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Good Agile — Development Without Deadlines

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the crushed-in-a-scrum dept.

339

BigTom writes, "In a recent blog entry Steve Yegge, a developer at Google, writes a fascinating account of life at possibly the coolest development organization in the world. Steve lays out some of the software development practices that make Google work. Go on, say you are not even a little bit jealous. ;-)" From the article:

  • Developers can switch teams and/or projects any time they want, no questions asked; just say the word and the movers will show up the next day to put you in your new office with your new team.
  • There aren't very many meetings. I'd say an average developer attends perhaps 3 meetings a week.
  • Google has a philosophy of not ever telling developers what to work on, and they take it pretty seriously.
  • Google tends not to pre-announce. They really do understand that you can't rush good cooking, you can't rush babies out, and you can't rush software development.
Yegge also does a fine job of skewering what the author calls "Bad Agile."

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339 comments

GOOG IN MY ASS (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16227575)

Go on, say you are not even a little bit jealous.

There.

Re:GOOG IN MY ASS (1)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227597)

Really. Some of that seems nice from a worker prospective, but 3 meetings a week? That seems... excessively many...

Re:GOOG IN MY ASS (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16227715)

Dude, I'm not sure if any of you complaining about meetings actually are in the same buisness as these guys but 3 is a good ammount. Usually with this type of job, there is a meeting every day!

Re:GOOG IN MY ASS (2, Interesting)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228177)

It sounds more like "have as many / few meetings as it takes to do the job."

At different points in a project, you need more meetings than at other points (and different types of meetings).

And yes, I'm jealous, darnit! I've been in places where there is a meeting every day, and nothing gets done (except preparing for meetings), and where there are NO meetings every week, and nothing (at least nothing on target) gets done. Both suck.

Re:GOOG IN MY ASS (2, Insightful)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227855)

It depends on what you mean by meeting? If they mean every time you get together with two or more other developers for more than 15 minutes to discuss something, then I could see 3 meetings being not enough. If a meeting is when you get together with 15 other people and discuss things for an entire afternoon, then 3 is probably too many.

Re:GOOG IN MY ASS (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16227927)

It depends on what you mean by meeting?

No it doesn't, you fucktart.

Re:GOOG IN MY ASS (1)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227997)

that is a valid point. I guess I think of a meeting as 3+ people, typically half an hour or longer, formally planned and organized.

Mod parent up! I am not jealous, also. (1)

agent (7471) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228889)

I cracked into a website again! Damn, I am one 31337 hax0r!

Oh, and happy birthday, you big old company that is google. Because you have a birthday, when will you die?

Future head line on http://news.google.com/ [google.com] "2015..... Google dies", story magically self destructs.

3 meetings a week! (5, Insightful)

91degrees (207121) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227599)

3!? What do they need 3 meetings for?

Where I work, we have an average of about 1. and sonme of us think that that's too many

Re:3 meetings a week! (3, Insightful)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227643)

/\ informative/insightful/underated the parent please.

In most places I've worked it's been no more than once per two weeks for the prorgrammers. The buisiness side of things has more, but hey, that's what business people are payed for, to sit around and talk while others do the work.

Ok, the business side fo things does do work, but the programmers shouldn't have to go to meetings like that. Their meetings are more like the occasional team huddle to verify that they are working on the right path - 5 minutes, quick, and to the point

Re:3 meetings a week! (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227681)

The last place I worked had 1 or 2 meetings per week as "project team" meetings with various smaller discussions.

Re:3 meetings a week! (1)

whojoedaddy (998349) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228067)

Wow, I normally have at least one meeting everyday. Annoying, but I can teleconference in and get real work done at the same time.

Re:3 meetings a week! (3, Interesting)

richdun (672214) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228661)

I can teleconference in and get real work done at the same time.

I've been on those sorts of teleconferences. I think the key is to mute your speaker phone and listen only for your name in the conversation - you'll get tons of real work done that way.

Re:3 meetings a week! (2, Insightful)

Mycroft_514 (701676) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227777)

Really, I agree with another poster. I average less than 1 per week. We have our regularly scheduled team metting, but that isn't even actually held every week. And we tend to talk more about other people's problems then ours, since we are a DBA/Tech support team.

Switching teams? Right, and that makes agile development work. Sure. Of course, I have found out that what agile deveolpment REALLY does is push MORE work onto your DBA and tech support teams, in order to "reduce" the work of the development teams. The net tradeoff is a negative sum, as tech support and DBA teams are more expensive then developers.

Don't tell people what to work on? And exactly how does that finish projects, ever?

Re:3 meetings a week! (1)

Andrewkov (140579) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227925)

This "agile" philosophy seems to lead to projects being in Beta forever. I wonder if Duke Nuke'm Forever is being developed by agile developers.

Re:3 meetings a week! (1)

lewp (95638) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228837)

With the number of patches it takes to get any game to "playable" nowadays, they're pretty much all released when they're still beta. If DNF got that far, we would be able to buy it already.

Come to think of it, that describes most retail software.

At least Google's honest about it.

Re:3 meetings a week! (3, Funny)

aussie_a (778472) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227969)

Don't tell people what to work on? And exactly how does that finish projects, ever?

I think it explains why much of Google's stuff is currently in beta.

