Thoughtful Programming Can Save Days. But Do You Have Time For It?

 

Today I will share an experience in the effects of inflexible software, actually caused by hard work!

We use a SaaS service for our payroll process. Last month, we needed to add a salary component for selected people. We decided that instead of adding it as the pre-defined “Bonus” component, we would name it “KMBonus”.

All good till now. The payroll system allows addition of custom components. Then you download a blank Excel file and upload it back after inserting figures.

We downloaded the template which had a column for KMBonus, along with columns for every other component. This sheet was filled for KMBonus and uploaded back. It failed. No error message, nothing – the page just refreshed silently.

What was wrong? Was it a problem with file format? File size? Number formats? Did columns or sheets or anything get rearranged by mistake? This took a couple hours. When nothing worked, a support issue was filed. It was a weekend.

On Monday, support tried to understand what was wrong. After few hours, and with the file being analyzed, support figured out what was wrong – the uploaded file couldn’t have empty cells/columns while being uploaded back! So, although you wanted to update only KMBonus column, you had to either insert zero into every other cell everywhere, or delete all other columns.

First I was upset – that a simple error message, or documentation on expected file format, would have helped avoid this. Then I realized something else.

Entire payroll for hundreds of people got stuck for a couple days, because the programmer had worked hard – but harder than necessary.

Think about code structure. It would have taken more work, more effort, to put in all this validation – “Check all cells have numbers, ensure none are blank!” Sure, requirements may not have covered this case, so as a programmer I am free to do anything. But if I am free, do I do things after thinking about it – being thoughtful about work? Do I do things for the user – being thoughtful about users? Or do I do things that are just technically correct? Instead of tightening by validation, a simple conceptual foundation would have reduced the programmers’ work and rendered flexibility to user!

Imagine if the conceptual foundation had been: any blank cell means nothing is to be done. If something has a number, update component to that number. Simple.

So when you get a sheet with many cells blank, entire columns blank, ignore the blank ones. And process only the ones with numbers. Did I say simple?

Think of code. This is actually less work, is conceptually clear, and means much more to user! Smart work versus hard work. Saves days of effort for the programmer. And, in our example, a difference of days in payroll processing!

Thoughtful programming is based on common sense. Thoughtful programming reduces work. Thoughtful programming can save the day. Days.

 

Entry-level/Fresher Salary at Mindfire Solutions

 

(Update Sep 20:

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT FALSE CLAIMS IN HIRING:

Mindfire Solutions does NOT employ services of any external organization for our recruitment process, in any role at any stage. We do our OWN hiring COMPLETELY and nobody else – no placement consultant, no recruitment agent, no headhunting firm, no campus coordinator, nobody else at all – is involved in any way at all.

Please do not believe people making false promises to place you at Mindfire Solutions, or to get you an interview slot, or influence hiring in any way – and definitely do not pay anything for such claims. If you do believe and interact with them, it is at your own risk and loss. Mindfire Solutions is not responsible in any way for such interactions.)

 

Quietly.

Quietly, Mindfire has created one of the best packages for freshers, nationwide.

At Mindfire Solutions, we have always believed in providing industry-leading packages for talent. We have raised the bar in 2014 with a lucrative pay package and other elements that will surprise you.

1. Salary
Our uniform entry-level salary for all 2014 technical freshers is Rs 35,000 per month (Rs 4,20,000 per annum). All fixed, all guaranteed. This in itself is perhaps in the top 90%. Whoa! But wait – this is just salary. We have more!

2. Free Tablet
On the day you join, you take home a gift of a tablet (Apple iPad mini 3G or Samsung Galaxy Note 8) worth about Rs 30,000. It belongs to you. A nice little welcome to a new life.

3. Free Insurance
You and your parents/family are eligible for medical insurance, with annual premium up to Rs 6,000 paid by Mindfire, which generally gives you insurance coverage up to Rs 3 lakhs.

