusion that has continued, or I wouldn’t be writing this document!)

In essence, Open Source is a marketing or PR exercise to make free software more acceptable, more understood by the general public and the big corporates that, until that point, were comforted by the money they had to pay to get commercial software.

Like “free” software, the “Open Source” trade-mark does not mandate a single licence. (Freedom of choice is important, even when it comes to giving away software!) Technically any licence that meets all the requirements in the Open Source Definition can be termed Open Source. These, in summary, are no restrictions on the use of the software, access to the source code and the freedom to make modifications and distribute them.

The two most famous are the Berkeley System Distribution (BSD) Licence, which allows distribution without the source code, and the GNU General Public Licence, although there are many more.

The Sun Community Source Licence, for example, is not compliant because Sun Microsystems demand a fee for any commercial distribution and insists that derivations are still compatible in some arbitrary ways. (This is not intended to single out the SCSL as being particularly bad. However, the fact that it purports to be “open” when it isn’t is a disturbing trend.)

The implications

Overview

Free software has already had a significant effect on the computer industry. Free software is behind most of the critical parts of the Internet, it was used (unsuccessfully) as part of the defense in the Microsoft anti-trust trial and the spate of recent IPO’s has shown that there’s money too.

Unless you bought some shares, this all appears to be affecting other people. There is an impact, however.

I just use software, how does this all affect me?

It’s tempting to think that, if you’re not a ‘techie’ or a hacker, the difference between free commercial, public domain and Open Source software is minimal. But that’s not true, even as a user the difference affects you because the development of the software is affected.

I’ll outline a plausible scenario as an example.

Company X designs and releases a fantastic piece of software. It’s commercial software, but the publisher seems receptive to new ideas, indeed versions 1.1 and 2.0 are exactly what you were looking for and the upgrade costs were reasonable.

At this point any number of things can happen. Perhaps you find a bug in it, one critical to your business. But the publisher offers no warranty for the software and say they are not sure whether they will fix it. (Note that just because you paid for the software, you do not necessarily get better service or a guarantee of any kind. According to the licence, you can’t sue Company X if the software is not fit for the purpose it was sold for.)

Or maybe they go out of business. Or perhaps they start competing with your company and won’t sell you the next version. Or perhaps the features you want are not in the new version. There are a huge number of ‘if’s and ‘maybe’s, all outside your control.

Basically, if you use commercial, close-source software you are at the whim of the publisher. If they do something you don’t like, tough.

However, if you’d used Open Source software you’d have access to the source code and could fix or upgrade the program as you saw fit. And if you couldn’t do it, there are many programmers willing to support the new versions or you could hire someone to do it for you. In summary, you have much more control over future development of the product.

You’ll note that none of the advantages here are strictly related to cost. I think that’s something that people tend to focus on too much, possible due to the “free software” title. However, there are still advantages.

But first we need to get away from the initial cost of the software as that’s normally a small percentage of the total cost. Instead, let’s think in terms of support costs. Once you’ve installed the software, what costs are there? An obvious cost is that of upgrades. Less obvious is lost productivity due to software failure and support charges from the manufacturer.

In the case of free software, there are no upgrade costs (other than the time and inconvenience of doing it, which also applies to commercial software). Free software is usually regarded as more reliable then commercial software — see Fuzz Revisited for more information. And the support charges are optional: you can either deal with it in-house or hire any one of a number of support organisations.

I’m a developer. How does this affect me?

As a developer, you’ll already know the benefits of being able to access the source code for a program. You can fix it, see how it works and integrate bits of it into your new program. (Using parts of another program, however, isn’t quite that simple and is dependent on the licence of the original software.)

A common problem developers see is the loss of their livelihood. If everyone gives away their software, how can anyone make money? It’s a fair question and there’s no single, correct answer.

Perhaps the most common answer is that most software is developed in-house and is not distributed. None of this development will be affected, so if you have that kind of job you can rely on your salary for a while yet!

If you work for a consultancy, almost all the revenue comes not from selling software but from “professional services,” i.e., they charge for developing the software rather than the licence to use it. Again your job is safe.

Then there’s shrink-wrapped software. The Free Software Foundation would say that it should be free. So if you listen to them and you work for Microsoft your job is in danger unless they diversify into services.

The Open Source people would say that there’s nothing wrong with shrink-wrapped software, but point out that there are advantages in releasing the source.

