Hyperproductive? I don’t know but I’ll take it.

I’ve written about how our agile practice, particularly continuous improvement, has re-organized our product and development group into one, high performing team. How this has resulted in less code, less waste, higher quality and more value.

Jeff Sutherland talks about mature, agile teams achieving what he calls hyperproductivity. At this point, the team output accelerates and they outpace the organization around them.


Performing beyond even our own expectations allows us slack to help our product team and our sponsors define the work we do. As a matter of fact, last week, the dev team accounted for 9 of 15 stories in our backlog including 5 consumer facing additions or changes. Our sponsors have so much trust in both our ability to deliver work and our judgement that we have top down support behind the kinds of necessary efforts companies find hard to justify like platform and framework upgrades.

It is a virtuous circle, performance allows slack, slack allows time for reaching outside the immediate task to understand and optimize work for the next week, to keep up with our training and industry, to get out of the room and talk to the business, to imagine new features, to identify and solve problems.

Team members are allowed an opportunity to express their individual talents and interests: one developer can bring in a prototype of an entirely new implementation of our website, another can research and improve our search engine rank. All while working as a single collocated team that pair programs with daily pair rotation through a weekly iteration cycle and a shared backlog.

It is a synthesis of contradictions: deliver features and create less code, remove interruptions and make time out of the team room, strive for collective ownership and individual autonomy.

It results after years of dedicated practice in the techniques of Extreme Programming: pair programming, test driving, collective ownership, refactoring, iterative delivery — and determined Scrum project management: impediment removing, iterative delivery, retrospection, adapting our organization, earning trust, and protecting the team so that they could get their work done. A team is an organism that needs to close inwards, build strength and discipline before it can open up and expand outwards.

It’s the second time I’ve been a part of a team that’s reached this level of performance and both times it’s taken years to get there. I’ll take it.

Continuous Process Improvement — Deliver Less Code at Better Quality to Achieve More

In my last post I claimed we rebuilt our website properties with with half to one third the developers and with “about half 65%” the resulting code. All to justify my claim that “You accomplish more by doing less.”

Now, I’ll back that claim with some metrics.

Lines of code

There are a number of tools for measuring ruby code size and complexity. The metric_fu gem does a good job a aggregating them.

But because our retired rails application is six years old, I resorted to the perl based cloc to count lines of code. I excluded standard libraries and counted code in the app and lib directories supporting websites common to both codebases.

Old ApplicationLines of code (LOC)New ApplicationLines of code (LOC)
Admin websites15,011Data ingest/processing app6,176
Shared library2,716
Total Old54,992Total New35,963

Our current codebase is 65% the size of our original*.

Code size is a predictor of defect count and ongoing maintenance. That our current codebase is 35% more efficient at delivering roughly the same perceived value implies it is materially less expensive to maintain.

Take from this that lines of code is a terrible measure of productivity.

Less code is not our only indicator of the health

As measured by rake stat, we now have 3.6 lines of test code for every line of production code. Our old codebase measures 0.4. Our new applications have 9 lines of test for every one in our old.

Test lines of code is not a measure of test coverage or quality but remember I also work in this code. I know from direct experience that the new tests are more thoughtful — less fragile and opaque — better at testing real business logic with real data. We have invested in improving our test practice.

Better tests and better test coverage allows developers to take more initiative in changing and optimizing code. We can turn around features faster and we can improve our code with less fear of breakage. It’s a virtuous circle.

Again, we rebuilt our corporate websites with half to one third the development resource, 35% less code and better test coverage. We did this over a similar time frame in one week increments without schedule pressure or extraordinary efforts.

For the product and executive managers out there

Spiral Staircase

Managers want predictable delivery in short cycles. But that is an outcome. You achieve that outcome by reducing waste and building with quality.

If you don’t make quality your priority, your developers — out of loyalty and best intentions — will not build with quality. And that leads to larger, less maintainable code, longer and less predictable delivery cycles. The opposite of what you want.

