But I’m Not In Customer Service…

I’m going to start with a confession before hopping on my soap box. I was recently copied in on a couple of emails going back and forth with a customer. I wasn’t overwhelmed by our responses, in fact there were quite a few things I would have changed, the information was accurate but it wasn’t conveyed particularly well. I was about to get involved when I had the thought “But I’m not in customer service…”

All I can say is that I’m extremely glad I didn’t say those words out loud, as soon as my internal monologue had paused for breath I realised just how little sense it was making. We are ALL in the business of customer service!

In most corporations we’re split into various teams, often with complimentary skills. We are then given goals and objectives to complete. The majority of my time is spent supporting my team and working with upcoming releases. On a day to day basis I don’t speak to our customers that frequently (unless we’re collaborating on a new feature or UAT obviously).

Does that mean I’m not in the business of customer service?

Does that mean that I don’t need to consider the customer?

Absolutely not!

Aside from the fact that it’s our customers who pay my salary as a developer the entire goal of my working day is to provide a high quality product to our customers. There are many parts of that, a good design, a high quality implementation, but also the marketing and support we provide to our customers.

If you were searching the app store and you found two equivalent 99p applications one with beautiful screenshots and another with bad grammar, typos, and a vague feature list which would you invest your money in?

If you were making the decision for a multi-million pound software investment would you rather work with the team who fob off your questions or the one one who can provide high quality answers?

Now, I’m not saying that we all need to move into marketing and join the OU’s customer service courses. But I do believe that we all need to remember that the reason our business is operating is because we have customers – providing a good service to them is in ALL of our remits from the developers to the accountants and everyone in between. Build your features with the customers’ frame of mind, write your email with the phrasing you’d like to receive and let’s not any of us mutter the phrase “but I’m not in customer service!”

Why Do Most Projects Finish Late?

I’m currently reading Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn, one of the things he discusses in the early chapters is why so many of projects fall behind. Many of his ideas fall in line with Eli Goldratt’s thinking in The Goal and what is described as The First Way in The Phoenix Project.

Mike discusses Parkinson’s Law which postulates that work will always take the time allocated to it. In other words if you’ve got a project and a deadline you won’t finish early because you’ll use the remaining time to refine, improve, and polish the work.

He also discusses an idea raised in The Goal where tasks are dependent on each other. In Eli Goldratt’s book Alex realises the importance of interdependencies when he takes the boy scouts walking through the woods. Cohn uses the example of developers and testers and how the person doing the QA cannot begin until the functionality has been created.

If you combine these two theories you realise that if tasks only run late, never early and the subsequent tasks can never begin until the previous one has finished you end up with an ever slipping schedule. If each task misses it’s deadline 10% of the time then once you’ve multiplied up by the number of tasks the probability that your delivery will run late climbs very quickly towards a statistical certainty!

So what can we do about this? Build in contingency? This is a risky strategy as if the team (or even you) know that there’s flexibility built into the schedule then the work will continue to consume all available time.

One approach I’ve heard a lot more recently is to allow projects to be constrained by either time or feature lists but never both. In a time based approach functionality is ranked in order of importance and when the clock runs out the project is delivered (regardless of whether or not all features are complete). In a feature driven release (for example in a lean MVP project) then the team will continue to work until all features have been completed – regardless of how long that takes.

Personally I’m much more of a fan of the first approach. By keeping this prioritised list transparent with the clients and stakeholders you can work on exactly the right work. Your work is cut when the time runs out (rather than adding low value features and running over) and one of my favourite reasons for adopting it – if a project does take less time than you expect your client gets more functionality for their money instead of feeling ripped off by inflated estimates, that’s something I’d certainly appreciate as a customer!

What do you think? How do you agree on project deadlines and commitments?

Using ExtensionMethods with Moq to Make Your Unit Tests More Readable

As you may have noticed from last week’s post I’ve been doing a lot of Unit Testing work recently. The product I’m working on is huge and very complex and this makes Unit Testing (as well as general coding) a real challenge. I’ve decided to write a more technical post this week focusing on a trick I’ve found which I believe really helps improve the quality of your tests.

