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Simon Cooper Peering into the depths of .NET

Within each division in Red Gate, development effort is structured around one or more project teams; currently, each division contains 2-3 separate teams. These are self contained units responsible for a particular development project.

Project team structure

The typical size of a development team varies, but is normally around 4-7 people - one project manager, two developers, one or two testers, a technical author (who is responsible for the text within the application, website content, and help documentation) and a user experience designer (who designs and prototypes the UIs) . However, team sizes can vary from 3 up to 12, depending on the division and project. As an rule, all the team sits together in the same area of the office.

(Again, this is my experience of what happens. I haven't worked in the DBA division, and SQL Tools might have changed completely since I moved to .NET. As I mentioned in my previous post, each division is free to structure itself as it sees fit.)

Depending on the project, and the other needs in the division, the tech author and UX designer may be shared between several projects. Generally, developers and testers work on one project at a time. If the project is a simple point release, then it might not need a UX designer at all. However, if it's a brand new product, then a UX designer and tech author will be involved right from the start.

Developers, testers, and the project manager will normally stay together in the same team as they work on different projects, unless there's a good reason to split or merge teams for a particular project. Technical authors and UX designers will normally go wherever they are needed in the division, depending on what each project needs at the time.

In my case, I was working with more or less the same people for over 2 years, all the way through SQL Compare 7, 8, and Schema Compare for Oracle. This helped to build a great sense of camaraderie wihin the team, and helped to form and maintain a team identity. This, in turn, meant we worked very well together, and so the final result was that much better (as well as making the work more fun).

How is a project started and run?

The product manager within each division collates user feedback and ideas, does lots of research, throws in a few ideas from people within the company, and then comes up with a list of what the division should work on in the next few years. This is split up into projects, and after each project is greenlit (I'll be discussing this later on) it is then assigned to a project team, as and when they become available (I'm sure there's lots of discussions and meetings at this point that I'm not aware of!). From that point, it's entirely up to the project team.

Just as divisions are autonomous, project teams are also given a high degree of autonomy. All the teams in Red Gate use some sort of vaguely agile methodology; most use some variations on SCRUM, some have experimented with Kanban. Some store the project progress on a whiteboard, some use our bug tracker, others use different methods. It all depends on what the team members think will work best for them to get the best result at the end.

From that point, the project proceeds as you would expect; code gets written, tests pass and fail, discussions about how to resolve various problems are had and decided upon, and out pops a new product, new point release, new internal tool, or whatever the project's goal was. The project manager ensures that everyone works together without too much bloodshed and that thrown missiles are constrained to Nerf bullets, the developers write the code, the testers ensure it actually works, and the tech author and UX designer ensure that people will be able to use the final product to solve their problem (after all, developers make lousy UI designers and technical authors).

Projects in Red Gate last a relatively short amount of time; most projects are less than 6 months. The longest was 18 months. This has evolved as the company has grown, and I suspect is a side effect of the type of software Red Gate produces. As an ISV, we sell packaged software; we only get revenue when customers purchase the ready-made tools. As a result, we only get a sellable piece of software right at the end of a project. Therefore, the longer the project lasts, the more time and money has to be invested by the company before we get any revenue from it, and the riskier the project becomes. This drives the average project time down.

Small project teams are the core of how Red Gate produces software, and are what the whole development effort of the company is built around. In my next post, I'll be looking at the office itself, and how all 200 of us manage to fit on two floors of a small office building.

Cross posted from Simple Talk. Posted on Thursday, June 2, 2011 5:27 PM Inside Red Gate | Back to top

Comments on this post: Inside Red Gate - Project teams

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This is truly one of the posts that really helps you with your issues. I have a hard time copying config files because of the time it takes to complete the job. Hopefully, this will answer all my queries and take the monkey off my back. - Guy Riordan
Left by Guy Riordan on Jan 07, 2012 3:03 AM

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