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 Rapid Development by Steve McConnell

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The Power Elite

Programming Pearls The True Believer Lions' Commentary on Unix K&R Book Rapid Development Winner-Take-All Politics Military Incompetence
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See the introduction to the series for more information

 

Rapid Development Taming Wild Software Schedules

by Steve C McConnell

Amazon Price: $28.00

Paperback - 647 pages (July 1996)
Microsoft Press; ISBN: 1556159005 ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.71 x 9.20 x 7.41

This book is essentially a companion book to  update for The Mythical Man-Month and should be read after it. Steve McConnell repeats some ideas of Brooks and present some additional that became current since the publication of The Mythical Man-Month. 

The level is slightly lower that in Brooks as Steve McConnell never lead the project of the size of OS/360.

The nine page section entitled "Classic Mistakes Enumerated" is alone worth the price of the book and should be required reading for all developers, leads, and managers. Here are some types of the 36 classic mistakes that McConnell describes in detail:

Reviews:

ERCB Rapid Development  - Dr Dobbes Review

The following excerpts are located on other Web sites and may or may not be available at any given time. The links are provided to our readers as a convenience only.

5 out of 5 stars Practical Guide With Real Life Examples, August 3, 2003
 
  Reviewer: Abhinav Agarwal (see more about me) from Bangalore, India
Steve McConnell's books have always displayed a remarkable degree of practicality and readability. This book is no different.

The author says at the outset the Purpose of the book is to answer issues about trade-offs. The author says that software can be optimized for any of several goals: lowest defect rate, lowest cost, or shortest development, etc... Software Engineering is then about achieving tradeoffs, and this is what this book is primarily about.
Because the book is so big, it has been broken into sections that can be read selectively and quickly. A short book would have oversimplified things to the point of uselessness.

Organization of the book:
Parts 1, 2 deal with the Strategy and Philosophy of rapid development, while part 3 covers Rapid develoment best practices

In chapter 3 the author talks about 'Classic Mistakes'. He calls them 'classic' and 'seductive' because they are so easy to make that they have been repeated in countless projects. The classic mistakes number 36 (though Steve M points out that a complete list could probably go on for pages and pages):
Undermined motivation, Weak personnel, uncontrolled problem employees, Heroics , Adding people to a late project , Noisy crowded offices , Friction between developers and customers , Unrealistic expectations , Lack of effective project sponsorship , Lack of stakeholder buy-in , Lack of user input , Politics placed over substance , Wishful thinking , Overly optimistic schedules , Insufficient risk management , Contractor failure , Insufficient planning , Abandonment of planning under pressure , Inadequate design , Planning to catch up later , Code-like-hell programming , Requirements gold-plating , Feature creep , Developer gold-plating , Push-me, pull-me negotiation , Research oriented development , Silver bullet syndrome , Overestimated savings from new tools or methods , Switching tools in the middle of a project , Lack of automated source-code control , Shortchanged quality assurance , Omitting necessary tasks from estimates , Shortchanged front end upstream activities.
He categorizes these classic mistakes into four sets : People related, technology related, product related, and process related.

Part 2 covers rapid development issues in greater detail.
Core issues like Estimation, Scheduling, Lifecycle Planning, etc.. are covered. 'Soft' issues like Motivation, Teamwork, Customer Oriented Developmentare also covered.

Part 3 is a compendium of best practices. There is a summary table of the each best practice, and the efficacies, major risks, major interactions and trade-offs listed.

Some candidate best practices not included are getting top people
, Source Code Control, Requirements Analysis.. These are listed as fundamental to a software project.

The Best Practices listed are
JAD, Spiral Lifecycle Model, Theory W Management, Throwaway Prototyping, Staged Delivery, Voluntary Overtime, Miniature Milestones, Outsourcing, Reuse, User-Interface Prototyping, Change Board, Daily Build and Smoke Test, Tools Group.
As an example, Steve McConnel covers 'Inspections' stating the
chances of its long term success are excellent, it reduces schedule risk, its improvement in progress visibility is only fair, has no major risks, it can be combined with virtually any other rapid development best practice

The book has a very engaging style of writing...
Some quotes...
- Projects can look like a tortoise on valium to the customers, but as a rapid-development death march to the developers.
- The team ranks so low in the company that it has to pay to get its own team t-shirts.
- Rapid development isn't always efficient.
- Run every software project as an experiment ('Hawthorne Effect').
- If Las Vegas sounds too tame for you, software might be just the right gamble.
- The most common (and incorrect) definition of estimate is: 'An estimate that has the most optimistic prediction that has a non-zero probability of coming true' - Tom DeMarco

All in all, a fully deserved five stars!

