COMP240 - Projects 101
This course is all group software development projects. To manage and carry out the project you and your team will be working in an agile fashion. Each project will require that you learn how to work with new programming tools and ideas. Having a well established practice for how to approach and structure your project work will help you navigate the the challenges of dealing with new tools and dealing with new programming problems.
Group Structure and Paired Programming
Development groups in this course consist of four students working in two rotating pairs of programmers. Expect pairs to rotate on a nearly weekly basis. When programming in pairs one person (the driver) types and one person (the navigator) watches, catches typos and bugs, and otherwise supports the driver. Roughly every thirty minutes the roles should switch.
One of the core principles of agile development is collective ownership. No one programmer should own a part of the code. Knowledge of some part of the system should not reside in only one programmer’s brain. Everyone on the team should be familiar with the code as a whole and feel like they can add to, improve, or otherwise change the code because the code belongs to everyone equally and not to the person that happened to type it. This prospective helps to ensure that work does not stop if someone leaves the team or is otherwise unavailable and it develops a greater sense of working as a team towards a common objective.
The final piece of our collective ownership puzzle is that you’ll need to work towards developing a consistent coding style for the team. There should be agreed upon naming conventions, use of whitespace, and use of comments. To the extent possible, the code should look like it was written by one person and not four different authors. Part of this can be achieved through code [linters](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lint_(software) and language specific style conventions. The rest must come from the consensus of the group and a agreement on in-house style conventions.
Make it Work
The goal of software development is to produce working software and in agile practices working software is how progress and overall project success is measured. It’s not lines of code or hours spent but what works. During each class meeting there will be a chance to talk as a group in order to set and track feature goals. Feature goals are all about making the next small piece of the overall program work. It is vitally important that you identify what feature, exactly, you want to make work next and what, exactly, it will look like when you make that feature work. You should be thinking in terms of demonstrating progress to the group and the instructor at every class meeting if at all possible. This could mean running some new functionality or showing that a set of tests pass as proof that some new helper functions are complete.
Features should be broken down into small, discrete tasks which are prioritized, given an estmated time to complete, and assigned to programming pairs. As the assigned pair progresses through a task they should keep track of the time spent working on that task. When the task is complete the estimated time is divided by the actual time to get the group’s velocity. A velocity of 1 means you’ve estimated the time needed perfectly. If you over estimate, then the velocity creeps above one. The most likely situation is that you under estimate and your velocity is below one. Either way, it’s important to hone you skills at estimating the time needed for a particular programming task and track overall project velocity so that you have a real sense of the pace of your work and if you’re at risk of falling really behind.
The details of your tasks and the time spent working on them should all be recorded in a shared spreadsheet that looks something like this
|Feature||Task||Developers||Estimated Time||Elapsed Time||Velocity|
As you set your goals you begin by filling in the features, tasks, assigned developers, and time estimates. Elapsed time should be updated after every time a pair sits down to work on a given task and when the task is finally completed. When the task is complete the finally velocity is calculated and reported.
By setting your own feature goals and tasks you are effectively assigning yourselves homework. For this to work well there needs to be an agreement about the time commitment needed for the project. This is referred to as the duty cycle. Pairs need to coordinate their work and the group should also agree on a working schedule that looks more like a job and less like a typical class duty cycle. The syllabus states that you should be spending and average of 6 to 7 hours a week, outside of class, on your project. If you find that three hours of class time plus six to eight hours outside of class are not enough to meet your goals, then reconsider goals and tasks rather than overwork yourselves. It’s more important that you work mindfully and purposefully towards realistic and achievable goals. The final form of each project is flexible so long as you can demonstrate consistent progress with a reasonable duty cycle.
Make It Work Better
It is important that the team spend time figuring out how to work more efficiently and effectively as a group and how the code might be improved. We’ll achieve some of this through peer and self evaluation, but the group should also dedicate group discussion time after the completion of a feature goal to reviewing code and evaluating working practices.
Code reviews will be as simple as having each pair walk the other pair through their code on a weekly basis. If someone sees some room for improvement or a possible bug, then the group should consider taking time to bug fix or refactor the code before implementing the next feature. Refactoring is a process in which the code is restructured and improved without changing the overall behavior. It’s about cleaning up how it does what it does and leaving what it does alone.
Process reviews are a matter of talking about how you all managed the programming work. How was your velocity? Could your features and tasks be smaller or perhaps a bit larger? Are there some tasks you might add that would aid in managing, sharing, and testing the code? In general, what worked and didn’t work? It should be important to you as an individual and a group that you’re not just getting things done but doing thing well and growing as a developer.