Re:3 meetings a week! (5, Insightful)

Xzzy (111297) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227971)

Don't tell people what to work on? And exactly how does that finish projects, ever?

Considering how often Google puts up new features on their site, apparently it works pretty good for them.

Regarding the number of meetings, I only have one formal meeting a week, but can spend several hours a week with a couple other guys talking over the specifics of whatever we're working on. Could be considered "meetings", even though they don't involve sitting around a table and going through an agenda.

Re:3 meetings a week! (1)

kpharmer (452893) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228905)

> Regarding the number of meetings, I only have one formal meeting a week, but can spend several hours a week with a couple
> other guys talking over the specifics of whatever we're working on. Could be considered "meetings", even though they don't
> involve sitting around a table and going through an agenda.

right, so it isn't a meeting if you're not sitting down.

so, the best way to reduce meetings is to stand up when having "work-oriented get-togethers"? Sounds so simple, I wish we had figured that one out before! ;-)

Re:3 meetings a week! (5, Insightful)

EastCoastSurfer (310758) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228517)

Don't tell people what to work on? And exactly how does that finish projects, ever?

This is a direct by product of the type of person that google hires. They look for the really smart self motivated type. This is the same type of person that writes OSS (and no one tells them what to work on and there are surprisingly quite a few OSS projects in various stages of completion). Your comment also ignores the fact that no projects are ever really finished.

Googles method is a good one, and it works for them. I do think the author missed one of the huge reasons that it works - googles hiring practices.

Re:3 meetings a week! (2, Insightful)

andykuan (522434) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228713)

There are also countless OSS projects that either barely get started or are simply two paragraphs on sf.net with big dreams and no work.

That said, I agree that it's all about its hiring practices. The talented and self-motivated person is a rare and special thing to find and hire. The Google Agile practices would never work at any company I've ever worked at because most of the engineers (yes, most) at those companies would end up day-trading, playing Quake, or gambling online (or even, *gasp*, posting replies like this on /.)

Re:3 meetings a week! (1)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228539)

So long as the developers are interested in a project, they probably won't abandon it. Since they're allowed to work on what they want, they're probably going to be interested in whatever they're working on. As an added bonus, you probably get lots of people using their strengths, which I can say is definitely not the case when someone else is assigning you work based on what they think you're good at.

Re:3 meetings a week! (2, Insightful)

rtaylor (70602) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227945)

They may be including informal design and algorithm meetings in their list. You know, the ones that you usually start by yelling over the cubical wall or out into the hallway which end up on a whiteboard somewhere with a small group.

Re:3 meetings a week! (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228735)

True. Then we have 6. We do have a 5 minute get together in our area (teams share the same section of open plan office) for a status report each day.

Re:3 meetings a week! (1)

GreyPoopon (411036) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228245)

Where I work, we have an average of about 1. and sonme of us think that that's too many
Where can I send my resume? Just reviewing the past few days shows no fewer than 6 meetings since Monday for projects that are all related to each other. I also have weekly team meetings and daily systems stability meetings. It has gotten to the point that I have to reserve slots on my calendar to get work done. To be fair, though, I am an architect now and no longer strictly a developer, so I am forced to have a little more exposure to those business meetings....

Re:3 meetings a week! (1)

InfiniteWisdom (530090) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228617)

Where I work we have meetings every morning, but the rule is that everyone has to stand during the meeting, so things rarely last longer than five minutes or so, but it keeps everyone informed of what everyone else is doing.

Re:3 meetings a week! (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228737)

Are you kidding? I have meetings every other day at this point, though most are fairly short. I wouldn't be surprised to see daily meetings at some places, especially companies that develop large amounts of software on short deadlines.

Must be nice in Candyland (4, Interesting)

TopShelf (92521) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227651)

One thing that helps Google in this regard is that they are insanely profitable, and their software engineers as described in TFA are really more like product development entrepreneurs, so it's easier to set up an incentive-based program like this that puts a huge, juicy carrot in front of the developers to keep them headed in the right direction. I suspect that 99% of the rest of the IT world doesn't have this luxury.

That said, it's a very interesting example to consider. Within the coming months I'll be forming a new application development group, and the mechanisms of determining what we'll be working on and how it will be prioritized are TBD. Good food for thought, here...

Sure, The Policy Is Dazzlingly Brilliant *NOW* (3, Funny)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227897)

Google is the darling of The Street, stock's trading at a bazillion a share, we're a Google nation. Of course their managers are all paradigm-shattering super-geniuses, and all the "normal," plodding-along companies will be buying Google-branded Kool-Aid and foosball tables in the hopes some of the magic drips off.

Check back in five years, there's some kind of upheaval in Middle-Central-Lower Slobovia, the Market tanks, Sergey's enmeshed in a sex scandal with an Israeli weight-lifter, shareholders revolt, The Next Big Thing hits (something with a Google-opposite development philosophy, perhaps involving chains and semi-regular beatings), and all the wonks who are praising Gooogle's brilliant policies today are writing best-selling books with titles like "What Were They Thinking?" and "...Damn Hippies!"

Been there. We called it "The Nineties."

Re:Sure, The Policy Is Dazzlingly Brilliant *NOW* (4, Insightful)

thesandtiger (819476) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228173)

Er, except for one difference...

