Seven Ways to Become a Highly Effective Developer

By Steve Miller

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, written by Stephen R. Covey in 1989, has helped millions of people establish great habits for achieving true interdependent effectiveness in their life and their jobs. This article, Seven Ways to Become a Highly Effective Developer, will discuss the seven habits and frame them for highly effective developers.

The seven habits of highly effective people are:

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the end in mind
  3. Put first things first
  4. Think win/win
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the saw

1. Be Proactive
A developer’s goal in any software project is to ensure that the software is developed to a requirement that meets the customer need and one that produces software that is reusable and maintainable. Below are some ideas for being proactive on software projects:

  • Be Responsible for Great Requirements
    Don’t blame others for poor requirements. Instead, work with the team to fully analyze the requirements to ensure they are complete, accurate and meet the needs of the customer.

  • Analyze Reusability During Design
    When creating a design, many developers look no further than the current requirement for their design. When creating a detailed design for the requirement, the developer should approach it to be used in other ways than fill the existing design need. For example, if you are designing a new system and it has 20 listing screens and 20 edit screens, it would be better to design a single listing and a single edit screen that can accommodate all 20 needs. The screens can look and feel different if needed, but you can still use the same code base by deploying “behaviors” that dictate how the screen operates. By making the screen reusable, you can then build additional listing and edit screens quickly because you are not re-writing code from scratch. It also helps in maintainability because if a major screen flaw is found, you are only fixing a single screen rather than 20 distinct screens.

  • Communicate Effectively
    During development, it is imperative that everyone knows the status of the development effort. Communicate daily status via email or a discussion forum. Discuss any impediments that are keeping you from making progress. Discuss (briefly) what code modules you worked on for the day — this allows others to know what areas you are working in and can proactively alert them if they are also working in an area that might causes issues based on the work you are doing. Below is an example of how a developer logged his status using Software Planner (but you can use any discussion tool you desire), notice that the developer identified the defect numbers he fixed, a general description of the fix and the source code that was affected:

    Software Planner

  • Review Test Plans Before Coding Begins
    A great way to be proactive in decreasing QA time is to have your QA team publish test cases before coding begins. You should require that your developers review the test cases before beginning coding and that they run the test cases prior to shipping the code to QA for testing. This reduces QA time by validating that the test cases have good coverage for the requirement and by bringing to light things that the testers are expecting you to code for (validation issues, bounds, etc.). For this to be effective, you must build time into the project plan for the developers to do this. A good rule of thumb is to build 10% extra time into the project plan for this activity (if the coding is estimated at 200 hours, build 20 hours in for this activity). By doing this, you can expect a 30% decrease in QA time because you will minimize re-work, so the effort is worth the investment.

2. Begin with the End in Mind
Your end goal for a software project should be to deliver high quality software that meets the needs of the client using reusable and maintainable code. Before coding begins, you should make a list of success criteria that you judge the project on. For example, your success criteria may be that the software produces specific results, has no known defects (or a small number of low severity defects), is reusable, is maintainable, is well documented, is easy to use, etc. By defining the success criteria up front, you can objectively evaluate whether the project met the criteria or not. Solicit help from all team members (project managers, product managers, testers, automation engineers, other developers, documentation specialists, etc.) when defining the success criteria. By getting a team perspective of the success criteria, you will have better and more measurable criteria and you will get much better buy-in from the team.

3. Put First Things First
Prioritizing your work effort is critical. You must apply effort to the most important things first, followed by less important things. For example, everyone will generally agree that creating reusable and easily maintainable code is important. However, in an effort to do this, developers have a tendency to “gold plate”. “Gold plating” is when a developer adds bells and whistles to the feature that were not asked for and can easily increase the complexity and estimated hours needed to deliver the work. Be very careful with this. It is great to create reusable code, but it does not have to handle every future scenario that you can dream up. Instead, stick with the stated features needed but organize the code in a way that makes it easy to extend and improve in future releases. As you develop the code, do team code reviews to identify how to better reuse code, to spot troubled code and to reorganize for maximum maintainability.

4. Think Win/Win
In many organizations, development and testing teams play a blame game and create tension between the teams. This can be very disruptive and can greatly affect the quality of the software project and the user experience. The development and testing teams should have a common goal — to ensure that the client receives the software with the highest of quality. If this is a unilateral goal of the team, it makes sense for all team members to provide help and encouragement to each other so that when the software is shipped with high quality and the client is happy, everyone on the team basks in the joy of a happy client. If you want to encourage an environment of trust, respect and foster an win/win team, here are a few tips:

  • Share Knowledge
    Don’t hold your knowledge to yourself, share it with others.
  • Socialize
    Eat lunch with members in different roles in your company. Learn more about them, take a general interest in their hobbies and personal goals.
  • Encourage Others
    Offer congratulations and compliments to team members that you see are doing a great job. Tell your (and their) manager how well you think they are doing. Tell them how much you appreciate their efforts.
  • Help Struggling Team Members
    If you see team members struggling, jump in and offer to help. If you offer, follow through and ensure they get the help they need. You may need help in the future so offering help can foster a win/win relationship for you in the future.

5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Many of us have a bad habit of blocking out a conversation and not listening because we so desperately want our opinion to be heard. Every developer and team member has a different experiences, different perspectives and motivations. Before you can solve any problem, it is important to first listen intently and diligently to fully understand the problem. Once you feel you have all the facts, solicit ideas for multiple solutions. Having several options can provide better discussions and allows team members to tweak initial solutions into solutions that are more far reaching and solve the problem in a more direct way. If you disagree with an approach, don’t attack the person that offered the approach. Instead, explain based on your past experiences why you think there might be a better approach. To get started with this, schedule time weekly for code reviews. Code reviews allow people with different experiences and skill levels to objectively evaluate your coding structure and style and make recommendations for maximum reuse and maintainability. You also will learn a lot in the process and allow yourself to approach challenges in a different way.

6. Synergize
Team collaboration is the key to a synergized team. A synergized team is made up of divergent team members that have different strengths, different backgrounds and different perspectives. Encourage these differences but provide your team with tools that allow you maximize their effectiveness. Highly collaborative teams communicate with each other by sharing their calendars, posting their statuses into discussion forums so that everyone is aware of what the other is doing and accomplishing. These teams keep track of all tasks they work on each day, the number of hours worked, the number of hours remaining and variances to plan. They also share documents that illustrate best practices and produce white papers that teach others what they have learned.

7. Sharpen the Saw
Productive developers see the need to continue honing their skills and love learning new techniques, best practices and approaches. They have a thirst for knowledge, reading every development book they can get their hands on. They also know when to have fun. They recharge their batteries by taking great vacations and by having outside hobbies and activities. Here are a few of our favorite development books:

Resources
Below are some helpful resources and templates to aid you in developing software solutions:

About the Author
Steve Miller is the President of Pragmatic Software. With over 24 years of experience, Steve has extensive knowledge in project management, software architecture and test design. Steve publishes a monthly newsletter for companies that design and develop software.