Thursday, April 30, 2009

Implementing Lean Software Development, by Mary and Tom Poppendieck

Implementing Lean Software Development: From Concept to Cash, by Mary and Tom Poppendieck

This book examines the lean manufacturing approach pioneered by Toyota and how it can apply to software development. Lean boils down to seven principles: eliminate waste, build quality in, create knowledge, defer commitment, deliver fast, respect people, and optimize the whole. Many of these are familiar to agile proponents, but not all. Of particular interest to me was the last principle, optimize the whole. Developers have a strong tendency to suboptimize a problem, to “perfect” a small block of code without considering the bigger picture. Optimizing the whole means that instead of looking at an individual step you look at the entire value stream. When combined with a stop-the-line mentality that forces teams to solve problems rather than work around them, there is a lot of potential for not only higher throughput but for higher quality.

Another interesting idea presented here was set-based design: multiple teams solving the same problems at the same time in different ways. The thought here is you can have several groups all tackle the same issue, each taking a different approach or accepting a different amount of risk. They all work simultaneously, and at the end the best one of the solutions can be taken forward. I’ve never worked at a company that was willing to put this many resources towards a single problem but it is an intriguing concept.

Overall, a good book that any agile enthusiast should read. The writing isn’t as compelling as Tabeka or as interesting as Angus, but still well worth your time. Another winner from the Addison-Wesley Signature Series of books.

First Sentence:
Paris, France, July 1785.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sister Time, by John Ringo and Julie Cochrane

Sister Time, by John Ringo and Julie Cochrane

I picked this book up out of the bargain bin not knowing anything about it. Turns out it is the tenth book of a series, so I was thrown into the middle of an epic without any back story. Ringo and Cochrane are good enough writers where I stayed enthralled with the plot even when I didn’t understand the many references to previous events. The several alien species all have broad traits that both underscore the alienness and give the reader a good visual: Darhels are elf-like businessmen, Indowy are small green furry engineers, Tchpth are philosopher crabs, and Posleen are reptile warriors. I got the idea that previous books in the series give a much more thorough look at the aliens, but these high-level descriptions allowed the story to progress without chapters of exposition.

The plot here reads like a James Bond story where MI6 has been replaced by an Irish clan, Q is an alien, and Bond looks like Pamela Anderson. It rolls along quickly while still providing enough exposition that a new reader (like me) doesn’t get lost with the rich history. The action sequences were exciting, although the conclusion was a bit abrupt in my opinion. The hints at the larger scope the series covers, though, are intriguing enough that I suspect this won’t be my last trip to Ringo’s universe.

First Sentence:
The dark figure dropping over the edge of the building could have given lessons in camouflage to a Himmit.

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