4. Free Lunch
For past 8 months, we have had free lunch at all our centers. We do not foresee discontinuation of this facility – people have been thrilled!

5. Zero Bonds
Mindfire is against bonds of any kind. We do not bind you with any bonds, disguised as “service contract” or any clever words. You can walk out at any time if you get a better option for your career/life (with a month’s notice). We wish you well.

6. Zero Deposit
There is no financial deposit of any kind. Neither a bank guarantee or anything. The only thing you need to give is your talent, your energy, your dedication. Everything else is for you to get.

7. Zero Bench
We will get you real work within 6 months of joining. You don’t have to sit idle on bench for 2-3 years, destroying your long-term career and future.

8. 100% Learning
You will learn by doing practical work. You will have active guidance and help and resources, and you will learn by doing and reading and discussing – not by being taught by someone. Being taught is passive, learning yourself is active – the chosen path for winners.

9. 100% Job Security
Mindfire has not had layoffs at any time in its history. Neither in the mega recession of 2000-2002, nor 2009-2010, nor at any other time ever. People are asked to leave only due to individual performance problems, and at 2% it is the lowest in industry. OK, let’s be direct: yes, if you have no interest in work and tech, we will ask you to leave.

10. 100% Stability
Mindfire is a self-funded organization with no bank loans or external debt or borrowing of any kind. We have hundreds of clients spread all over the globe in various industries, which diffuses risk factors and renders us an enviably strong and stable foundation. We have been continuously and comfortably profitable since 15 years.

11. 100% Software Development. Only.
Mindfire is a place for pure software development, nothing else. We do not do production support, technical support, and a zillion other types of work. We take up only work which is software development (programming and testing), so you will always get hardcore tech work only.

 

To Mindfireans: 11 is an odd number. Which item above should we cut (unimportant for freshers) so that it becomes 10? Or which other item can we add to make it a dozen?!

To Software Freshers: we love you if you love tech. As you can see above, Mindfire will give you a lot. The only thing you need to give is your talent and time. Do come on over and apply for the best IT/software jobs at http://www.mymindfire.in/AddMyProfile.aspx!

But shh, quiet. Don’t tell your friends where you found the best opportunity. Don’t tell them about Mindfire.

Shh.

 

 

Thank God It’s Friday – Mindfire Style!

 

At Mindfire, we recently had a proposal to have one day of the week as “Work From Home” (WFH) for everyone.

A day working at home would allow a day’s escape from the commute. It would enable flexibility in planning personal stuff, including spending time with family.

The ideal day was Friday. Practically, it would mean Fridays blending seamlessly into the weekend, and undiluted weekends. People with family few hours away could travel overnight on Thursday, work from home on Fridays, and have two full days at home. And it would make Fridays a little more fun and a little more free!

Awesome! Doable? Hmm.

We shared the idea with people at our Bangalore center, to gauge response and interest. It quickly became obvious that people loved it! Given Bangalore’s epic traffic and commute problems, it was not surprising that most people preferred to avoid the roads.

Of course, there are some problems. Some people may have connectivity issues and actually prefer to work in office. Some people may have hardware or device-dependent work which cannot be taken home. Some work may need bandwidth which is not available at home. And certain work (such as Hiring) simply has to be done at office.

But there are enabling factors. First is our 100% laptop environment, which allows both mobility and reduces power-cut issues due to battery backup. Second is availability of cheap and reliable Internet connections. Third is the Mindfire culture – of being outcome-oriented instead of needing to see people sitting at their desks.

There is the gnawing problem of unfairness for people who cannot enjoy Friday WFH because their work cannot be done from home. Will they enjoy the joy of others? Or will they hate a facility they are excluded from?

It is a balanced risk. People understand if they have work issues at home, they need to rush to office. People also understand that freedom and flexibility come with responsibility. And that good things come hard, but go easy!

To test the waters, we are rolling this out at our Bangalore center from August 22, Friday.