Google's making money. Actual real profits. You must be thinking of YouTube or something.

During the 90's, the companies that were being touted as being run by genius management were pretty much not doing anything but helping the manufacturers of $800 office chairs get rich.

Re:Sure, The Policy Is Dazzlingly Brilliant *NOW* (4, Insightful)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228469)

Something I want to add about Google's profitability. A lot of people have tried to compare Google to GM, and basically say, "Yeah, you're doing fine, because you're profitable now, wait until you have retirees to take care of like GM did." The difference though, is that, having learned from the 50's, Google isn't making those mistakes. Google will never have massive pension obligations for the very basic reason that Google does not enter into these obligations. When an employee leaves, Google's "debts" with them are already settled in full. If half their current workforce suddenly retired, they'd have to find replacements, but they wouldn't have to scratch their heads about any pension fund.

That's one sign they have a clue what they're doing.

Re:Sure, The Policy Is Dazzlingly Brilliant *NOW* (2, Funny)

albeit unknown (136964) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228899)

Today, Microsoft is the only customer of the chair manufacturers. A very large customer, though.

Re:Must be nice in Candyland (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228083)

Also, all that profit comes from the two core inventions (which were genuinely superb) that launched the company. For all the slobbering over Google development (OMG, a blog!), they've done exactly what in the last five years that's significantly better than their competitors? GMail is the only thing that comes to mind, and that's not exactly earthshaking either.

Re:Must be nice in Candyland (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16228563)

What about search?

Re:Must be nice in Candyland (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16228117)

In the typical business world, it is well stated fact that any individual is 100% replaceable by someone who will probably do the same thing you did but cheaper. Basically, the companies believe there is a line of people waiting to fill your position and if you do not like it, leave and within a few days, they will have a willing and ready replacement. These companies believe the only reason you show up at your start time is because they force you to. In many ways this is true but that personal management style with whip and chains leads to individuals trying to get away with everything they can which then requires the company to buckle down even more which then causes the employees to loose moral and fall in to a rut. Personally responsibility and dedication is not encouraged or needed at all and in many ways, can be viewed as you are challenging authority. After all, you do not know enough to make a decision or to suggest something. The company will dictate exactly what you will do and when you will do it. Now there is a distrust between the hierarchies, separation continues and the situation gets even worse. It is a downward spiral that business leaders feel they can control and stay one step ahead of by using the carrot of "we can replace your ass in a day" mentality. Repeat same thing a short time later with the replacement.

I can compare Intel with Micron as a good example. I interviewed with Intel back in the late 90's for a fab position. It seemed to me they paid well and seemed to treat people okay, I also knew several people that worked there (Intel actively recruited certain groups of military people for their plants) and they enjoyed it. Now a look at Micron... Had a family member work in a fab there. Low pay (about 50% of Intel, crappy hours and management that guided with a whip. The turnover rate was tremendous, sick time was high and from what I gathered, the place was full of complete losers that milked the system for everything they could get. It was the same exact job function as Intel but run two completely different ways.

From a business prospective, which model is better? I have no idea. Intel and Micron make different products so a direct comparison is not possible.

Re:Must be nice in Candyland (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 7 years ago | (#16229049)

Personally responsibility and dedication is not encouraged or needed at all and in many ways, can be viewed as you are challenging authority. After all, you do not know enough to make a decision or to suggest something. The company will dictate exactly what you will do and when you will do it.

In my experience this is somewhat exaggerated, but the tendency is there and it leads people to wait for management to make decisions instead of starting things on their own. Big problem if your management is incapable of making the necessary decisions soon so things can progress.

Steve Yegge states that having a work (priority) queue is an important part of keeping things going, and I tend to agree. Clueless management (see above) will sometimes put up crazy deadlines and sometimes let the queue run dry so people start killing time with unproductive activities.
Like reading blogs and posting on slashdot ;-)

Re:Must be nice in Candyland (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228283)

Problem is that the same thing can work at any other company. God knows how many programmers or IT/programmer/DBA guys see a need that if they were allowed to work on would improve productivity dramatically. But Managers always know best, we need to form a focus group, have at least 5 conference calls on it a week, and oh we need to change the specifications last minute because Stan in accunting does not want to chang how he does things, and just realized that fact even thouh he has been in every meeting and conference call from day 1.

If someone would smack some sense into corperate managers maybe they could be not only insanely profitable but get way ahead of the game instead of catering to the morons.

besides search/adds? (5, Interesting)

RingDev (879105) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228883)

Is there any Google app that is truly profitable other than Google Search and Adds?

As you mentioned, with their huge amount of capital, they can afford highly in-efficient project management. I pity the fool who tries to introduce this management style into a smaller organization with budgetary concerns and uncontrollable deadlines. Not that I wouldn't mind working in their environment one bit. Either as a coder, or as a PM.

-Rick

So how is the pay? (1)

SanderDJ (1004445) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227657)

There's got to be a catch somewhere!

Re:So how is the pay? (3, Insightful)

91degrees (207121) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227713)

There is a catch. You have to be a genius with god-like programming skills.

Re:So how is the pay? (1)

SanderDJ (1004445) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227943)

You have to be a genius with god-like programming skills.
I fail to see the problem.