5 out of 5 stars Outstanding Software Development process book, July 22, 2003
 
  Reviewer: therosen (see more about me) from Chicago, IL United States
Unrealistic schedules are the bane of the software world's existance. In a world of "the quick and the dead" and "first mover advantage" achieving the unachievable seems to be a way of life in the industry. Steve McConnell takes a level headed approach at this crucial problem.

Steve looks at 3 dimensions of the problem - people, process and technology. In the spirit of haste, lots of mistakes are made. Steve then covers many of the techniques available, and identifies their impact to schedule, risk, and other factors. This isn't just a "how I learned how to do it" - it's backed up by hard research on what works, and what doesn't. Invaluable information for anyone serious about improving their ability to survive in such a hypercharged environment.

Ultimately, there is no silver bullet to this problem. Telling your project manager to read this book won't solve world peace. But carefully applying the tools and techniques listed will do you a world of good.

 

5 out of 5 stars Showed this to my former boss and he stole it from me..., February 21, 2003
 
  Reviewer: jsv@mail.com (see more about me) from Mexico
This is the second time I buy this book, but even if I cannot tell you this might be the bible of project management, is very close to being that.

Very well written, easy to read with lots of advice to consider and follow.

Almost everything you need to face sucessfully any software project is covered. I have many other software management books and papers, and after reading them all I keep checking on this one as reference. From my point of view, this book is a must and a strong first buy for those who not only head a programmers group, but also for programmers itself.

A few years ago, and with that book recently bought, our programmer group stopped our manager (a non programmer) to take some "common" sense adjustments to a very cumbersome, badly designed and also delayed proyect (as most of his last important projects were): Wanted to add more people to the delayed project, force us to work round the clock to finish on time, abstract final users from validating our progress, and remove any more testing, leaving it to the end of the project.

After many hours discussing with him and reading him complete chapters of this book (and some other books), we decided to stop our work, took a day free to clear our minds, keep our team unchanged, sat with our users to reschedule delivery times and keep working from 9 to 6.

We didn't complete the work on time, but past projects were misscalculated by 50%, ours ended late by just 20%.

Now, on my new job where projects were (and are) delayed usually more than triple of time with a lots of non-payed extra hours ended on time or with little delays (company culture is very difficult here), within our budget and rarely needing extra time. Other teams on my company keep working forever on a always delayed work refusing to believe there is a better way to work here, to be at the end, looking to work somewhere else or leaving entire projects unfinished or needing a severe rewrite.

Our team uses this book (without approval from our systems director) and also two other titles that compliment the way we work (very well): Code Complete and Peopleware.

I do strongly recommend to get those books also.

 

5 out of 5 stars Destroyed all misconceptions of the development process, October 31, 2001
 
  Reviewer: Erik Dillingham from Napa, CA
This book is *AMAZING*. After years of "code-like-hell" development and amazingly frustrating bugs related to design flaws, I finally decided to pick up a book on the development process geared towards getting the project done and out the door.

After digging around numerous sites, reading literally hundreds of reviews, and soliciting the opinions of fellow developers, I finally settled on ordering "Rapid Development" and one of the other books by the same author, "Code Complete".

All I can say is "holy cow". "Rapid Development" was delivered to my door around 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. I picked it up and right away read chapter 3 - "Classic Mistakes". The scenario presented in the chapter just about blew my mind; it detailed every issue I have ever come across in the development process that has stalled or killed a project. It was also well written with a dry, witty humor; a definate must for any technical book about typically dry subjects.

After reading that one chapter, I flipped back to the beginning of the book and read it all the way through. I didn't put the book down until midnight, and after I had, there were all sorts of ideas screaming through my head I could apply to my current engagements.

Managers and non-technical people will greatly benefit from this book too. Have you ever that manager who stands over your shoulder asking you how it's going, why you're doing something a certain way, or what's taking the project so long? Give this book to your manager and tell him to read Chapter 11, "Motivaton". Chapters 3 and 11 provided the proper explanations for the constant recurrance of certain software project issues ("Why are the programmers working twelve hours a day and the project never seems to get any closer to completion?" "What exactly is so hard about adding this one feature to the program that was never accounted for in the first place?" "If those programmers are such geniuses, why won't they share code or use each other libraries?") to persuade my company to buy this book for all developers and technical managers.

Never has a technical book provided me with so much insight and so much open-ended, thought-provoking detail. I was able to apply about a third of the principles described to about 90% of all the projects i've ever worked on without thinking for more then a minute or two. The other two thirds proved themselves when digging deeper into the various issues.

Blah. What a burst of hot air. I've personally never EVER written a review for a book (never enough time), but I just HAD to stop and give five stars to this one.

BUY THIS BOOK. AND BUY IT FOR YOUR MANAGERS. NOW.(...)I am THAT confident that it provide at least one improvement to the way you develop software, if not many.



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