This is a trial, an experiment in Work 2.0. If there are problems with work, it will have to be discontinued. If it works, it will be rolled out at our Bhubaneswar and Delhi centers as well. Helping positive ideas succeed enables us to do more, to move forward, while failing takes us a step backward.

 

Will it work? I will update what we find out! Life is discovery.

 

Pre-paid Salary: The Shocking Result of Our Poll

Few days back I wrote about salary traditionally being paid after work is done (end of month), and how it could possibly be paid in advance of the month as pre-paid salary.

After that, we ran a poll with 600+ people inside Mindfire. This was not an academic poll – it was an actual serious offer to change salary to be on pre-paid basis. The result was pretty much certain – people would obviously always want salary as soon as possible, and before the month – before work is done – is sweeter than honey. Obvious, right? Right?

Wrong!

The results are an absolute surprise.

About 70% people voted. Of those, 60% people voted for salary at end of month – same as today! 7% voted for salary in middle of the month, and 33% voted for salary before the month begins. If you regard the 30% absentees as voting in favor of status quo, it is a straight majority for post-paid salary, at 72%!

I have no idea why people do not want salary before work is done. Maybe it is self-respect. Maybe it is maturity. Maybe it is to be in sync with rest of the world. Maybe they trust Mindfire and salary is not an issue. Maybe people see no reason to do it, and no benefit of doing it. Maybe there is no need for (earlier) money.

One thing I do know: thankfully we didn’t just start pre-paid salary without asking people for their choice. It was dead simple “obvious” and “certain” that people would like it, so we could have just rolled it out in the comfortable assumption that people would appreciate it. But asking people allowed us to get true pulse. And now we know better – people don’t want it. And there ends this adventure!

Lesson learnt: it is dangerous to assume, even on seemingly “obvious” things. The world is full of surprises!

 

PS: It would be interesting to run similar polls in different organizations, and check what patterns emerge. If you happen to run it in your team, do let me know how things go!

 

Product Engineering

Product Engineering and User Experience process.

What is Product Engineering?

Product engineering is known as the process to develop or design, system or a device such that the product is treated as an item for sale or to be used by various people. When a product is being developed, there is a lot of work and technology involved in the development process. This overall process is called as product engineering. Product engineering is usually called as an activity dealing with issues of cost, reproducibility, quality, performance, reliability, serviceability and user features. If the process goes through a proper creative way the outcome is awesome.

The term product engineering is; developing the concept and the design of the product and development of its mechanical, electronics and software components. For example: developing a smartphone. Now-a-days smartphones are very popular in the market and a lot of new and old companies in the way of competition, give away better product feature to customers. A product like smartphone includes a set of different features like designing the body, it’s hardware components, packaging it in a small space, developing the electronics that controls the various components and lastly developing the software which will operate all the features of smartphone known as the Operating System.

Here are some skills taken care for product engineering process
– Product statistical methods and tools
– Hi-tech manufacturing process
– Product reliability and user research
– Computer-aided design and simulation programs
– Strong knowledge product platform which the product will use
– Strong analytic work methodology and problem solving skills

In software industry, the term Product Engineering is used as development process of a software or an application. From making of prototype to final release of the application process, it is called as product engineering of the application.

Product engineering of an application. Points that everyone should follow:
– Prototyping of the complete application. (Visual Concept)
– Structural designing or User Interface designing.
– UI or Front end development. (What browser or compiler will read?)
– Backed or functional development. (Through which user will carry out work.)
– End user testing and bug fixing.
– Final product delivery.
This depicts the entire process for a successful web, desktop or mobile app.

What is user experience?

User experience is combination of two words, “user” and “experience”. The experience of a user towards a product or an application is called as User Experience. UX or User Experience in other term can be explained as the emotion of a user when he/she uses it. It may be good or bad. The good experience of user towards a product plays a vital role in the product’s success.