Re:So how is the pay? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16228507)

Not a problem per se, but if you are a genius (and I mean *genius*) you can work almost everywhere at the same conditions as google.

Re:So how is the pay? (0, Troll)

soft_guy (534437) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228651)

There is a catch. You have to be a genius with god-like programming skills.

Oh, and not have a problem working for a company that sets their motto to be "don't be evil" one day, and then becomes a tool for repression in China the next day.

Re:So how is the pay? (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228859)

I'm not sure they did.

One day, they offered a free uncensored version of Google in the Chinese language.

The next day they offered a censored version of Google in the chinese oanguage, in addition to a free uncensored version of Google in the Chinese language.

Now we know why all the software is Beta (3, Funny)

thammoud (193905) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227663)

for years.

Re:Now we know why all the software is Beta (1, Interesting)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227759)

yeah.

Actually it makes me think of the ask.com commercials. Google doesn't have the tools because the developers aren't as motivated to act quickly?

Still, I use google over ask - all the tools in the world aren't useful if you don't have the right materials to use them on (in this case - a search engine that actually provides relevant, or at least, semi relevant results).

Re:Now we know why all the software is Beta (2, Interesting)

fitten (521191) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227903)

Actually... almost all of Google's software is more research based since they are kind of exploring a new space -- large search engine with ancilliary functionality built around it. Just about everything they do is a research topic and not necessarily a product delivery. They have some competition in the search engine world but their momentum is huge (people just go to Google by default) so they have the luxury to work in this mode. If there were more serious competition and more market striation, they'd (have to) tighten up a bit.

Basically, they work this way because they can. It's really nice to be able to do so. They can get some great creative thinking going.

Re:Now we know why all the software is Beta (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16227999)

actually, google's software is in beta solely because they choose not to support it.

google would have to hire teams on top of teams to support the software they produce, which would add to the cost of their projects, and for their projects and software that isnt very profitable, it really makes more sense to leave it in beta rather than having a final version and supporting it.

Re:Now we know why all the software is Beta (3, Interesting)

OffTheLip (636691) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228023)

And the irony is beta Google software is better than production offerings more often than not.

No Wonder... (1, Flamebait)

BladesP9 (722608) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227679)

Well! No wonder Gmail has been in beta for about 2 or 3 years now. Development without deadlines is akin to getting nothing done. People need direction, coordination, and most of all motivation. That doesn't mean you set unrealistic or oppressive deadlines, but deadlines are necessary to keep things moving - at least for those of us living in the real world.

Re:No Wonder... (1)

Z1NG (953122) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227883)

You are right, people do generally need direction. Considering the excellent quality of google services though, I would surmise that their employees are rather gifted people that are likely self-driven and set their own deadlines when necessary. When people are excited about doing something, then they are likely to set goals far higher than an employer realistically could.

Re:No Wonder... (2, Insightful)

Chineseyes (691744) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228249)

Deadlines also lead to half ass buggy products that don't even meet original expectations *cough* Vista *cough*. Deadlines thus piss off the kind of people who have a vision of what they want their "perfect product" to be like. And I would think these are the type of people google wants working for them. If you read the article you would see they have plenty of motivating factors so that argument is dead, coordination is highly overrated if a group of people are working on anything (sports, coding, singing, dancing) long enough they all start to work in sync granted you need a coach of sorts in all of those areas but you definitely don't need someone prodding them like they are cattle. I don't even know why you mentioned direction, I'm assuming you work with adults if they need someone to give them direction then you are in some serious trouble.

Re:No Wonder... (5, Insightful)

EastCoastSurfer (310758) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228679)

I know you're just flamming, but what does 'beta' actually mean? It's just a label on a given version of a piece of software. Would it make you feel better if tomorrow google changed their gmail from 'beta' and put 'production' on the page? That is what most other software companies do. Especially if the product has been up and running successfully as long as gmail has.

In reality most software is either continously developed or it dies. I've worked on numerous software projects and few if any have ever reached a point where no more work was required. Even if you found and fixed every bug (haha), feature requests will continue to come in as people use the software. As soon as bugs/feature request quit coming in most software is essientially dead b/c that means people have quit using it.

Sweet! (1)

Jeppe Salvesen (101622) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227767)

So everyone should work within a large, hugely profitable organization...

Seriously, we cannot afford to be so cavalier about delivery dates etc in a team of four. In general, when the margin on the product isn't that great and/or you're understaffed, you'll run into trouble if you spend three days polishing how that button works.

So, how do you create great software when the resources are limited?

Re:Sweet! (1)

mbrod (19122) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228305)

So, how do you create great software when the resources are limited?

You do it yourself. Making all the decisions yourself.

Re:Sweet! (2, Interesting)

soft_guy (534437) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228721)

I think a lot of what he had to say in the article is relevant even if you have to have some deadlines and delivery dates. I have been tasked to come up with various plans to improve processes at my company and I tend to have thoughts similar to this author, but also I am aware that my company does have to have some delivery dates. Mostly because we produce software that is non-trivial for our customers to roll out. So, I've been thinking as to how we can have realistic delivery dates that we can meet, have a processes that isn't a bunch of shit, and continue to do cool things. I found this article to be great food for thought.

working on whatever they want? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16227809)

developers are strongly encouraged to spend 20% of their time (and I mean their M-F, 8-5 time, not weekends or personal time) working on whatever they want, as long as it's not their main project.


awesome!