One of the tools we’re using is Moq, a mocking framework (much like RhinoMocks or NSubstitute (one I’ve not used but comes recommended)).

One of the biggest challenges developers face when creating Unit Tests is maintaining readability as the test grows. Consider the following typical test

public void TypicalTestSetup()
  // Arrange
  var mock = new Mock<IDataAccess>();
  mock.Setup(x => x.GetIDOfRowWithGuid(It.IsAny<Guid>())).Returns(12);
  mock.Setup(x => x.GetValueFromDatabase()).Returns(1701);
  mock.Setup(x => x.SaveValue(73)).Returns(36);
  var sut = new BusinessLogic(mock.Object); 

  // Act
  var result = sut.DoWork(7);

  // Assert
  Assert.Equals(42, result);

As the mock is an object there’s no reason you can’t create ExtensionMethods for them. If I create the following method


/// <summary>
/// Sets up the method GetIDOfRowWithGuid to return the value given
/// </summary>
public static void SetupGetIDOfRowWithGuid(this Mock<IDataAccess> mock, int value)
  mock.Setup(x => x.GetIDOfRowWithGuid(It.IsAny<Guid>())).Returns(value);

 This allows us to call the setup code much more succinctly


Personally I also like to return the mock as part of the ExtensionMethod

/// <summary>
/// Sets up the method GetIDOfRowWithGuid to return the value given
/// </summary>
public static Mock<IDataAccess> SetupGetIDOfRowWithGuid(this Mock<IDataAccess> mock, int value)
  mock.Setup(x => x.GetIDOfRowWithGuid(It.IsAny<Guid>())).Returns(value);
  return mock;

Because this allows you to create more more fluent style setup instructions.

// Arrange
var mock = new Mock<IDataAccess>()
  .SetupSaveValue(73, 36);
var sut = new BusinessLogic(mock.Object);			

This, in my opinion is far more readable, simplifies your setup and can be used to create powerful, reusable setups and verifies.

Have you used ExtensionMethods with mocks? What other tips and tricks do you use to keep your Unit Tests in order?

Starting Unit Testing in a Huge Codebase

Most people agree that Unit Tests are a good idea, and most developers try to write them (with varying degrees of success). But the challenge of creating Unit Tests for existing projects can be incredibly daunting to developers.

Many people may not see the need, if an area of code has been working for quite some time then why introduce tests which will take a lot of time and (if you need to refactor to make them work) introduce risk in an area? When I wrote about the value of Unit Tests back in 2015 I postulated that the value of these small executable is not in finding bugs, it’s in preventing bugs in the future.

Unit Testing, unlike exploratory is not about finding issues with existing code, it’s about reinforcing and documenting (through executable code) exactly how each function, class, and property should behave in particular circumstances. If you understand this then you’ll see that the value of Unit Tests does not diminish with an established solution (even if most of the teething bugs have already been worked out). In fact it makes your existing code bases much easier to safely maintain!

So the question becomes how and where do we start?

I’m currently working on an application which has in excess of five million lines of code in it. Some parts are new and some date back to the project’s inception. Writing a full set of tests for the entire application is a monumental (and I have to admit largely pointless) exercise.

What we need to do is look at the areas which are most in flux. If Unit Tests are a technique for helping to protect our software against unexpected change then the areas where they deliver the most benefit are the areas of code which change frequently.

We’re engineers, not psychics (at least I’m not) so use metrics. Look at your Source Control history and see which classes are subject to frequent change (both bug fixes and feature work applies). Target your Unit Tests here, use the 80:20 rule and target your efforts in the right place. One of my favourite sayings applies here… how do you eat an elephant? A little at a time!

Slowly, little by little the classes which see the most changes will stabilise and you’ll introduce less bugs when expanding them or fixing existing defects.

These are my thoughts, do you have any experiences breaking down huge applications into Unit Tested code? How did you do it?