Let me give you a simple example. “One day at night you came to know that you have to reach office early in the morning at 7AM the next day to attend a meeting. For that you set your alarm at 6AM and go to bed. When you wake up in the morning and see that it is already 6.30 AM and the alarm hasn’t rung. You found that, the alarm is off due to battery drain out. You rush to the coffee vending machine for a cup of coffee but only to find out that there is no coffee. You could trace out that the machine is not connected to the power source. In the process you have already lost some time.

Then you get ready for office in 10 mins. While going to office by your car you face a lot of traffic for some unexpected reason. Then you notice that you are running out of fuel. So, you have to drive to a nearby petrol pump only to find out that the petrol pump does not have a card swipe machine. You rush to a nearby ATM and withdraw money. Finally, after fighting out so many obstacles, you reach office only to find out that the lift you use to take daily to reach to 5th floor does not work. Then you are forced to take the stairs and when you reach you find that the meeting is over and your colleagues have started work.
If everything would have fallen in place, you would have never missed the meeting.

The software or system that misguides you and does not help you achieve your goal is an example of bad user experience. Example – Google mail is most popular web application than other mail client for its good user experience. I personally like Google+ than Facebook because of its user friendly features and faster response. Looks doesn’t matter in the process of user experience. Please look at the two images which is called Donald Norman (design and usability engineer) Coffee Mug.

Norman-CoffeePotMasochistNorman-TiltingTeapot-H

User experience has a vital role in software product engineering. Deep user research is key to success for better user experience. Taxi for Sure – A Driver app developed by a start-up company in Bangalore is a very famous app for taxi drivers. People use it for daily for hiring taxis. This free mobile app is very popular due to its user experience.

Key concept for better user experience.
– Deep user research. Feel the user motion
– Minimal and clean design of application
– Less page loading time
– Quick navigation through the functionalities
– Readable typography
– Minimum page refresh
– Avoid long loading graphics
– Graphical representation of functionality, by which user can understand the function easily without reading long text description.
– End user testing with exact devices.

Happy Designing 🙂

 

 

 

Why is Salary paid after Work is done?

Since my first job a couple decades ago, I have always been intrigued by a tradition in the world of work. It is so embedded in our minds and expectations that we don’t question it.

Salary for a month is always paid at end of that month. Sounds simple, right? But my question is: why?!? Why is salary paid after work is done? Let us look at this from various points of view.

 

Unknown Amount
In case of electricity, water, phones – you have to pay based on consumption. These have to be paid after the month, because it is not known how much you will consume during the month. Makes absolute sense. But salary for the most part is known and predictable – correct?

Trust
In real estate, you pay rent before a month begins. It may seem like the owner is trusting you with his house, so they expect pre-paid rent in exchange of that trust. In reality, it may just mean that the owner doesn’t trust you. In case of organizations and people working in those organizations, sure the organization is trusting you with its work. But aren’t people trusting the organization with their skills/energy/time? What if the organization shuts down, or willfully defaults on paying salary of people? Did that one month of work go waste? Should the organization have a larger heart in trusting people, or should people be required to trust the organization?

Risk
Sometimes, organizations delay or do not pay salary stating that customers have not paid yet. True, possible, and sad. But should business risk be transferred on to people working with the organization? Unless I am an owner, why should customer and business risk be forcibly transferred on to me? How does it matter to my effort-salary expectation, if customers have not paid?

Economics
A month’s fixed-deposit gets you about 6% annual interest, or 0.5% monthly. By paying salary at end of month, an organization gains 0.5% of the month’s salary. On a salary of Rs 40,000 a month, we are talking about Rs 200, which doesn’t sound big. But look at it two other ways. One, take 500 people, and we are looking at Rs 100,000 as the financial benefit, which doesn’t sound low any more. Second, from a person’s individual perspective, Rs 200 has tangible value. So the question is: should the organization be enjoying this economic benefit, known as the “time value of money”? Or should people be enjoying it?

