Remotely Close

Where is this?

Where is this?

When I saw this sign, I was surprised, even delighted, to find this in Fargo, ND. Yes, Fargo! My next thought was wondering if those inside the building were embarrassed to have this designation outside, given the amount of bad press regarding the Vista user experience.

We took this drive up to North Dakota so that I would join my husband in having been to all 48 of the contiguous states. I’ve known for years that I only had ND left on that list, and I live only about 3.5 hours from the ND border, but I was never before motivated to head there. My impression from others was that it was the western side of the state that was worth the trip, and that trip was much longer. I had no idea that Fargo, about 5.5 hours from our home, was such a happenin’ place, did you? Who knew there were all these Microsoft employees sitting here on the prairie (now corn fields)?

Here is one of the new Microsoft buildings going up on this campus.

It is quite beautiful on this Microsoft campus

It is quite beautiful on this Microsoft campus

While I really enjoyed my visit to Fargo and have nothing bad to say about the city (shown in a way to mislead folks in a more traditional photo below), I do have an idea how cold it gets there. I can just imagine those kids getting that good news / bad news call — yes, you got the job with Microsoft and you will be located in Fargo (I’ll let you decide which is the bad news). There are more than 1,000 Microsoft employees in Fargo now, with plans for more than 5,000 to be there in the future, if I understand correctly.

Historic part of downtown

This part of the historic downtown is what I thought Fargo looked like

Apparently Microsoft has figured out how to work in multiple locations. I asked our team recently what we need to do to pick up the pace on SnupNow development. We continue to move in a forward direction, but our progress is still at a snail’s pace. I continue to improve my ability to facilitate a distributed group of people who each work a few hours a week on the project, in most cases fewer than anticipated. I took my cheerleader uniform out of the storage room, thinking that might help, but, alas, it did not fit. [No, you are right, I was never a cheerleader.] The answer I got was that we needed to all be in the same room at the same time working together. Yes, I know that would help A LOT.

And help is what we need right now. [Gotta love starting one sentence with “and” and then following it with a sentence fragment. Oh the rules we can break! ]

We have an alpha delivery date. It is in January 2010. If we do not gear up and move faster, we will not make this date. So, how do we address the problem of being located in different places? This has a direct bearing on the lack of hours spent on the project each week and the slow rate of progress. We have plenty to learn and a lot to do before we can go live with an alpha version of the software. We must pick up the pace.

There are plenty of technologies that help mitigate issues with distance. I live far away from any relatives other than my husband, so I use many technologies to help me keep in touch with my parents, kids, and siblings for example. I still get in the car or on a plane and head their way quite often, however.

Email, phones, facebook, skype, and wikis can be helpful for communication with people separated by time or space. Other tools, such as WebEx or gotomeeting cost money. Resources, whether people or dollars, seem to be critical to the success of a project, eh? This is not a revelation to me, but I have definitely not yet figured it all out.

I do understand there are easier ways to write software initially than bootstrapping a company with close to zero dollars and making an effort to gear up a team rather than jump in as a solo coder. Among these are writing software on a client’s dime or with dollars saved up from consulting. I was a consultant, so I do know that, but there is an uninteresting story–which I will skip–that brings me to this project in this way.

Being in the same room with other team members would help considerably, and I have considered various options for actually doing that. While I have visited each SnupNow partner, it would not be all that productive in project time to do so again before January. I also don’t know how I could get each person to take a vacation at the same time and to spend that vacation with the project team. Would gathering for 3 or even 5 days to try to work together, with all of the logistics involved, be worth the huge effort right now? I doubt it.

There must be some other creative ideas, so I’m pondering that question and will discuss it again in our weekly skype meeting this week. I keep coming back to some scrum-like tool or kanban board available from our wiki as another possibly useful tool to help with motivation and focus, but we failed miserably in our earlier attempt to get that working. So, we  do what we can with trac tickets for tracking requirements, tasks, iterations, etc. I could use more help on that front, no doubt. Ken H. has stepped in to help with some of that administration, while Tom H has been the most productive coder of late, although he would tell you he has done little in the past few weeks.

We have a build of software that does something, but it is not yet fully useful. We have more than loose ends–we have many required features missing. When what we have is ready, people will surely be amazed at the lack of features considering the months we have put into this. I need to resist making excuses. Of course I want more, sooner, but we have a minimal required scope (with Agile development, in theory you fix time and resources and adjust scope for iterations, but there is still a minimum scope required for useful software) and a budget (minimal), so the timeframe has to play out, right? Nope, now we have a deadline too. Yes, I know what can suffer when resources, time, and scope are all fixed, but we definitely care about quality, she says, quoting every employer she has ever worked for. I want everything to be perfect, but that is not possible nor even wise, so I will work with the team to make good decisions in that regard. We will not let perfection be the enemy, nor will we cease to aim for it.

We will aim to have something tight that has enough features for the pilot site to get their work done with SnupNow starting in January. How close are we? Well, we are closer than we were six months ago, but by my calculations, we are not remotely close.

Go team!

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One response to “Remotely Close

  1. So that is what Fargo looks like in summer!

    I always knew the movie gave us a distorted view of the place. Winter can be harsh!

    I think we all need to communicate more frequently. Even if just to touch base. We all seem too busy with our own lives to keep the project going a the proper pace, but a little mutual stimulation might help.

    Ken

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