Thursday, March 19, 2020

Digital by Design, Agility and Data Architecture

For 12 months, starting the summer of 2018, I was very fortunate to fill the data architect role for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador's digital by design citizen facing web portal. An amazing team was brought together and we accomplished an amazing amount of work given the complexity of the environment we were all working. Kudos to the leadership team for seeding the ground and pulling together a diverse and effective group of people.

Being the oldest team member, with 35 years as a technology professional, I noticed a number of items and approaches that I consider the highlights of the project. I call out my 35 years experience because I know success doesn't always happen in a large group of people (with a team larger than 35). A group of strangers doesn't always come together when tasked to ship software on schedule and on budget. The cool part of this project is that the highlights were both technical and project management. In a nutshell, we came together using a scrum model of project management (hosted within JIRA) and architected a microservices technology stack using predominantly Microsoft technologies. The user experience design was exemplary and the software approach stayed aligned with the best of agile practices. We also used a scrum of scrums approach to manage the three distinct scrum teams.

What made this first year of a new project so effective?

The Agile Practices
The team was encouraged to use Agile approaches to successfully ship software. Thankfully, the commitment came from the most senior level and agile workshops were used to align the teams understanding and approach to agile. I consider these three agile practices what kept us all well aligned;
  1. We rigorously stayed with 3 week sprints. This was facilitated by the scrum of scrums group and kept us all focused on shipping working software.
  2. We embraced jira and stayed true to moving cards. It took a few sprints, as a whole we ended up having all the team members updating and moving cards. This, combined with morning standups, kept the team transparency high and important issues in the open.
  3. We always had demo days and retrospectives. This went a long way to keeping us focused and successful. All team members were encouraged to attend the other scrums demo days, this built excitement and kept us focused and moving.
Software Engineering Discipline
Developing software is as much art as it is science. Our team included many accomplished software engineers and this helped us implement features quickly and completely. Kudos are deserved by many on this project team, in particular, one of our technical leads (this is you, Phil) was hellbent and lead through example with two attributes of software engineering that are super important and sometimes missed;
  1. We refactored always, no excuses. As a group we were always learning, as implementing features is a relentless teacher. Improving upon our code base through refactoring kept the quality improving, and the bugs low. Even from a data architecture perspective, at the beginning of each sprint we refactored the data tier with the required data changes from the previous sprint. Data tiers often have different heart beats that the middle and user tiers as they are dependent on the legacy systems, which often have legacy heart beats. This is a blog post in itself...
  2. Automated testing. We automated whenever we could, we aspired to have automated tests with coverage to all our code. We got close by using frameworks and having a test first mind set. And don't underestimate how effective existing testing frameworks can be applied to the data tier.
Architecture was collaborative 
All architects were encouraged to contribute and discuss, we were always white-boarding and soliciting feedback. This kept the architecture strong and well understood throughout the team. And because we had a shared understanding of architecture the refactoring was reduced. All good...