Power
In business, power play dictates timing of payment. At one end, large companies put smaller vendors on net-30, net-60 days payment as a signal of power. At other end, suppliers insist on advance payment when they know their stuff is selling like hot cakes and demand is greater than supply. It is a power game. In today’s world of work, especially in industries that are people-heavy such as IT/software companies, do organizations have more power or do people? All such organizations profess a philosophy of “people first” – shouldn’t they put their money where their mouth is?

Need
Organizations need money for ongoing operations. This is known as “working capital”. Well, do people not need money for ongoing lives? Who needs it earlier, who needs it more? Who has the wherewithal to raise required finances easier? By paying for work at end of month, an organization successfully delays its need for finances (for salary) by a month, easing its working capital requirements. But whose need should have higher priority?

History, and Everyone
The human mind is trained by history. We do not question practices when “that’s how things always have been” and “that’s how everyone else does it”. We know in our gut that if there were only one way to do a thing, the Kamasutra would never have been written. And we know in our gut that if things were always done how everyone else does it, Apple and Steve Jobs would have never thought different. But both these things afford a sense of comfort, of familiarity, like an old warm blanket on a cold wintry night. Isn’t it safer to just stick around, than to stick out? Why question and rock the boat?

 

Conclusion
Someone asked George Mallory – “Why do you want to climb Mt Everest”? And he replied – “Because it’s there”. Some things don’t have rationale, you do them because you WANT to do them.

Similarly, some other things don’t have rationale, you do them because you CAN do them. I will leave you with this depressing conclusion: there is no logic or rationale. Organizations pay salary after work has been done simply because – Because they can!

Opinion
Personally, I believe that if a person is contributing his or her time and energy and effort to a greater group (the organization), the person has more at stake than the organization. And if you see my thought process on each point above, I am obviously in favor of salary being paid before work is done.

 

What do you think? Is it time to change this practice, to establish a new order? Is it time for salary to be pre-paid?

 

How to Approach Automation?

Test Automation

Automation, in true sense, relieves the person from manual efforts by regulating the repetitive tasks to an extent. Automation is the preferred choice in most industries and software may also be brought into the circle of automation, but without deviating from its actual definition. Automation should not become a costly affair for an engineer to perform.

So, here comes the big question: How to approach Automation? “

That brings us to the basics of Automation, i.e. what and when to automate. It is not possible to automate everything in software; however test scenarios those are time consuming and executed repeatedly can be considered for automation. GUI items, Business Critical test cases, connections with database, data validation generally make good automation stuff. Test automation should be done when the projects are large and critical to business, requires frequent regression testing, requirements are not changing frequently, load and performance tests needs to be included, and most importantly project build is stable.

It is required to follow a proper approach to create and execute automation test script so as to increase the efficiency in automating the software. Firstly, define the scope of automation, taking in view the test scenarios to be tested, technical feasibility, complexity and priority of selected tests. After defining the scope, test tool selection should be made depending upon the software interface and technology used. A proper framework is needed to execute automation scripts, so the framework implementation on the selected test tool should be undertaken.

Automation Steps

Tests always run in well-configured environment that supports the tool. Hence, configure the environment correctly and then related test data preparation should be done, to avoid any risks due to invalid data giving inaccurate results.

Automated test development consists prioritizing of test cases to be automated, writing of automation scripts, mapping those scripts with test cases and creating elaborate test suite. Tests then can be run either by using the Test tool or Test Management tools with test data as input and generate test reports for the analysis of the result. Test execution should always be supported and monitored to ensure it is done as per the scope of the automation. Lastly, maintenance of the scripts is done. With every build, scripts need to be added, modified or deleted to make the automation efforts optimally effective.

Therefore, we can maximize the potential of efforts made into automation by strategically planning the automation process. It is always advisable to correct the shortcomings in any process as early as possible to avoid unprecedented repercussion if same is done in later stages, as evident in case of software development models.