I spend at least 20% of my time scratchin me balls!

Not true (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16227841)

"Developers can switch teams and/or projects any time they want, no questions asked; just say the word and the movers will show up the next day to put you in your new office with your new team."

I work for Google and I can tell you right now that is total horse shit. Google are not so different than my previous employers, Oracle and Microsoft.

If anything, working in Google is worse than Oracle/Microsoft due to the people I work with (brainwashed losers.) They are the type of people who want to join a cult.

Won't last (1)

Average_Joe_Sixpack (534373) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227845)

Many innovative corps start out that way, then turn into a bureaucratic dictatorship after a couple disappointing quarters.

Re:Won't last (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16228079)

Mod parent Insightful!

Microsoft (1)

Drakin020 (980931) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227851)

Perhaps Microsoft could learn from this. they have never been good about deadlines. Not trolling however mabye it is just a business strategy.

Agile has a place too (5, Insightful)

Gnostic Ronin (980129) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227867)

I think part of the reason that other companies choose the "Agile" methods rather than the "Google" method is the problem of the customer. The customer needing a custom application needs it by a certain time or it could become outdated or downright useless. Tax software complient with 2006 tax codes are useless after April 15th, 2007. Or if you're making custom software for manufacturing, you can't leave the client without his software after the plant opens, he'll probably cancel the contract. Virus updates would be another big "can't be late" kind of issue. Waitng a month before you can stop a new virus probably means a cancelled contract, and a lot fewer customers.

Google can do this, and pretty much any company that can set its own time-table can use "Google Agile" methods. But you're limited to just those products where a delay of a few weeks or months isn't a major issue. It's simply not true for every type of software developer out there.

Maybe "Agile" methods aren't the absolute best out there, but there are cases where it's simply not possible to use "Google Agile" methods.

Re:Agile has a place too (1)

Zatic (790028) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228749)

100% ack.

They just happen to have the luxury to work on a playground that actually makes profit.

My team is overloaded with SOX stuff, all of which has insane deadlines forced on us by law. And we need meeting after meeting to make IT and Finance speak the same language. Not everyone can enjoy 3 year beta phases.

Okay, sure (5, Insightful)

Z0mb1eman (629653) | more than 7 years ago | (#16227887)


- there are managers, sort of, but most of them code at least half-time, making them more like tech leads.

- developers can switch teams and/or projects any time they want, no questions asked; just say the word and the movers will show up the next day to put you in your new office with your new team.

- Google has a philosophy of not ever telling developers what to work on, and they take it pretty seriously.

- there aren't Gantt charts or date-task-owner spreadsheets or any other visible project-management artifacts in evidence, not that I've ever seen.

- even during the relatively rare crunch periods, people still go get lunch and dinner, which are (famously) always free and tasty, and they don't work insane hours unless they want to.


Sure, that sounds wonderful, as long as:
- you're working with intelligent, competent, creative people
- you have an effectively unlimited budget(relative to most other companies)
- you're working for a software-only company which is only successful because of its innovation, not because it has to deliver specific functionality to specific clients

How many of us can say that? Hmm?

It sounds like a dream job, but let's face it: it relies on individual heroics, from everyone, all the time. Now that's fine if everyone working there is far above average, and "individual heroics" means "enough intelligence and maturity to keep a view of the big picture without being whipped with a rolled-up Gantt chart", but it's a recipe for disaster in most other places.

Is this the emerging ivory tower of Google developers? While I'm happy for the guy, most of the blog sounds like "look at me, I'm developing under near-ideal conditions, why isn't everyone else?"

Re:Okay, sure (1)

recordMyRides (995726) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228273)

And one more for your list:
- you're working for a company that sells a product, not a service.

Many programmers, especially those who work under the label of 'consultant', simply don't get most of their money until the product goes into production. Google, on the other hand, will keep raking in the dough regardless of whether Google Video comes out of beta.

picky? (1)

Phantom of the Opera (1867) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228739)

They are picky about who they hire. I've heard the interview process can be as grueling as exam days.

I wonder if they are quick to pull the rug out from people who don't cut it.

Their hiring staff must be pretty perceptive.

Google tends not to pre-announce (3, Insightful)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228001)

I love Google; but really - these perpetual betas are basically just another form of pre-announcing, IMO.

Re:Google tends not to pre-announce (1)

AlexDV (759799) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228515)

Yeah, except for the fact that when by the time Google releases a beta, the product is usually quite usable. If all of their new betas were half-baked and buggy, then you could call it "pre-announcing." However, as it stands, I think Google's betas are generally of far higher quality than many "1.0" releases from other companies.

Hooray for Nepotism and Snakes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16228007)

"And it's true because your actual performance review is almost entirely based on your peer reviews, so it has an indirect financial impact on you."

How is this good? Every place I've ever worked consisted solely of snakes who would cut your throat, flat out lie, cheat and steal if it meant they would get ahead, get promoted, get their project funded, or push the blame.

It's a sorry state but most people aren't honest and there is no correlation between intelligence / ability and being honest in a workplace.

