Start at the end

Level 0: Commit message

Once upon a time somebody told me the commit message should be written before any code. Of course, I’ve ignored the rule many times since then. But every time I follow it I’m amazed that such a simple thing actually helps with focus. Plus it makes me super guilty if I decide to batch multiple unrelated things in a single commit.

Tiny habit, but results add up quickly and actually make a difference.

Level 1: ATDD, BDD, Specification by example, etc.

Some time later I noticed that even though we, developers, can be very good at writing code the right way, quite often we work on the wrong things. We make wrong assumptions that break everything in the last moment, we keep making business decisions disguised as technical ones, or we simply don’t care about solving the business problem as much as about playing with all the cool technology.

I was fascinated by the stories where asking a few extra questions saved hundreds of hours of work, made existing model completely unsuitable or led to a complete change in approach.

But after putting the ideas into practice I lost some of the early enthusiasm. Those methods work and they certainly brought a lot of benefit to a few projects I worked on. Even though the actual acronyms were not always used, we found a few serious problems or misunderstandings early in the process with those methods. So I know they work.

The issue I have with them though, is that there are so many tools and processes around them now that it’s hard to not get distracted. It’s so tempting to play with a new framework or argue which tool is better instead of talking to the human being on the other side of our program. And there’s a lot one can play with.

Level 2: Sell it before you build it

At my current job we have a process that tries to force us to focus on users and business aspects before we even think about writing any code. We make so called “impact analysis” to determine what is the expected benefit of building a specific feature. Sometimes in the process we realize that in fact there are better things we could be working on at the moment and the idea is dropped. Then we prepare announcement and documentation drafts to think how will we communicate this feature to the users. If we can’t explain it or it doesn’t sound very attractive then it’s probably not worth building.

To be honest it’s not easy to work that way. We’re developers, not marketers after all. It really takes some effort. It’s easier to just code or cheat the process.

The obvious benefit of that approach is not wasting time for building things nobody would use. But there’s another one. A few times by going back to the announcement we realized we had made mistakes. Last time it happened to me yesterday. Another time we came up with a few extra things to discuss, noticed holes in the initial approach to solving problem or identified new edge-case scenarios.

The main benefit of starting with customer communication over BDD is that it doesn’t involve any fancy technology. There are not as many powerful distractions.

Next level: ???

I’m not sure what the next level is, I guess that it would have something to do with metrics and verifying assumptions we made using numbers. But it might be something completely different.

I hope to find out soon.

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