Happy Testing !

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

This truism is applicable to all, whether it is an individual or a company. The various facets which confluence to make an entity great render to it a unique flavor, one that cannot be copied completely. The innovative practices at Mindfire Solutions contribute towards its uniqueness and differentiate it from its peers in the software industry. Here’s how.

My last blog was on the 2 minute innovation where I told you how Mindfire Solutions follows a unique project status communication practice which makes use of rich media to communicate the day’s progress to the client. In this blog you will get to know yet another innovative best practice followed at Mindfire Solutions. Ever heard of the term collective intelligence? No? Well, simply put, it means 2 is better than 1. Only, in our case 700 is better than 1. This is an approach aimed at solving individual queries by the combined knowledge of an organization.

We all know that the true value of an organization can be closely gauged from what lies between their employees’ ears. And Mindfire Solutions not only encourages its employees to broaden their horizons but also gives them the scope to make the best use of it by fostering a culture of sharing. As time passed, number of projects increased and Mindfire’s numbers and ranks swelled, realization dawned that although the collective knowledge of the organization was increasing linearly the individual knowledge was more or less limited to his own area of expertise. Owing to a demanding work scenario and paucity of time there was hardly any scope to learn more at an individual level. In an organization where knowledge is treated as the most important asset, productivity would get a quantum boost if there was some way in which the information about the knowledge and skills of an individual can be shared with another individual in need.

And then a unique knowledge management practice was developed in Mindfire Labs and christened as Fluid Expertise. Based on his need, a Mindfirean can use this system to search on the particular topic and then get the content results as well as the list of colleagues who can help. The database for this project consists of the user profiles of all the employees (which include their expertise, blog links, seminars conducted, articles, projects, team space etc.) as well as the articles, tips, case studies etc. contributed by them and available on the website. The search results will be displayed to the user in his browser in a 2 part sectioned format. While the upper half contains the people search results (in this case Mindfire’s in-house subject matter experts), the lower half contains the results from a Google customized search. The user can then choose to proceed according to his wish, i.e. contact the expert on a communication window or click on the pages as suggested by Google.

How the system works?

The system either crawls through the website or parses text/html, word documents and PDFs and considers the content for further processing. Again in order to match the query against the document the text in the document is indexed. The match can be done against the URL, title or the description/content of the page and when the user clicks on the URL the content will be displayed.   As is expected, a lot of inputs are required to find out the top ten subject matter experts on a particular topic. And because we have too many inputs it becomes imperative to decide which among these inputs are primary and which ones are secondary. The primary inputs help in choosing the top 10 people and thereafter, the primary and secondary inputs both are used to rank them. The secondary inputs don’t have a role to play until the top helpful persons have been selected. The decision as to what could constitute the primary and secondary factors are left to the system owner’s discretion.

Following are some of the factors that contribute greatly in people search listing:

1. Content: Content has to be the most important factor to judge the level of an individual’s expertise. With the help of an open source indexing engine and a compatible server which helps add easy interfaces to add/update/query documents and pump more data, an expert’s contribution is closely gauged in his area of expertise.

2. Number of User clicks: For a specific search the system will track which links has been clicked by which user and which expert has been contacted by which user. This knowledge will be useful for predicting the result for the user thereby providing personalized search experience.

3. Peer Endorsement: In this case the system will take time to learn from user input and suggest right people and direct the user to the expert. To address this, there will be an offline input mechanism where employees should be able to specify who is an expert in which area. This will also form a part of the database.

4. User Feedback: While designing the system we realized that there should be an offline data collection mechanism to know whether contacting a person helped, in short a feedback is sought. Initially the system gives a default people rank to everybody. After collecting inputs from various users the people rank increases or decreases accordingly.

5. Interconnections: This factor varies from person to person. As the name suggests, these variables play a role to decide how easy it is for A to connect with B. This is determined based on the fact whether the 2 users belong to same team, same project, same center, same team space etc.

