Saturday, April 21, 2007

To Branch Or Not to Branch

The other day I was working on a guidance document for branching strategy in Team Foundation Server. When we looked at some of the customer references, we realized that a fantastic feature like branching is misused more than often. Talking to number of customers we realized some or the other time Configuration Managers and Developers come face to face with the dilemma, To Branch or not to branch?

The answer to this question is, you should not branch!! For many simple scenarios, you don't need to branch and labeling your builds is sufficient. Because with branching merging comes into the picture, the complexity of branching increases the pain of merging exponentially. Said that, you should branch only when you have to isolate parallel development efforts. Here are few common scenarios which gives insight as to when and how you should branch.
  • If you are working on one release at a time, then you just don't need to branch, just work from your main trunk.
  • If you want parallel development while you prepare for intermediate release and need to stabilize the release build, then you need to branch the release source code. Do testing / bug fixing on the release branch and parallel development on the main trunk. Once the release is done, you might / or might not want to merge the bug fixes to the main trunk.
  • If you have to make a patch or hotfix on an old release with parallel development for a new release, then, you branch the old release. Do testing / bug fixing on the patch / hotfix release and parallel development on the main trunk. Once the patch or hotfix is done, you might or might not want to merge the bug fixes to the main trunk
  • If you are having regular problems with broken builds, then a create development branch to isolate parallel development efforts. Merge the development regularly with the main trunk, which can be used for stabilized build.
  • If you have features which can be worked in parallel, but might cause stability among each other, then branch the main trunk for each feature development. Merge the feature branches regularly into the main branch and reverse merge for features to share code. The main branch is used for stabilized build.
These are the very basic scenarios, and depending upon your team you can have combination of more than one scenarios. Thumb of rule to follow is avoid branching, and branch only when you have to do parallel development.

There is a good document - Explained: Branching in Team Foundation Server, which gives insight on the branching strategy.

So no more, To branch or not to branch dilemma.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Who wants to be an effective leader?

Every individual dreams to be a leader in their own fields, but not all of them end up being a leader. Its not the opportunities but rather the effectiveness that make individual fail as a leader. There are very few people who are natural leaders, most of them have to learn how to be an effective leader. So what's the mantra for being an effective leader.

No points for learning the hard way if you can leverage other's experience. My colleague Jason Taylor has spent the last 10 years leading teams of software developers, testers, and ethical hackers on a wide variety of projects. He has posted his techniques of being an effective leader. He believes following are the traits of an effective leader.
  • Self Awareness. You are aware of your impact on others. You are aware of your own weaknesses and work toward mitigating them.
  • Self Regulation. You think before you act. You consistently act out of your value system. The people around you know what to expect from you.
  • Empathy. You are willing to trust and eager to empower. You are interested in listening and understanding other’s experiences.
  • Social Skills. You are able to connect with others and communicate well.
  • Motivation. You have a passion to lead, you desire to excel, and you actively want the best for your team and yourself.
You can see his post here: How To Be an Effective Leader

~ Later

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Are you lucky?

Almost all my friends complain / compliment that I am lucky!! This got me thinking, is there anything called luck? Why would someone be lucky or unlucky? How do you decide to become lucky? How can you avoid being unlucky?

The more I analyzed the more I believed, you being lucky is decided by the collective decisions you have taken over time. If you can learn to make timely and well-considered decisions, then you can often lead to well-deserved success or simply put just get lucky. However, if you make poor decisions, you risks failure.

So it all boils down to good decision making. Here are some steps to help you making good decision.

Identify the Problem Area - You need to first clearly identify the problem at hand, it could be incorporating change request in the project or which cell phone you should buy.

Collect Information - Collect as much information as possible for given problem, the information gathered should give you insights about possible causes and possible solutions.

Validate the Information - Ensure that the information gathered come from trustworthy sources and is as accurate as possible.

Brain Storm for Solutions - Come up with all the possible valid solutions, while doing so don't merit the solutions, just list them.

Evaluate Solutions - Write down the solutions with pros and cons for each of them. Narrow down to the option which best addresses the problem, the deciding factors should be the cost, benefits and consequences.

Bounce Off Others - Once you have reached a decision, no harm in bouncing off others, learning from others experience is quickest. There is always a chance that they might throw a light on some of the consequences which you might have missed.

Important tips
  • Avoid snap decisions.
  • Move fast on the reversible ones and slowly on the non-reversible.
  • Do your decision making on paper.
  • Make notes and keep your ideas visible so you can consider all the relevant information in making this decision.
This might seem simple steps and should be integral part of any decision making, but believe me I have seen people not doing it for lots of important decisions and end up believing they were a little unlucky.

So hope now you know how I get lucky!!


Thursday, April 5, 2007

Guidance Explorer Revisited - Part 4

In my previous posts on Guidance Explorer Part 1 and Part 2, I discussed about features in GE for guidance Consumption, in Part 3 I discussed about Creation of the guidance. In this post I am going to talk about GE features enabling Distribution of guidance.

The three main categories of guidance distribution are Peers, Teams and Organization.

