Skip to main content

Tasking in Software Development

Tasking is core part of XP, Kanban, Scrum and other software development methodologies. It is required when more than one developer is working on a feature. I consider it to be the most wasteful part of the development process as practiced in the mainstream.

Tasking typically involves the team sitting around a machine/desk/whiteboard/projector. From past experience this can take anywhere from an hour up to a day or more. Engagement is often low and this process can be both mentally and physically tiring. During which many assumptions about what should be done is made.

The end result is nothing but index cards, scribbled diagrams or other lightweight documentation. These artifacts are often transformed into digital versions.


The foolish understanding is that now any developer can pick up a task and start work. This leads to dependent tasks being worked on in an independent manner. Team members then find themselves being impeded until a certain piece of code is in place. No amount of swarming or pair programming can help in most cases.

The biggest failure that poor tasking encourages is a task board with numerous items moved to complete, yet the actual functionality is broken and stood no chance of working. In my past experience, this is unfortunately very common.

An equally common scenario is when task cards are stationary for long periods, until they all move across to "done" very suddenly. This is usually a symptom of a unidentified problem or change coming into play.

Ultimately poor tasking results in waste.


Due to the frustrations of experiencing these problems week after week, across numerous teams, I have experimented with a variety of solutions.

Possibly the most controversial and difficult to sell is to have small enough stories and features that mean a single developer/pair can work on. Tasking becomes organic, just part of the day to day work. A simple check list of tasks can suffice here. Both team members stay in sync because the overhead of other team members has been removed. Ultimately you still need to integrate these small(er) features but there are ways to slimline this.

A less dramatic solution is to task in a ad-hoc basis, per story/feature and limit WIP to include tasking. In other words, if you are aiming to deliver three features over several weeks, task the first feature and move onto coding. If during this coding phase you change plans or discover a problem, limited work is lost. Additionally tasking in smaller chunks is better for the teams' morale.

The two other solutions are the most powerful at combating the tasking problem I have described, these are to utilize a Walking Skeleton and try Mob Programming. Both of which will be detailed in future posts.


Popular posts from this blog

Constant Object Anti Pattern

Most constants are used to remove magic numbers or variables that lack context. A classic example would be code littered with the number 7. What does this refer to exactly? If this was replaced with DaysInWeek or similar, much clarity is provided. You can determine that code performing offsets would be adding days, rather than a mysterious number seven.Sadly a common pattern which uses constants is the use of a single constant file or object. The beauty of constants is clarity, and the obvious fact such variables are fixed. When a constant container is used, constants are simply lumped together. These can grow in size and often become a dumping ground for all values within the application.A disadvantage of this pattern is the actual value is hidden. While a friendly variable name is great, there will come a time where you will want to know the actual value. This forces you to navigate, if only to peek at the value within the constant object. A solution is to simple perform a refactor …

Three Steps to Code Quality via TDD

Common complaints and problems that I've both encountered and hear other developers raise when it comes to the practice of Test Driven Development are: Impossible to refactor without all the tests breakingMinor changes require hours of changes to test codeTest setup is huge, slow to write and difficult to understandThe use of test doubles (mocks, stubs and fakes is confusing)Over the next three posts I will demonstrate three easy steps that can resolve the problems above. In turn this will allow developers to gain one of the benefits that TDD promises - the ability to refactor your code mercifully in order to improve code quality.StepsStop Making Everything PublicLimit the Amount of Dependencies you Use A Unit is Not Always a Method or ClassCode quality is a tricky subject and highly subjective, however if you follow the three guidelines above you should have the ability to radically change implementation details and therefore improve code quality when needed.

DRY vs DAMP in Tests

In the previous post I mentioned that duplication in tests is not always bad. Sometimes duplication becomes a problem. Tests can become large or virtually identically excluding a few lines. Changes to these tests can take a while and increase the maintenance overhead. At this point, DRY violations need to be resolved.SolutionsTest HelpersA common solution is to extract common functionality into setup methods or other helper utilities. While this will remove and reduce duplication this can make tests a bit harder to read as the test is now split amongst unrelated components. There is a limit to how useful such extractions can help as each test may need to do something slightly differently.DAMP - Descriptive and Meaningful PhrasesDescriptive and Meaningful Phrases is the alter ego of DRY. DAMP tests often use the builder pattern to construct the System Under Test. This allows calls to be chained in a fluent API style, similar to the Page Object Pattern. Internally the implementation wil…