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Development and technical operations team principles

Development team principles #

  1. Solve real user needs

    Good code starts with understanding, and is rooted in the real world. We work in multi-disciplinary teams, but you’re not just there to churn out code. Get involved in the research and design. Understand the needs of the users and the constraints of the organisations we’re working with.

    Ultimately, it’s about the user and their needs, not about technology. Sometimes software is not the answer.

  2. Own your code, but collaborate

    Having the opportunity to see a piece of work through to completion is a great way to get stuff done, and for developers to grow. Take ownership of your work to get it all the way through our development process to being used by users.

    Ownership gets stuff done, but collaboration makes it better. So involve the rest of your team in your work: agree approaches, highlight tradeoffs and seek out reviews. Get all your code reviewed by another developer to help us ship better quality code, get the opportunity to learn new skills, and increase the shared knowledge of our products. Request feedback, ask questions and discuss code, but ultimately the author is responsible for making changes.

  3. Security is a user need

    Sometimes the simplest or easiest solution is not the most secure, and we fight for our user’s safety and security, even when a client doesn’t agree.

  4. Use simple, conventional technology

    By default, use straightforward technology and conventional approaches. The services we built have to be maintained and iterated on by small, and sometimes less experienced, teams. Keeping things simple ensures that is as painless as possible.

    Vary from convention only on the domain specific stuff, where it adds the most value.

  5. Build for quality and consistency

    Think about those who come after us. We build high quality systems with the lowest possible maintenance burden. We write tests, use linters, follow standards and conventions, and document our decisions. The things we build should be set to thrive after we leave.

    All code we write should be reviewed by at least one peer. This helps us ship safer and higher quality code.

  6. Improve with each iteration

    Always leave the codebase in a slightly better place than when you found it. Look for opportunities to refactor difficult code, to improve documentation, or to extract shared functionality.

  7. Communicate clearly and frequently

    Help our future selves and others by recording the reasons for our actions. Explain the changes you’re making to code through your commit messages and pull requests. Explain the decisions you’re making about technology through architecture decision records. Explain the tradeoffs you’re making in planning and show and tells.

    Use straightforward language, even when you’re dealing with complex technical issues. Prefer to write it down over speaking it out, to ensure a lasting record.

    Becoming stuck when solving problems for long periods of time can be frustrating and unproductive. We invite each other to ask for our help when these situations happen as a second point of view with a fresh perspective often unlocks a problem relatively quickly.

    Code written by teams sprinting on client work is represented in Trello (or similar) and when on support we use Zendesk tickets. Tracking our work help us to:

    • visualise our progress
    • document and share progress with clients and stakeholders
    • be confident what we should be working on
    • react to blockers and bottlenecks
    • see what each other is responsible for and opportunities to help or avoid duplicating effort
    • reference commits back to their original user needs
  8. Be humble, supportive and open minded

    Assume other people on your team know things you don’t. Feel comfortable saying “I don’t know”.

    Assume you know things other people on your team don’t, but be prepared to be wrong. Ask questions rather than giving instructions. Share your opinions and experience openly with your team.

    Question the obvious and test our assumptions. Listen to the client and the users and their experiences.

    Be non-judgemental – assume everyone did the best they could at the time, with what they knew and the resources available.

  9. Always learning. Always teaching

    Technology never stops, and the amount to know even for our limited stack is huge, so we must learn and share. We teach each other through peer mentoring, pairing and reviews.

    Share what you learn on a project with the whole team so we can reuse knowledge across projects. Encourage others in their learning.

    All code we write should be reviewed by at least one peer. This helps us learn new skills and build shared understanding.

  10. Do the smallest amount of good work

    We aspire to regularly ship good code, and deliver it to the users as often as possible. Delivering impact fast by shipping something real has a big impact on the morale of the team and happiness of our clients and users.

    Solving many problems at once can lead to large pull requests and large commits. This work tends to take a lot longer to understand, code review, amend and then ship safely. Additionally it can make work hard to parallelise as it may block other dependant work from starting. It also tends to introduce more bugs that require more follow-up fixes.

    Where you can, do less and deliver it sooner. Break down work into smaller pieces. Descope anything that isn’t critical for a first version. Do a minimum slice that works for some of your users. Anything to reduce the time between getting started on something and delivering it to users.

    Work at a pace that suits the project. Hacky is sometimes fine. If you’re working on prototypes then do only what you need to answer your questions. Sometimes, if you’re working on critical production systems, you’ll have to go slower. When that’s the case, it’s even more important to break down the work into the smallest reasonable chunks, to demonstrate progress, to make reviewing the changes as easy as possible, and to prove your assumptions.

  11. Work in the open

    Be open by default. Code should be public unless there’s a good reason otherwise. Changes to open source libraries should be contributed back to the project. Dashboards should be public wherever reasonable.

    The way we’re working should also be open to our clients. Work being done should be represented in Trello boards that everyone can see. Communication should be done in public Slack channels rather than direct messages. Openly communicating about our work allows clients to see how we’re doing, and what needs their attention, and gives everyone in the team context for the work being done and decisions being made.

Career progression for developers #

We have a public progression framework describing the skills expected of each role across the technology team. Your progression doesn’t depend on having done everything in the framework for the new role but on demonstrating that you could do them if asked.

We track changes to the framework in the changelog, where we describe what changed and why we changed it. We keep track of any future changes we may want to make or think about in the backlog.

We have a documented promotion process based on that framework. We designed it to help make fair decisions about promotions that reduce the impact any one person can have on the decision as much as possible.

Technical Operations team principles #

  1. Learn don’t blame

    Things/Mistakes happen, treat it as a learning experience rather than finding blame.

  2. Documentation is the first step to automation

    For most tasks you need to understand it enough to document it before you can begin to automate it.

  3. Don’t be a keeper of secrets

    Everyone should be replaceable in respect to knowledge. It’s everyone’s responsibility to share what they know (e.g. Pairing)

  4. No heroics - Don’t internalise problems

    Situations occur where there is pressure to deliver/maintain/fix, it’s a team effort, not always the same person’s job.

  5. Be patient

    Be helpful, not obstructive. It’s easy to get frustrated by things in time sensitive situations – don’t!

Last updated: 20 March 2024 (history)