Peers - Guidance Explorer allows you to share individual guidance items or collections of guidance in a variety of formats
  • XML Formats - GE allows you to Export individual or collection of items in XML format, which can be imported by other users in their instance of GE.
  • HTML Format - GE allows you to Save individual or collection of items in HTML format, which you can share with others not using Guidance Explorer.
  • Word Doc - GE allows you to save individual or collection of items in Word doc format which you can share and can be printed and used offline
Teams - Guidance Explorer allows you to share your guidance with other teams in different ways.
  • Views - You can export a particular view as a library, which will include all the guidance items referenced by the view.
  • Folders - You can export a folder as a library, which will include all the guidance items from the views and folder structure within the folder.
  • Library - You can export your team specific library, which will include all the guidance items within the library.
Other teams can import the exported library in their instance of GE.

Organization - Organizations can share libraries by publishing them to a UNC or HTTP location so that team members can subscribe to them. Once subscribed the Guidance Explorer user, if connected to the network, will always see up to date content for that library. When offline, the user can view the version of the library cached on the local file system.

With this post, I have covered all the major areas of GE. Hope this has been helpful and inspires you to start using GE and leverage all its cool features!!


Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Guidance Explorer Revisited - Part 3

In my previous posts on Guidance Explorer Part 1 and Part 2, I discussed about features in GE for guidance Consumption. In this post I am going to talk about GE features enabling Creation of consistent high quality guidance. GE allows users to author new guidance items or modify existing items.

Following features in GE enables the Creation of guidance.

Built in Guidance Types - GE by default provides number of built in guidance types like Checklists Items, Code Examples, Explained, FAQ, Guidelines, How Tos, Patterns etc. They allow you to pick guidance type most suitable for your needs. Guidance Types encourage authors to write fine grained guidance items. For example one Guideline at a time vs. creating a monolithic document that covers all Guidelines for an area of concern.

Templates - GE by default provides Templates for all the default built in guidance types. The templates allows you to write consistent guidance.

Test Cases - With each Template GE provides set of test cases targeted to various sections of the template. The test cases ensures that guidance modules you create meet optimum quality.

Custom Guidance Types - GE also allows you to create new guidance types. To create a new guidance type the you have to provide an icon that will represent the guidance type in the tree, a template that authors can use to create the guidance type and an example that authors can use to see the guidance type in action.

My Library - Its a node in the GE, which is your workspace to create guidance, you can add any number of libraries you want and create guidance items in the specific library. You can modify items from a read only library like patterns & practices Library and save them to you library.

Hope this inspires you to create the guidance which you have been procrastinating forever. Happy authoring!!


Monday, April 2, 2007

Guidance Explorer Revisited - Part 2

There are two aspects to guidance Consumptions, Discovery and Composition. I have talked about GE features supporting guidance discovery in my previous post. In this post I am going to talk about GE features enabling Composition i.e. organization of the guidance.

Following features in GE enables the composition of guidance.

Views - Views are a by-reference view of guidance items within a single library or across multiple libraries. My Views node in the GE is your workspace to organize guidance. You can create views and drag and drop relevant guidance from guidance list across libraries.

Search Views - A search view is an extension of normal views. While still a by-reference collection of guidance items, the items are selected by a query rather than by manual selection. For instance a search view could be created to select Checklist Items for a performance code review on a .NET 2.0 application.The benefit of a search view is that it will update with new items that match the query once they become available.

You can create complex tree structure of views, search views and folders to organize the guidance in a way that makes sense from your project perspective. For example you can compose and use a discrete set of guidelines and checklists that match to the tasks you are performing on a daily basis


Guidance Explorer Revisited - Part 1

One of the exciting projects on which I have worked in recent times is Guidance Explorer. It is a great tool that enables Consumption, Creation, and Distribution of development guidance. I believe its a very useful but underrated tool, hence thought it might be a good idea to run a few posts in an attempt to bring forth the real power of the tool.

In this post I am going to talk about GE features enabling consumption of guidance. There are two aspects to guidance consumption, Discovery and Composition. First you need to discover the relevant guidance and then organize the guidance in a way that makes sense from your project perspective. GE helps you with both these activities.

Following features in GE improves the discovery of guidance.

patterns & practices Library - GE by default comes with a subscription to a online patterns & practices library, which is a central store of modular, trustworthy, quality, comprehensive development guidance. This library is updated by p&p folks on regular basis. So you have a single place to look for required guidance rather than hunting all over the Internet.

Metadata attributes
- Each guidance module in the Guidance Library has following set of metadata attributes with it
  • Rule Type – Describes the impact of this item (e.g. Design, Implementation, Deployment)
  • Technology – Describes a specific technology and version this item applies to (e.g. ASP.NET 2.0)
  • Topic – Describes the major area of concern this item addresses (e.g. Security, Performance, Reliability)
  • Category – Describe a secondary categorization that can be used to organize the item beyond topic (e.g. Caching, Input/Data Validation)
  • Authors - List all the major contributors to the item
  • Status – Describes stage of completion (e.g. Beta, Release)
  • Priority – Describes relative importance of this item (e.g. 1, 2, 3)
These attributes are displayed in the guidance list view along with the title of each guidance module and can be used for sorting, filtering or searching the guidance list. Having a rich set of metadata further enhances the discoverability of required and relevant guidance.

Default Views - patterns & practices provides default type views of the guidance available for example Guidelines, Mini How Tos, Checklist items etc. They help in narrowing down the search by specific types.

You can download the Guidance Explorer at the following location

You can download latest source code for Guidance Explorer, it consists of source code for Guidance Explorer client and online store, on which patterns and practices library runs.