While I’m hardly the first to talk about the “Tradable Quality Hypothesis” hopefully I can reinforce in some of my readers (all 10 of you ) that Quality is not an option. You cannot choose to lower quality (or forego quality producing/assurance practices) in an effort to get more features “done” or to deliver work more quickly. At least not for any realistic amount of time. If you do this, you might as well plan the rewrite into the schedule now.
So What if I Do?
Immediately, you will probably feel little consequence from omitting a few test environments or writing up those features without any unit tests. But I promise it will catch up with you. Failing to test (at any level), continuing to use outdated tools (without a transition plan), and knowingly adding functionality of little to no explicit value contribute to decaying codebases where bug counts and cost of change increase, while overall velocity (i.e. the rate of value addition) will decrease. If you skip testing it now, guess what? You’ll end up testing it a lot more when those bug reports start rolling in.
Yes, you might get to be a hero; and everyone loves a hero, right? Maybe. But when a situation arises where heroics are necessary (e.g. long nights & weekends) just to hit normal commitments teams should not celebrate. That person has just set the precedent for what your clients and customers will expect of the team from this point forward. Resist the urge to be a hero and be a member of the team. Pull each other up as best you can to pull it in at the end, but be careful not to introduce large variances that can invalidate your velocity for that iteration.
If your team is delivering less and less because you’re trying to catch up with bug reports you may never be able to make up that time. This can not only harm your organization’s reputation, but your personal or professional reputation as well. Considering that, is it really worth the risk?
How to avoid the hole and dig out
There are many ways to avoid getting into the position of deciding to trade off quality for short-term schedule benefits.
One word: discipline. Be vigilant that everything you contribute is tested in multiple ways (unit, integration, UI, etc.), have as many people as possible review your work and provide input, and make sure those things keep happening. Yes it’s hard and can look to the uninitiated as if you’re moving more slowly, but when that thing you just wrote inevitably changes next week you’ll appreciate putting forth the extra effort.
Next is education. Everyone should understand (though not necessarily intimately) what goes into delivering functionality. Establish your definition of done and make it well known. Hang it on the walls. Recite it at the beginning of each daily standup. I don’t care how people remember it, just that they do. Whenever something is untested, it’s not really done yet.
If you’ve found yourself in this unenviable position, the first step is to admit that you have a problem. Seriously. We’re all proud of our solutions but sometimes they need cut down and replanted. There’s no shame in it, I promise. There’s only shame in voluntary insanity (doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results).
Next, come up with a plan of how to tackle what is most commonly the real problem: technical debt. Technical debt is any sub-par component of your entire solution space. This could be anything from an inflexible test harness, to untestable or scary to change code, to relying on outdated or unsupported software packages. If it causes you pain on or disappointment on the development side, it likely falls in here. Environmental or issues external to the team should be raised to the team’s manager (e.g. Scrum Master) for them to deal with outside the team. You need to identify and manage this technical debt before there is any hope of a sustainable pace of quality and value.
Don’t try to make it perfect, just make it better. Don’t feel bad about it, what worked for a team of 5 and 100000 lines of code may just not scale to a larger team or codebase. Our products grow and so our development support infrastructure must grow around them.
Remember, we’re the professionals
It may give the higher ups warm fuzzies to hear that it can all fit neatly into a little box, but no one will like the feeling later. We do them no favors by making commitments we know we can never keep within any reasonable standard of long term success. Clients can and should set constraints on delivery and tell us what they want delivered, but it’s our job to define how best to get there. I don’t tell other professionals how to do their jobs when I pay for their services, and I would hope they would advise me on the consequences of taking shortcuts, while avoiding them completely. That is after all, why I’m paying them. They know better than I do.
If there are doubts about making commitments, or about quality, don’t be afraid to tell your clients (or your teammates) the truth, or at least what you observe. That’s what you’re paid for, speak up. Ultimately, even if the clients don’t say so, I’m sure if you asked whether or not you should test this feature you just gave them they’d be scared you even asked the question. Quality is always a requirement even if our clients don’t list it as a deliverable.