6. Previous search: To get this data the system should be able to store old searches by users and match the current search against old search and find relevant experts to solve the query.

In order to get near accurate rankings of the resident experts at Mindfire Solutions these parameters are constantly monitored and at times subjected to minor changes to give an appropriate listing. And in this way we make use of information readily available to not only solve client issues but also increase our knowledge base on a particular topic by learning it from the guru himself.

These systems and processes at Mindfire Solutions make it robust inside out. And when a customer engages with Mindfire Solutions, although he would interact with a small team, he would definitely feel the depth of knowledge in his work which is largely due to the collective intelligence behind it. That is what contributes to making Mindfire Solutions an enviable organization to work with and work for. Who wouldn’t?

Why Automation – Is it worth?

Automation Testing

Automated testing is need of the hour. Possibilities of the automation, apart from custom manual testing, are being analyzed for every other application now-a-days. It is preferred to manual testing due to several factors such as improved accuracy of tests, wider test coverage, more reliable results and above all, it saves time and cost rapidly.

Testing manually, on the other hand, is time consuming and error prone, hence can result in defects being left out. Having said that, I would like to analyze the positives of automated testing over manual as is generally said. Basically, it’s not always advisable to automate the AUT (Application under test) as opposed to prevalent myth about automation.

Automation can be accurate in giving reliable results with wider test coverage while saving time and cost, but this may not always be the case with all AUTs. Imagine the AUT with ever-evolving requirements and dynamic webpages. Here, Automation may be accurate with wider test coverage but will consume much more time and cost giving unreliable results due to system instability. In case of UI based AUT, if design changes frequently the automation is strictly discouraged. Further, choosing an inappropriate tool can lead to reduced efficiency as tool selection largely depends upon the technology used in the AUT.

It can be said that automation is the best way to increase the effectiveness, efficiency and test coverage of testing but only when proper analysis of AUT is made before shifting to it, else certainly a bad idea if its objective is not clear. Also, deciding on what to automate is most vital task before planning any automation process to follow. It is not possible to automate everything ; nevertheless modules that are stable and are manually tested at least once should be taken for automation. Test Cases that are executed repeatedly and consume time could be a priority, making the automation best suited for regression testing or retesting of the fixed issues. Descriptive test cases that are clearly explained are automatable and not the vague ones. Apart from regression, it can test stress, load and performance of the AUT.

Hence, Automation should be taken up only after analyzing the AUT and determining if the automation will actually be time and cost effective or otherwise.

2MV-Final

The 2 Minute Innovation

And before you come to a seemingly easy conclusion, let me be very clear. I am definitely not talking about Nestle’s Maggi noodles which can be cooked in about just two minutes. So what could be the 2 minute innovation? Ever heard of 2MV (short for 2 minute video) as a daily reporting tool? Possibly NO! Allow me then to introduce you to the 2MV Habit that is religiously followed at Mindfire Solutions.

About the 2MV:

The 2MV Habit is a unique practice followed at Mindfire Solutions. This was exclusively designed to address problems that are typical to outsourcing/off-shoring/remote software development companies. The common problems pestering this industry are:

  • lack of visibility in true daily work progress,
  • absence of the human factor,
  • lack of synchronous communication owing to different time zones and
  • unavailability of rich communication possibilities (email and documents have their own limitations)

We call it the 2MV Habit because it is a daily practice wherein the developer records his daily progress in the form of 2 minute long videos that are actually screen-casts (videos of the screen) with the audio commentary by the developer. This could also include a little bit of code browsing as well.

So how does it differ from emails/documents?

The use of video/media differentiates 2MV from an email/document by creating software engineering artifacts that are rich in information. After some initial hiccups the developer realizes that while he can make a 2MV in 2 minutes, he would take around 5 minutes to draft an email/document. However, on the flip side, while the contents of an email/document can be scanned in a minimum 10 seconds time, it would actually take 2 minutes to go through a 2MV.

