The fourteen stages of any real software project

Posted by bert hubert Sun, 16 Nov 2008 21:21:00 GMT

  1. Idea - estimates for time to completion range from 3 days to 3 weeks
  2. Pretty convincing first stab ‘look how cool this would be’
  3. The Hard Slog to get something that actually works. Estimates now range from 3 months to 3 years.
  4. First real users pop up, discovery is made that all assumptions were off
  5. Starts to look good to the first real user
  6. Elation!
  7. Someone actually uses the code it for real, the bugs come out in droves
  8. A zillion bugs get addressed, harsh words are spoken
  9. Elation!
  10. The guy you had previously told that 100 million users would not ‘in principle’ be a problem actually took your word for it, and deployed it on said user base. Harsh words are spoken.
  11. Fundamentals are reviewed, large fractions of the code base reworked
  12. Product now actually does what everybody hoped it would do.
  13. Even very unlikely bugs have cropped up by now, and have been addressed. Even rare use cases are now taken into account.
  14. If a user complains of a crash at this stage, you can voice doubts about the quality of his hardware or operating system.

PowerDNS went through all these stages, and took around 5 years to do so. Not all parts are at ‘stage 14’ yet, but for the Recursor, I seriously ask people to run ‘memtest’ if they report a crash.

The above 14 points are never traversed without users that care. For PowerDNS, step ‘4’ was performed by Amaze Internet and step ‘7’ by ISP Services. 1&1 (called Schlund back then) was instrumental in step ‘10’ when they started using it on millions of domains.

For the PowerDNS Recursor, steps ‘4’ and ‘7’ not only happened over at XS4ALL, but they also paid for it all!

Step ‘10’ occurred over at AOL and Neuf Cegetel, who together connected the Recursor to 35 million subscribers or so.

Finally, the parts of PowerDNS that have reached the end of the list above have done so because of literally hundreds if not thousands of operators that have made the effort to report their issues, or voice their wishes.

Many thanks to everybody!

Hmm, the above does not sound very professional..

I’ve heard the theory that some people think they can plan software development more professionally. I used to believe them too. But any real project I’ve heard of went through the stages listed above. No schedule, no Microsoft Project sheet, no Gantt Chart I know about ever even came close to reality.

But I’d love to be wrong, because I agree fully that it would be great if software development was more predictable.

This is especially true since the aforementioned “process” necessarily involves several very committed users, who have to voice the harsh words, but do have to stick with the project.

So please comment away if your real life experiences are different - I’d love to hear!

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