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Video: Breaking Brooks's Law

· Agile Zone

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Fred Brooks’s law of adding manpower to a late software project makes it later is one most of us have tried to prove wrong... and failed!

I was at Agile 2008 and saw an interesting session, “Breaking Brooks’s Law” from Menlo Innovations, a Michigan based Java development company. They claimed to disprove this law and demonstrated their working environment and techniques that allowed them to do so.

Although the presentation was only 45 minutes, we were in the room for almost 2 hours asking questions to determine how robust their techniques were, and to gain more insight into the conditions developers work under.

Menlo’s results are based on a 3 year project that the customer had a deadline to demonstrate at a show. More features were required for the show than currently in the plan. So rather than re-prioritize, Menlo decided to add more developers to attempt to complete the work. They managed to complete the Project on time with all added functionality.

The environment at Menlo is quite unique. All developers are co-located in the same large room (no offices or cubes) and pair program 100% of the time - they follow strict XP practices. A scheduling team determines which projects developers work on and who they pair with on a weekly basis. So developers work with different team members and possibly different projects every week.

Also, as part of the contract, the customer comes to Menlo every week to prioritize the work for the next sprint.

These techniques may appear somewhat draconian (for example 100% paring). I managed to catch up with the team and interview them to discuss this project further, bug rates, staff attrition rates and how Project Managers can push the message of pairing to Senior Managements/Directors.


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