Allow developers their due as craftspeople and professionals. Instead of banging the drum on delivery and delegating responsibility for quality, commit time and attention to building with quality and your team will deliver.

Next time, I’ll dive into how and why our practices have changed over time…

When I first measured this it was 50%. In the meantime, we’ve added features, services and a new source data feed. Still 5% of our current codebase is localized terms of use and privacy policies that didn’t exist in our old website. So, growth of the codebase is something to watch but I’m not sweating it yet.

Continuous Process Improvement – Doing Less


I’m wary of the cliche’, “doing more with less.”

When I started in my current role, my team consisted a development manager, a product manager, a business analyst, three developers, an outsource/offshore arrangement of 6-18 developers with its own full-time relationship manager and me, a non-individual contributor tech executive. We worked with a product team of three. We built our main US and six other variations over the course of 12-16 months – which was a great success in the eyes of our sponsors.

Five years later, my team consists six developers and me. I have all the same responsibilities but get to code half-time. We still work with a product team of three. When we want to flex, we co-locate two or four contract developers onsite. These contractors rotate through pairing with staff and perform as part of our team.

To characterize this as “doing more” is profoundly mistaken. If you dive into each effort, you’d see we built less and wasted less. Less production code to change and maintain, less beloved but little used features, less idiosyncratic and unnecessarily difficult implementations, less waste in the process of defining and delivering work. Our newer codebase consists of roughly half 65%* of the production code of our old site.

You accomplish more by doing less. I know this sounds very affirmational and non-specific. I’ll describe how we accomplished this in future posts…

ProgressVisualizer – visual reporting for your Trello boards

ProgressVisualizerI’m working on a pet project I’m calling, for now, ProgressVisualizer. It is intended to be a quick and easy way to create visual reporting for Trello boards.

Trello is the first tracking tool my team finds so easy to use that we’ve largely stopped using our physical cork board. It offers simplicity, openness and doesn’t impose unnecessary assumptions. It offers an API that lets you interact with your data and webhooks which allow you to do so in near real time.

I’ve tried to follow Trello’s lead and make ProgressVisualizer easy to use. It is a tool intended for leads and managers who want burn ups, reports and other charts, don’t want to spend alot of time crafting reports for themselves, and believe they should impose as little overhead on their teams as possible.

ProgressVisualizer sample charts and reports

ProgressVisualizer sample charts and reports

ProgressVisualizer is a nights and weekends project. I don’t know what it will become. That said, it’s more than a prototype. I respect your privacy, user profile information is encrypted, and I have provided the ability to export and destroy any data collected by the site.

Right now, I’m gathering feedback and suggestions, so if you use Trello, please try ProgressVisualizer and let me know what you think.

Ruby on Rails Reading List (kind of)

A student from RailsBridge NYC asked me for a reading list. Rather than focus on Ruby or Rails, I broadened the topic to software writing and writers I look to for inspiration. Here’s my reply:

The best book on Ruby language is the The Well-Grounded Rubyist by David Black. The Ruby documentation is pretty handy, especially the API pages http://ruby-doc.org/

For the Rails framework I dive into code and rely on google searches of Stack Overflow Q&A’s and the rails docs http://api.rubyonrails.org/ for answers to specific questions I run into.

For developer practice, I’ve been reading James Shore (The Art of Agile Development), Diana Larsen (Liftoff: Launching Agile Teams & Projects) and Jean Tabaka (Collaboration Explained: Facilitation Skills for Software Project Leaders)

For inspiration, I love The Existential Pleasures of Engineering by Samuel Florman and To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design by Henry Petroski.

Thought leaders who helped shape my values as a developer, product person and development manager are Jeff Sutherland, Ken Schwaber, Bob Martin, and Steve McConnell.

For online training resources, my team and I are using RailsCast, ThoughtBot, RubyTapas, Code School.