Showing your importance to one or a few managers is one thing; showing that effectively an entire group which ultimately will contain at least one of these types of people is another.

The "utopian-ism" of the above quote from the article seemingly runs contrary to the author's opinions on "methodologies".

Yegge (1)

LarsWestergren (9033) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228033)

Up until maybe a year ago, I had a pretty one-dimensional view of so-called "Agile" programming,

Sounds like he still has a pretty one-dimensional view actually. Yegge often has interesting things to say, I just wish he didn't constantly have to be so bloody arrogant and condenscending about it, for instance:

anything that calls itself a "Methodology" is stupid, on general principle. [...]
And by "stupid", I mean it's "incredibly brilliant marketing targeted at stupid people.


There are some really good refutations of pretty much all his arguments in the blog comments, for instance:
"[..]most of us in our industry are writing sotware for paying customers (who might happen to share an employer with us) who have a "soft real time" idea of the value of the features we build: ie, the value of the features is at a maximum at some time t and declines, perhaps rapidly, after that. These three kinds of development are all quite unlike this."
[...]
"I don't doubt that the Google approach is very enjoyable for the developers, and is a good fit for Google's business model--but there are a lot of other businesses wokring in other business models. For many (not all) of them, agile with any size of "A" can be a big step up from what they've got."

Test (3, Insightful)

AutopsyReport (856852) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228049)

Let's take a leap off the "it's amazing to work at Google" mentality that has been championed by more people that do not work at Google than those who do. Most of the points raised by the author appear amazing from a developer's perspective, but not from a business view.


Developers can switch teams and/or projects any time they want, no questions asked; just say the word and the movers will show up the next day to put you in your new office with your new team.

Having developers on a merry-go-round between projects is probably a good reason why their products never make it past the Beta stage (which is terrible).

There aren't very many meetings. I'd say an average developer attends perhaps 3 meetings a week.

One meeting a week should be sufficient. Three meetings a week spells inefficiency and poor process.

there aren't Gantt charts or date-task-owner spreadsheets or any other visible project-management artifacts in evidence, not that I've ever seen.

Okay, so now we're advocating against the use of project management techniques? Let's piss in the wind and hope it lands where we intended?

even during the relatively rare crunch periods, people still go get lunch and dinner, which are (famously) always free and tasty, and they don't work insane hours unless they want to.

There is tasty food everywhere in this world. Why does it need to be constantly emphasized that Google has tasty food? Google is a software company, not a restaurant. And secondly, the author makes it seem that in crunch periods, companies other than Google do not allow their employees to have lunch and dinner. I somehow suspect (legally, personally, ethically, etc.) that is not the case. Are the employees of EA starving during their crunch periods? :)

The point here is that Agile Development is a good model if its used properly. Using Google as an example to demonstrate how Agile is good, however, is a mistake. Subscribing to Google's use of Agile is a recipe for disaster.

Re:Test (1)

tweek (18111) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228573)

I was pretty much thinking the same thing. Google has the financial backing to do this and software is not the company bread and butter. This attitude won't work in any medium sized or small development shop simply because they don't have the staff to have everyone decide to work on project B and let Project A float in the wind. Google doesn't have customer deadlines to deal with.

Re:Test (1)

Eccles (932) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228963)

Having developers on a merry-go-round between projects is probably a good reason why their products never make it past the Beta stage (which is terrible).

I don't think it's a merry-go-round, it's getting people to go where they're interested and motivated. Look at FOSS; they're purely volunteers, but many stick with projects for years.

I'm currently working on a project that is OK, but I think there are other projects I could work on that would be more useful and involve code I know better. I suspect that I would be a heck of a lot more productive (and the product improved more significantly) if I could choose what to work on. On the other hand, the thing I am working on might get neglected. So perhaps management should try to identify the self-motivated (and let them choose their projects) and leave the remaining tasks for the less-motivated.

Re:Test (4, Funny)

the.Ceph (863988) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228997)

Are the employees of EA starving during their crunch periods?

Considering they don't get paid, probably.

Remind me again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16228071)

Hubris is followed by what exactly? I know it begins with an N.

The PHB response? (4, Insightful)

paiute (550198) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228095)

No doubt some consultant will turn the Google model into a salable series of talks and books. Your management will crow about how they are going to adopt the Googleway, where all employees are happy and productive. What could go wrong?

But the PHBs will cherry-pick those aspects of Google's business that suits their preconceived comforts. Remember when we were all supposed to be like the Japanese? Show up for work, sing the company song, use just in time, statistical process control and all the other stuff? Yea, we were just like the Japanese, except for that pesky lifetime employment understanding. We'll just leave that one out - it really isn't important.

Re:The PHB response? (1)

AlexDV (759799) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228603)

Nah, PHB's wouldn't touch this with a ten foot pole. Given that there seems to be very little "managing" at all in the way Google runs projects, adopting "the Googleway" would be to force themselves into early retirement. No, they'll just stick to the same old bureaucratic methods that allow them to look good while doing very little.

Sounds like MS in the 80s (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16228107)

This sort of relaxed attitude and being different from all the other software companies sounds very much like Apple or Microsoft in the early 1980s. I wonder if google will still be like this in 10 or 20 years time?

