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Video: Breaking Brooks's Law

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Fred Brooks’s law of adding manpower to a late software project makes it later is one most of us have tried to prove wrong... and failed!

I was at Agile 2008 and saw an interesting session, “Breaking Brooks’s Law” from Menlo Innovations, a Michigan based Java development company. They claimed to disprove this law and demonstrated their working environment and techniques that allowed them to do so.

Although the presentation was only 45 minutes, we were in the room for almost 2 hours asking questions to determine how robust their techniques were, and to gain more insight into the conditions developers work under.

Menlo’s results are based on a 3 year project that the customer had a deadline to demonstrate at a show. More features were required for the show than currently in the plan. So rather than re-prioritize, Menlo decided to add more developers to attempt to complete the work. They managed to complete the Project on time with all added functionality.

The environment at Menlo is quite unique. All developers are co-located in the same large room (no offices or cubes) and pair program 100% of the time - they follow strict XP practices. A scheduling team determines which projects developers work on and who they pair with on a weekly basis. So developers work with different team members and possibly different projects every week.

Also, as part of the contract, the customer comes to Menlo every week to prioritize the work for the next sprint.

These techniques may appear somewhat draconian (for example 100% paring). I managed to catch up with the team and interview them to discuss this project further, bug rates, staff attrition rates and how Project Managers can push the message of pairing to Senior Managements/Directors.


Published at DZone with permission of its author, Richard Sharpe.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Jeroen Wenting replied on Mon, 2008/10/13 - 1:28am

"The environment at Menlo is quite unique. All developers are co-located in the same large room (no offices or cubes) and pair program 100% of the time "

Apart from the pair programming (which is an impossible way to work in my experience), that's not unique at all. In fact I've hardly ever worked in an environment where project teams did not share a single large room (or at most a room per subteam).

It might be an uncommon system in the US, but the US isn't the entire world. Open plan offices are the norm here rather than the exception.
And they can be a terrible burden on productivity as well as helping it as they tend to be noisy places with constant distraction and nowhere to withdraw to concentrate on a tough problem or some research (with the result that people needing to do that tend to work from home when needed).

Robert DiFalco replied on Wed, 2008/10/15 - 11:53am

I'm sorry, I don't know all the details. But a three year project that is just now in production? How is that a good example of anything?

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