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2006-11-06 »

The Brave New World of Schedulation

Schedulator is the software project management system we originally developed at NITI to solve a simple problem: I'm a programmer, and I ended up as a manager, and I didn't want to spend all my time doing management.

It's essentially a fancy automated implementation of Joel Spolsky's Painless Software Schedules, where each developer can manage his/her own schedule. By combining the results generated that way, you can produce an accurate schedule for the whole team.

Schedulator isn't very many lines of code, but it's the result of years of tweaking of the Schedulation process, which actually works pretty well, and has a lot of advantages over "normal" software scheduling. As part of my new job, I've been redoing major portions of the Schedulator to make it more flexible: it now supports bug tracking systems other than FogBugz, for example (although that one's still my favourite :)), and no longer requires GracefulTavi (as much as I like wikis, doing it that way led to a pretty inflexible design).

The new Schedulator isn't packaged up nicely, and may never be because it has a pretty limited audience. But it should be much easier to get up and running with the new version than the old one, because it has far fewer prerequisites (and the parts that have prerequisites are now optional plug-ins).

I did, however, write some extensive documents explaining the theory and practice of Schedulation. My favourite is the first one, Schedulator Philosophy. Read it, and maybe find out if Schedulator is right for you.

The Google Factor

Not long ago, pcolijn wrote about Google's development process and compared it with Schedulator. I generally agree with his analysis. The problem is that most of the problems Peter identified were not problems with Schedulator, per se: they were problems with the general team atmosphere and management. (I'm allowed to say that, because I was one of the managers.) Schedulator is very compatible with the "Agile development style" done at places like Google. Okay, so Schedulator doesn't come with any index cards included, but it does do a lot of the grunt work of arranging those index cards - particularly when there are hundreds of them in your bug tracking system and they all seem important - for you.

As much as Google is indeed awesome, hires a lot of great people, produces a lot of great things, and makes an awful lot of money in the process, I sometimes caution people against taking their experiences at Google too seriously. People in highly successful companies are prone to an attribution bias, much like people are in unsuccessful companies. That is to say, no matter what your team does at Google, Google is still going to be making billions of dollars. And no matter what your team does at some unsuccessful or dying company, you probably can't pull it out of the toilet. In both places, the consequences of your actions are disconnected from reality. (Bill Gates called this the honeymoon phase.) At Google, raises and bonuses for everyone. At the unsuccessful company, even great people get laid off sometimes because there's no money to keep paying them.

For example, the article that Peter was responding to had this very important paragraph:

    Another incentive is that every quarter, without fail, they have a long all-hands in which they show every single project that launched to everyone, and put up the names and faces of the teams (always small) who launched each one, and everyone applauds. Gives me a tingle just to think about it. Google takes launching very seriously, and I think that being recognized for launching something cool might be the strongest incentive across the company. At least it feels that way to me.

Sure, this is a great incentive for people to work harder, and Google's very wise to do it. But do the math: every single project that launched? Always small teams? But Google employs thousands and thousands of programmers! They can't all be on the big screen. In fact, most of them can't. But Google's still successful.

Which kind of team are you on? How can you tell? Statistically speaking, you're probably on the unsuccessful kind. And beware of logic that sounds like, "my team did this, and we weren't too late" or "their company did it this way, and went three years overtime." There's a correlation there, but there could easily be no causality. Super-ultra-smart people could do their project plan on stone tablets and still get their projects done an order of magnitude faster than complete boneheads.

That said, I used (and still use) Schedulator, and it works great for me :)

November 6, 2006 22:05

2006-11-13 »

Novelling vs. My Sanity

"I need to attract more customers so I can get promoted or at least demoted so I don't have to wear this squid anymore. It's a long story."

Final score: Novelling:1, My sanity:0

November 14, 2006 06:15

2006-11-24 »

I made the Fido lady cry

This evening I got a "customer satisfaction survey" call from Fido. She assured me that the call wasn't going to use any of my cell phone minutes, and then asked a simple leading question:

"On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rank your current satisfaction with Fido?"

"Current? As in, not historically?"

"Right. How do you feel about the service you're getting right now?"

"Well, about a 6."

"Err... well, that's pretty low. Can I ask you why?"

So I got it all off my chest. The ever-increasing fees (increasing? What kind of technology is this?). The annoying people who phone me when I'm a few days late on a payment because I've been travelling and haven't picked up my bill. (I mean, charge me a late fee if you must, but *phoning* me for being three days behind? Yeesh.) The lately incessant calls to sign onto a multi-year contract, which shows they no longer care about "real" customer loyalty (I've been a customer for about 10 years, no contract required). The way their ads aren't so innocent anymore: they used to be just cute dogs while everybody else would use salamanders (what?) or cute girls; now they're cute dogs with cute girls, and it's only a matter of time until the dogs won't even get equal billing. And of course, my actual problem, which is that I'm out of town so much lately that I pay long distance charges for almost every incoming call minute.

In short, I used to recommend Fido to all my friends because of its awesomeness compared to other cell phone companies. But since Rogers bought them, they've been in steady decline. The lady on the phone rightly pointed out that they're still "better and less expensive than all the other companies!" Well, fine. It's not like I'm saying I'm planning to switch because I found a better deal elsewhere, because I didn't. I just don't care about you anymore. So if I did find a better deal elsewhere, then I suppose I'd probably switch.

And this is where the whole conversation got kind of weird, because she was totally horrified by this attitude. She asked if she could put me on hold to check with everyone else to see if there's a plan I could be on to fix my long distance problems (there wasn't). She checked to see if signing onto a multi-year contract would help me somehow (it wouldn't). She checked all over to see if I could adjust anything to save money given my admittedly weird calling and travel patterns (there wasn't). She discovered that I was currently entitled to a free new handset (I don't need one).

But here's the thing. She kept me on the phone for 20+ minutes as she went through everything she could think of to try to solve my problems, even after I assured her I wasn't planning to switch or cancel my service. That can't have been part of her job description. She was taking her "customer satisfaction" job really personally, to the point where she thought of it as a personal failure if I wasn't happy with my Fido service.

Which is silly, of course, because it's not her fault Fido's recent policy changes suck. It's Rogers' fault, and perhaps the fault of the almighty dollar (rumour has it that Fido was losing money at the time they were bought; I don't know if that's true).

It seems to me I've talked to this particular lady before when I've called Fido support. I think she might have been working for Fido almost as long as I've been a customer. That means that she's been through the days of rave reviews, successful word of mouth marketing, and sensible management. The management was indeed sensible to hire all those great, loyal, dedicated people in customer service. Strangely, those loyal people are still there, and still really care just as much as they used to. They just don't have the power to make the customers happy anymore.

I didn't really make her cry. Only almost. But I think she will if I ever cancel.

November 25, 2006 02:40

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