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Newsletters 2023

December

Coffee chat

This is why I wanted to use this email to invite you to try a decidedly soft-skilled quality improvement: the simple chat.

The Concept

Imagine a casual, informal catch-up over a beverage of your choice, but with a focused twist. This isn’t just about small talk; it’s a strategic check-in on current projects and, more importantly, on how your team is embedding quality in their work.

Why It Works

These brief sessions are perfect for getting genuine insights into your team’s processes and challenges. It’s an opportunity to understand their mindset, hurdles, and the innovative ways they might be upholding quality standards.

Setting It Up

  1. Timing is Key: Choose a relaxed time slot. Maybe mid-morning or just after a significant meeting, when your team is ready for a breather.
  2. Set the Casual Tone: Make it clear that this is an informal chat. No need for presentations or formal reports.
  3. Focus on Quality: Direct the conversation towards their current projects and specifically how they are ensuring quality. What strategies are they using? What obstacles are they facing?

The Benefits

These check-ins can provide a wealth of information. You’ll get a clearer picture of how quality is being maintained and where it might be slipping through the cracks. Plus, it’s a fantastic way to show your team that you value both their wellbeing and their commitment to quality.

Give It a Try

Implement this in the coming week and observe the difference it makes. How did your team respond? What did you learn about their approach to quality? Share your experiences by replying to this email. I’d love to share some of our community experiences (with your consent, of course).

User reported errors

This week, I want you to focus on a commonly overlooked aspect: ‘User Error’ Reports.

Reflect & Rethink:

  • Last Encounter: Recall the last ‘user error’ report you reviewed. What was the initial reaction?
  • The Opportunity: Instead of dismissing it as just another mistake, ask yourself: Could this be a signal for design improvement?

Action in 15 Minutes:

  1. Gather Recent Reports: Quickly pull together a few recent ‘user error’ reports.
  2. Identify Patterns: Look for common themes. Are users consistently tripping up at the same spot?
  3. Brainstorm Quick Fixes: Think of small design changes that could prevent these errors. Even minor tweaks can make a big difference.

Why This Matters:

  • User-Centric Design: Reflecting on user errors can lead to more intuitive and user-friendly designs.
  • Reduced Friction: Fewer errors mean smoother experiences for users and less frustration for your team.
  • Continuous Improvement: Embracing these insights fuels a culture of continuous product enhancement.

Bite-Sized Work Items

In our daily work, it’s easy to get bogged down by the weight of large, complex tasks. This week, we’re going to shift our view from “how long will this take?” to a more proactive “what’s next?”.

Efficiency in Small Packages: The Why and How

Why Break Down Tasks? Breaking down tasks into the smallest deliverable units not only streamlines your workflow but also boosts team morale. Smaller tasks mean quicker wins, keeping the team motivated and on track. It’s about making progress visible and tangible.

How to Do It Effectively

  1. Identify the Core Value: Start by defining the core value of the feature or task. What is the essential benefit it provides to the user? Strip it down to its bare essentials.
  2. Subdivide Wisely: Break the task into smaller, manageable units that each deliver a portion of that value. Think of these as mini-milestones. Ensure that each mini-task is actionable and has a clear definition of done.
  3. Estimate and Prioritize: Assign a rough time estimate to each sub-task. This isn’t about precision but about understanding relative complexity. Prioritize based on the value delivered and dependencies.
  4. Encourage Team Input: Involve your team in this process. Their insights can often lead to more efficient breakdowns and uncover hidden complexities.
  5. Iterate and Adapt: Use retrospectives to refine your approach. What worked well? What could be improved in breaking down tasks?

The Impact By focusing on smaller, value-driven tasks, your team can move more swiftly and with greater clarity. This approach fosters a culture of continuous delivery and improvement, keeping your team agile and responsive.

Your 15-Minute Catalyst This week, pick a feature or task. Practice breaking it down into smaller, value-centric units. Spend 15 minutes discussing with your team how this breakdown can be implemented in your next sprint.

November

Code reviews

Today I want to share some ideas for Code Reviews. This quick, actionable piece of advice will enhance the quality of your reviews, ensuring they are both effective and efficient.

First up though: be clear with your team that code reviews are non-negotiable, and that they should be done with a view to merging the code. That’s right: merging the new code is the goal of the code review. Now we’ve got that out of the way, here’s my suggestion for making them as easy and painless as possible.

The Three-Tier Comment System in Code Reviews

Code reviews are not about finding bugs. They’re a platform for mentorship, maintaining code quality, and ensuring consistency. However, without a clear structure, they can become confusing and counterproductive. Enter the Three-Tier Comment System. This approach categorises feedback into three distinct categories:

  1. Must Fix Before Merging: These are critical issues that might affect functionality, security, or performance. Examples include security vulnerabilities, logical errors, or breaking changes.
  2. Should Fix in Follow-Up: This category is for improvements that aren’t blockers but are important for the codebase’s health. Think of refactoring opportunities, code readability enhancements, or non-critical performance improvements.
  3. Merely Suggestions: Here, we place the ‘nice-to-haves’ – suggestions that are subjective and entirely up to the developer’s discretion. This could include naming conventions, stylistic preferences, or alternative approaches that don’t necessarily improve performance.

Implementing the Checklist

  1. Clear Guidelines: Share these categories with your team and integrate them into your review process.
  2. Shorthand: Decide on a prefix for each type of comment, I like:
    1. MF – must fix
    2. FL – needs fixing later
    3. NP – nitpick, take it or leave it
    but it’s really up to you and your team.
  3. Training Session: Have a brief session to explain the system and its benefits.

Benefits

  • Clarity and Efficiency: Developers immediately understand the priority and importance of each comment.
  • Focus on Critical Issues: Ensures that major issues are addressed promptly.
  • Encourages Constructive Discussions: Suggestions are recognized as optional, fostering a more open, learning-focused review culture.

Remember, the goal is to balance quality with speed. This simple checklist can dramatically improve the effectiveness of your code reviews, making them a tool for growth and quality assurance rather than a bottleneck.

Code Quality

This week, let’s shift gears and focus on something that benefits us all: code quality. How about we start a team sharing exercise to pool together our best code quality tips?

The Plan:

  • Objective: To gather and share practical tips for improving code quality within our team.
  • Duration: A quick, 15-minute session in our next team meeting.

How to Prepare:

  1. Think of Your Best Tip: What’s one code quality tip you’ve found invaluable? It could be anything from a coding practice to a tool you use.
  2. Prepare to Share: Jot down a brief explanation of your tip and why it works for you.

During the Meeting:

  • Round-Robin Sharing: Each team member gets a minute or two to share their tip.
  • Capture the Gems: We’ll note down all the tips for everyone to access later.

Why This Matters:

  • Collective Wisdom: Our team is diverse, and so is our knowledge. Sharing tips can help us all improve.
  • Continuous Learning: It fosters a culture of learning and knowledge sharing, crucial for our growth.
  • Immediate Impact: These are tips that can be applied right away to make a noticeable difference in our work.
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