Don't criticise (5, Insightful)

tygerstripes (832644) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228111)

It's easy to jump on this guy for making us all feel shit about our inevitable working conditions (you think you've got it bad? Try working in local government...). However, really what he's doing is putting in clear, simple terms some concepts that we all understand deep down, to whit:


- Google is a company whose success is almost entirely based on innovation

- Innovation comes from intelligent, well-motivated people

- The best way to motivate intelligent people to innovate is to give them total freedom (rewards are just to give them a direction, NOT to motivate them - they are motivated because they love what they do. Try offering rewards for something they don't want to do, and see what happens...)

- Most companies (even software companies) make the majority of their money through churning out the goods, not innovating - Most companies do not have the funds or the original culture to even contemplate the above working practices

- It would be lovely to work for Google.

Personally I'm really glad this article got posted - it's not telling everyone how everyone should work, but it does offer insight into how Google works, and that's valuable insight indeed as long as it's not taken out of context.

Just keeping the talent happy... (5, Insightful)

rockmuelle (575982) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228139)

Google is not a software development firm, but an ad sales firm (check their 10-K if you have any doubts). It uses software to attract viewers in the same way television networks use programming and magazines use articles. Under this model, it makes sense to give developers a large amount of freedom to develop whatever they want. The final type/quality/status of the software doesn't matter nearly as much as the fact that there are new features appearing on the site from time to time to attract new viewers..er, users... and keep old users. Most of the applications probably won't amount to much, but just like with any media company, you only need one or two big hits a season to keep people coming back.

Google develops a large amount of its content in house in much the same way old movie studios developed all their films in house. For Google, the talent is not actors and directors but developers. Movie studios learned that you treat the talent well to keep them around and Google has taken that lesson to heart. Developers tend to want complete freedom to work on what they want with no deadlines and giving them this is the easiest way to keep them happy. Call it 'good agile development' or whatever else you want, it's really just keeping the talent happy in the hopes that they'll keep developing content to attract users.

Unfortunately, software companies that rely on software or service sales for revenue cannot take this extreme approach to agile development. They need to deliver software on occasion or someone else will replace them in the marketplace. Agile development is still the best way to go, but unbounded development only works if software isn't your primary source of revenue.

-Chris

MOD PARENT UP!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16228465)

Mod parent up.! +1 Insightful

same conclusions (3, Insightful)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228211)

so apparently you don't have to work for Google to come to the same conclusions as this guy. Agile with the capital 'A' (or XP) is a religious movement, it adheres to a sweat shop mentality because it forces release dates (release cycles,) while pairing programmers and thus forcing everyone who is coding to kill their wrists (does that really leave that much room for thought?) The story cards are a ridiculous substitute for a proper design, and projects that succeed do so because someone [slashdot.org] takes their responsibility seriously (and in case of Google it helps immensly that everyone takes their responsibility seriously, regardless of what the insentives are.)

Of-course not everyone can afford the same culture as Google, simply because not everyone has access to the same funds.

the strategy... (3, Insightful)

arkaino (972287) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228307)

You can't help but want to do your absolute best for Google; you feel like you owe it to them for taking such incredibly good care of you.

It's clear, good people in good mood, that's the best way to give incentives to your peers. second...

- developers are strongly encouraged to spend 20% of their time (and I mean their M-F, 8-5 time, not weekends or personal time) working on whatever they want, as long as it's not their main project.

that is, killing the pressure in a smart way, and third....

One is that Google a peer-review oriented culture, and earning the respect of your peers means a lot there. More than it does at other places, I think

that is, the respect of your peers is a KEY here, as a consequence that keeps things calm....

3 meetings a week? (3, Insightful)

plopez (54068) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228363)

Are you serious? That's a busy week for me. Usually only during intense design sessions. Or training. We usually have only one formal meeting a week and then chat online or pop into someone's office as need be. Far cry from when I was working at a fortune 500 company and we 4-5 a week, chewing up up to 10+ hours a week. The same was true at a Uni I worked at.

Google's getting too big.

coolest coding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16228461)

Ummm, okay, hm.

I'M NOT JEALOUS.

Better?

Moron.

LMAO, vword: "compute"

Reward vs. Entitlement (4, Insightful)

Vexler (127353) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228485)

Back in the peak of the Bubble, I worked as a systems engineer for a software development shop. Of course, being a software startup during that period meant having $1000 Aeron chairs for everyone and pool tournaments ever so often, to say nothing of free Friday catered lunches. Then, when the money started to run dry and a few airliners crashed into a couple of buildings, the perks went away and so did my job.

What is interesting, however, is the way similar "perks" are perceived as rewards at Google. If you feel that perks are rightfully yours and must not be sacrificed even in the face of company financial difficulties (feeling "entitled"), then it's hard to make your brain justify working hard for your keep (or harder during particularly difficult times). Whereas if you are working on something for which you have genuine motivations AND have rewards to aim for, then the management has two aces in their deck: An employee's internal motivation (which can be invaluable), and external positive reinforcements. These two characteristics contribute directly to the health of the company both in its balance sheets and in its corporate culture, and that is A Good Thing.

Looking back, it wasn't the exuberance of the Bubble that destroyed it, because the way Google works can seem to be quite exuberant to some code monkey at Chrysler. It was the way that management could not decide (a) how to set business goals, and (b) how to manage its employees. When management forgets how to manage and employees forget how to work, you have a problem on your hands (see the sad saga that was Daikatana).