How the 2MV works?

Clients can log in to Mindfire Solutions’ cloud based project management system with the credentials that are provided to them at the time of on-boarding. Successful login takes the client to the 2MV home page wherein all recent activity is listed as a stream of events. One can then view the 2MVs by clicking on the 2MV icon which renders a flash / HTML5 player and plays the video on the homepage. Comments can be made from the event stream itself. There are also options in the account menu to change the email preferences on new 2MV upload, note addition, transcription addition and resetting of password etc.

2MV workflow

Benefits of using the 2MV Habit:

  • Giving demos daily helps the developer to view the work from the user’s perspective
  • The developers feels accountable to produce demonstrable work every day
  • The human voice renders a personal touch and helps forge better relationships in a remote team environment
  • It also helps the developers bond better with the testers bringing in better coordination between teams
  • Easier, faster and better daily status reporting
  • Instills a sense of ownership in the developer as the 2MV carries their personal signature
  • Rich knowledge base with visible gradual evolution of software and codebase
  • Any misunderstanding with respect to requirements or specs is detected at an early stage and fixed accordingly
  • Easier, faster and better transition to new team members whether in case of attrition or scaling up the existing team
  • Better insulation from human risks in team

A 2MV experience:

Let’s be honest. Everyone was not really enthusiastic when the 2MV was launched. As with just about anything that is new, there was some resistance to 2MV initially from one of the project teams. This was mainly because they were not comfortable recording the video (Ironically, they assumed it would take them more than 20 minutes to record a 2MV). Also they wanted to hang on to the traditional methods of email and online meetings with the client as they believed that they could email faster than record the day’s work in 2 minutes. Before panning it completely, they were coaxed to give it a try, one last time. And then the rest is history. The client loved this mode of communication and decided to use this method instead of emails and meetings. This helped them cut down time spent on meetings. Finding a time suitable for both the development team and the client was again a hindrance, but the 2MV helped get rid of it. The developer could record his day’s work before he left and the client could review it whenever/wherever he wanted to using any device (desktop/laptop/handheld). In this particular case (and as with most other cases), the client not only applauded Mindfire’s effort but also gave valuable feedback that we incorporated subsequently.

For a company that is ONLY into offshore small team software development, Mindfire Solutions offers its clients this unique status reporting tool that not only adds a personal touch but is also a rich repository of evolving project information. One of our clients commented that:

“We’d just like to say what a great idea the 2 minute video is in maintaining a good relationship between us and Mindfire. It is often difficult to build a personable relationship over such a distance but we feel this definitely helps! Seeing the developer’s computer screen brings things closer and enhances trust and support.”

Yet another client found 2MV to be an interesting concept and was of the opinion that:

“A 2-min video is best for more general info and UI demonstration.”

As for our developers, most of them appreciate Mindfire Solutions for this initiative as it has helped them better their communication skills. The fact that the client can add comment in the 2MV itself makes the communication very clear and less time consuming. One of them said, I have also spotted some issues in my code while making the 2 MV at the EOD. So, it’s like testing the whole thing you have worked on before you leave for the day :)”

And when I asked another developer how the 2MV is a mutually beneficial initiative he said,

“It helps to make changes on the work from the beginning as client provides feedback on the work from the scratch level where as in text emails client sends changes/fixes only after seeing the complete task on stage and its sometime difficult for the client to visualize the work from text and provide feedback. Also it helps the client in decision making whether or not to continue/pause the current functionality and jump to some urgent fixes.”

As 2MV is increasingly becoming popular as a project status reporting tool, it would not come as a big surprise if clients begin to choose this as a preferred mode of communication over email and skype. We surely live in interesting times!

(N.B. : There are many such practices at Mindfire Solutions. Watch this space for more innovative techniques/processes practiced at Mindfire Solution. We use technology to be efficient!)