The 500lb Marshmallow!

Never give up and keep swinging!

MarshmallowI often describe challenges that seem to only move an inch at a time despite a ton of effort as, “Swinging at the 500 pound marshmallow!” I have found that over my career in the software industry, many problems in our customers’ environments could also be described as a 500 pound marshmallow. But, as an independent software assurance company, proServices often has both the perspective and objectivity to recognize and assess these challenges more frequently than our customers because they’re too exhausted to see what’s coming. 

These challenges range across the software lifecycle and have been around since the ENIAC (pictured below).

ENIAC Computer

Some notable challenges from the C-Suite of our customers include:

  • “Why are my projects always late?”
  • “Why are my projects always over budget?”
  • “We always find out about our defects too late and from our customers first!”
  • “What process should we be following?”
  • “How do I get more out of our testing efforts?”
  • “We need to do a better job of estimating cost, schedule and functionality upfront.”
  • “I wish we had more proactive visibility into our technical debt.”

Fantastic concerns – and ones you would expect from the C-suite. These challenges have not changed much over the years, but the technology underneath has changed dramatically, from architectures, languages, and hardware to data models, the approaches available to tackle these challenges continue to improve.

So, instead of utilizing the same old series of punches at these marshmallows, why not try something new to see if we can move it a foot instead of an inch? 

Design & Estimation

For starters, you need to put a proper estimation process in place, at the front of the process, as well as a mechanism to measure the result on the backend of the process. This ensures that you’re producing the functionality for the projected cost and schedule. Most of you would probably agree that you design quality into the system, starting at the beginning of the process. I am not an expert in software architectures, but I do understand the importance of having a well thought out strategy that incorporates growth and flexibility to accommodate constant change. Addressing these important items upfront will help mitigate substantial defects later in the lifecycle. One of the biggest benefits of having a solid estimation capability is being able to gauge how well tuned your engine (or process) is for production capacity.  This enables vital information for organizations to continually improve their process by providing constant feedback.  There are companies that offer consultants in both of these areas, as well as a number of products on the market for you to do it yourself, perhaps with some outside expert guidance. Done.        

Build it Right the First Time

How? By implementing an Agile process that includes a continuous integration DEVOPS. Once that’s in place, you should have a system that provides software risk analytic reports profiling quality, security and performance for every build. By providing early and iterative transparency into technical debt, you will be able to significantly mitigate and reduce the rate of defect injections into your software during the execution phase. Leveraging technology platforms to collect important data; correlating it to risks important for your organization to understand and proactively mitigate; and finally, having the collaborative mechanism to socialize this data across the organization from executives to engineers.  There are also companies that offer this as a service and provide platforms that integrate these technologies into the DEVOPS environment. Done.

Testing has a Seat at the Table

Now, your testing team has to be integrated with your development team by driving a test-driven development process from the beginning. Some key metrics, such as functional and performance testing success/failure ratios, should be mapped into your dashboards, as well test coverage metrics to measure the effectiveness of your testing efforts. Then, you should use automation integrated into your DEVOPS and CI environment to streamline the operations. By designing tests upfront and setting aggressive performance targets, you will significantly reduce the defect injection rates at this phase of the lifecycle. Again, there are companies that offer this as a service and technologies to make this happen. Done.

What’s my point? One of the top five complaints we have heard over the years from the C-suite involves finding defects too late in the process. Yet, we continue to swing at the 500 pound marshmallow with the same strategies, expecting different results and finding only frustration. Everything I’ve outlined above can be tackled internally by most companies, but sometimes the solution requires an objective third-party who can analyze the problem and then implement the solution on your behalf. Maybe moving the 500 pound marshmallow requires a new perspective and the help of someone else, but in the end, you need to keep swinging at these challenges to keep moving forward.

Keep Swinging! 


Rob Cross
PSC Vice President





Written by Rob Cross at 05:00



"It's frustrating that there are so many failed software projects when I know from personal experience that it's possible to do so much better - and we can help." 
- Mike Harris, DCG Owner

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