As you can probably see, the risk to your jobs is small and there are many benefits. At least that’s the way I see it and I work writing software!

Where can I read more?

The most obvious place to read more is at the GNU website, after all they started it all.

But there are alternatives. Other important web-sites are as follows:

  • Open Source. This is the ‘official’ Open Source page. There’s lots of interesting stuff here, including a more detailed discussion on the effect of free software on different people Microsoft’s Halloween documents, their unofficial response to the Linux threat.
  • Eric Raymond’s web-site. Eric has written much about Open Source software, with much more depth and style than I can muster!
  • Slashdot. There aren’t more ‘HOWTO’s here, but Slashdot is a community of people interested in Open Source software. The discussions sometimes get childish, but you can learn a lot!

There are also a few books published (at least partially) on the subject:

  • OpenSources. Voices from the Open Source Revolution.. This book talks about all aspects of the Open Source community, including licencing. The main reference is Bruce Perens essay.
  • The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Again, this book is about general Open Source issues, but it includes a discussion on some of the non-obvious implications of the licences, particularly the reason why just because you can, you don’t frequently get many versions of a piece of software.
  • Hackers Steven Levy talks about the early days of the hacker community, including a good piece on Richard Stallman.

Death March

Introduction

Perhaps more than any other engineering discipline (see Steve McConnell’s After The Gold Rush), software engineers work on projects that have no real chance of success. There are as many reasons why as there are projects, but if you want to be in with a chance of surviving such a ‘death march’ this could be the book for you.

Content

Edward Yourdon is a well known and well respected computer scientist, so what useful information can he give you in these circumstances? Surely you’re lumbered with the simple choice between putting up with it or resigning?

Well, no. The book explains that there are any number of things to do, and not just for the project stake-holders. There are things that just about anyone on the project — and indeed just outside the project — can do. And quitting is almost always one of the options he gives. I find this interesting because most books tend to argue that you can fix anything. Sometimes you just don’t have the authority to do anything that would make a significant enough change.

Of course, it’s a two-hundred page book, so it doesn’t just launch into this resign-or-fix discussion. First he talks about what a Death March project actually is, and then moves on to finding who the key players in the project are. These people are not always those that you think should be in charge! For example, the CEO’s golfing partner is often in a position of power and influence, although you won’t find them in the organisation chart. (I’ve seen these kind of dynamics in play, but I hadn’t really though about it in these terms.)

He then moves on to negotiating the best deal for you and your team in this bad situation. You may not be able to get your boss to accept a rational argument at the beginning (or even towards the end) of the project, but you should at least try. And these are the arguments to use!

Motivation, both from the various clients and in your own team, play an important role in the success or otherwise of the project, and are discussed in some detail. One vaguely controversial statement is that we all need to be involved in politics to some extent. I agree with the ‘why’ — even your boss may secretly want your project to fail — but I don’t know how. Many, maybe most, of the developers I know have absolutely no interest in politics and try to pretend that it doesn’t affect them!

The next two chapters talk about methodologies and tools, and their applicability to death march projects. The last chapter discusses integrating the death march into your companies culture (most of your projects are going to be like that anyway, so you may as well get used to it!).

Controvacy!

It’s not all good news, though. Some of the chapter on staff motivation is hard going (or at least would be for the people on your project). One of Yourdon’s correspondents suggests that, on a death march project, people should be putting in at least 60 hours a week! I know that some people do that, and that it is encouraged at some companies, but I really don’t think that people should be encouraged to do that on a regular basis. It’s only fair to say that Yourdon goes on to say that people working over 60 hours a week need to be watched closely, but by then the damage may already have been done.

Generally, however, the advice given is very pragmatic. I’d like to think that most of it was obvious, but it isn’t. This is the kind of information you probably realise only after years in the business.

Overall

I’m sure you can guess by now: I’m impressed. Most Computer Science books are not this sensible and are frequently based in research in university labs rather than commerce. In fact, I’m pretty certain that I’ve never seen a book that recommends that you resign in certain circumstances!

It’s not just the detail that makes this an important book. Yourdon backs up his assertions with examples and email’s from colleagues that discuss some of the options available.

If you work in IT, sooner or later you will end up working on a Death-March project. This book is just what you need to be able to tell what chance of success it has and whether you and your organisation will survive it. Highly recommended.

Details

ISBN: 0-13-014659-5

Price: $16.99

Buy this book from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.