Pride comes before a fall... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16228541)

What stands out in TFA is just how high and mighty the author is flying. Reading through the rather wordy post it sounds like Google is basically operated like a university computer lab only with a lot more incentives - BFD - and not surprising since that is the environment where the founders came from.

I wonder if this guys tone reflects the prevalent culture at Google, because what impresses me most about Google is just how vulnerable they are.

They have a single source of revenue: Ad Words. If Joe User starts ignoring ad words (quick: what's the last banner ad you clicked on?), the party is over.

They have heavily armed competitors (M$). I always wonder what it was like at Netscape when they first heard the footsteps and realized MS was closing in on them...that maybe Navigator could be beaten...

For all the publicity surrounding things like google maps, gmail - none of these products seem to earn very much money and are hardly killer apps.

My company is better (4, Funny)

pubjames (468013) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228629)

That's nothing. At my company, we never have any meetings at all, nor any plans. And staff can take holidays whenever they want and work on whatever they want!

We're not making any money yet, but it's only a matter of time! (Fingers crossed!)

Dates (1)

slim (1652) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228729)

I think Google's either very lucky or very clever not to have genuine externally created deadlines to work to. The number one source of genuine deadlines in my career has been the sunsetting of legacy services: "Our network provider is pulling their SNA service in 18 months. We need to provide an alternative to the 40,000 customers who reach our service using SNA, and migrate them by that date, or pay AT&T $x million dollars to extend the service."

Of course, you can forestall this kind of issue by smelling the coffee and moving your customers off dying platforms before you're forced to -- but it's not glamourous work by any means, so surely it's not going to attract engineers in a company where you can jump onto any project you like on a whim.

Don't really believe this part... (1)

Garse Janacek (554329) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228821)

Developers can switch teams and/or projects any time they want, no questions asked; just say the word and the movers will show up the next day to put you in your new office with your new team.

Speaking as someone who has known a few Google employees, I don't believe this at all. Certainly Google is more accomodating than traditional firms, but I knew someone unhappy about his assignment who had to wait for quite a while (at least several months, not sure the exact length) before he could get it changed. It's a lot easier to promise something like this than to deliver it when you're actually developing something -- I think some of the "Aha! That's why Google never gets anything done!" posts are misplaced, since in practice, developers aren't (mostly) on a "merry-go-round." They're just not quite as static as a traditional company.

It's must be all about HR (4, Insightful)

andykuan (522434) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228839)

Such a model can't succeed without the right type of people: intelligent workers who take pride in the quality of their work and who are self-motivated. And I don't care what company we're talking about -- you're never going to bat anywhere near 1.000 when it comes to hiring people with all three traits. I contend (with no supporting evidence whatsoever, but Yegge doesn't offer much other than anecdotal evidence either) that Yegge is wearing rose-colored glasses and there's either a good segment of the workforce at Google that still needs to be micro-managed or Google is quietly firing 10% of their staff every quarter to keep trimming out the slackers.

Google is a polite company (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16228921)

Incidentally, Google is a polite company, so there's no yelling, nor wailing and gnashing of teeth, nor escalation and finger-pointing, nor any of the artifacts produced at companies where senior management yells a lot. Hobbes tells us that organizations reflect their leaders; we all know that. The folks up top at Google are polite, hence so is everyone else.

They don't have bald men, yelling and throwing chairs around ??? LOL

Bad Agile - Down, Boy! (1)

SpeakerToManagers (890488) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228941)

After working for one large, global company using development techniques that management called "Agile", I managed to reduce the concept to bumper-sticker level:
Agile Development: You scream, then you leap
SpeakerToManagers

you can't rush good cooking (2, Insightful)

dougman (908) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228965)

I'll take issue with the "you can't rush good cooking" bullet.

Many dishes are best when done quickly and often at high heat. Think of fajitas, calamari, tuna steaks, shrimp, stir-fry, and the list goes on. Likewise, leave your steak, burgers, chicken, veggies on the grill for 3 hours (hey, you can't rush good cooking right?) and you'll have charcoal.

There is a balance in all things. Cooking and software are no exceptions.

Google has a great setup for the business they're in. The company I'm at doesn't have the luxury of doing whatever we please. Our customers depend on us to deliver certain things on time. We like to think that we do have a core group who get to work on some "fun stuff" that doesn't have a fixed timeline (though we like to at least know what year we might get it out). I think Google can do things they way they are due to a LOT of cash on hand combined with the fact that they're really trying to find cool ways to attract people to their ads and attract ad buyers to their cool products.

Reminds me of Open Source development processes.. (1)

bheekling (976077) | more than 7 years ago | (#16228973)

* Developers can switch teams and/or projects any time they want, no questions asked; just say the word and the movers will show up the next day to put you in your new office with your new team.
You can contribute to any open source project you want can't you?
* There aren't very many meetings. I'd say an average developer attends perhaps 3 meetings a week.
Meetings are never forced on you in OS Projects, people just have an IRC discussion or something..
* Google has a philosophy of not ever telling developers what to work on, and they take it pretty seriously.
You choose which OS project to work on yourself don't you?
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