Hastily urgency is hardly ever right

Erwin van der Koogh

Oh yes, I remember why you should never directly translate sayings from one language to another. The non-Dutch speakers will have to take my word for it that "Haastige spoed is zelden goed" has a lot better ring to it. The meaning of the saying is fairly obvious of course "Don't rush things, they usually come back to haunt you."

We all know this and it's even more true in IT, where small mistakes can have dire consequences. But we too often fall for it because with today's complex systems it is hard to oversee what can go wrong. And it is even harder to estimate what it will cost you if things do go wrong. I would like to share a case with you in which I will explain what went wrong and try to give an overview at what it has cost us and our client.

To deliver one of the features our client had requested I needed to run a very small servlet on a different URL than the one our normal application was running on. There was no other way around it. The issue was that it was a lot of overhead to create a new module in Subversion, set up a maven project, deploy and maintain a seperate application for just 15 lines of Java code and 6 lines of JSP.

So the "solution" I came up with was to proxy that one URL and redirect it to a servlet in our normal application domain. This worked really well. The new functionality worked and everything seemed to be just fine. It was not until a few days later during a thorough testing session a day or so before the deadline that we realized that an obscure bit of functionality that we never even touched in the past 4 weeks stopped working. It had us completely baffled for a day until I finally realized what the problem was.

For the browser the external URL was not part of the application, so it did not send its session cookies with the request. The servlet did reside in the application domain however and thus concluded no session was available and promptly started a new one, removing all state that was present in the previous session. Thus every bit of functionality that relied on the session failed.

A case can of course be made that obviously our automated testing was not adequate enough. That is a valid observation, but this is an inherited, badly written JSF application that is very hard to test automatically and there was no budget to do full testing up-front. A lousy excuse, I know.

So that was the case of a shortcut that I thought was feasible, but in the end proved wrong. I tried to save maybe half a day of development time and maybe another day or so in deployment and documentation time in the long run. The end result is that it has cost more than two days extra in wasted development and debugging. That is more than 2000 euro for our client, 2 days less development time for other features, a loss of reputation for my team and my company and this was amongst a few other issues that made sure we couldn't make our window to go into production early and this had to be postponed for another week.

This all has reminded me that it is always important to do proper risk assessment when taking these shortcuts. Something I failed to do when making the decision because I was under pressure to get things done quickly. It is a lesson well-learned.. once again. Let's hope this post reminds people next time they are a position like that.. I know I won't forget for at least a little while 🙂

Comments (3)

  1. Mary - Reply

    August 18, 2007 at 8:06 pm

    Hello Erwin,

    You share your thoughts and experiences with your colleagues, clients and other interested parties.

    I like that a lot. Though i do not understand the technical stuff i understand what happened. I can learn from that.

    Because “Een gewaarschuwd mens telt voor twee”: A Dutch proverb that means: Forewarned is forearmed.

    But it also makes me curious about some things.

    What i understand is, that you and your colleagues/teammembers work with time boxed sprints in which you select an increment of ‘the most important functionality’. The nr. 1 on the clients prioritized list. You choose the content of the increment in such a manner that there is time for analyzing, design, all required testing, review, debugging and so one. You work together in multifunctional teams so you can help, advice and learn from each other.

    From the story you wrote i can conclude the following:

    “Oeps, you did it again”.

    You were not working in a project that was managed agile.

    You were not working in a multifunctional team or there were no colleagues around you could ask for advice.

    You had to take decisions by yourself and on your very own.

    Your client made it obvious that quality was less important than speed.

    You are not sure if this experience for you is a lesson well learned. In a while you could forget this. You ask us to please help you to remind.

    If these conclusions are true i admire your honesty the more and our benevolence should be your part. And i am sure that help is ‘on the way’.

    If these conclusions do not apply an other Dutch proverb comes to my mind: “Een ezel stoot zich in het algemeen geen twee keer aan dezelfde steen’. For our English readers: “In general a donkey does not bump into the same stone twice”. The meaning is "One who makes the same mistake twice (or more) is not that smart." Knowledge can be acquired; attitude is everything

    Keep up the good work.

    Mary

  2. Erwin van der Koogh - Reply

    August 20, 2007 at 9:12 am

    Hello Mary,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply.
    Some of your assumptions are right, others aren't.

    It's a fully agile managed project and I am in a cross-functional team, but due to circumstances I was at the customer while the rest of my team where at our offices. So that did leave me to make that particular decision on my own.
    The client, as most clients, is somewhat interested in quality, but it's not the main driver it should be.

    As for my lesson learned, I am sure it'll stick for a while again, but it is always tempting to do something quick without realizing what risks you are taking. I learned my lesson again for a while and I, and probably we all, could use some help remembering.

    Which is why I am hoping someone else is reminded of it again before bumping into that particular rock. Or driven to it by an overzealous managers 🙂

  3. Mary - Reply

    August 21, 2007 at 12:17 am

    Hi Erwin,

    Thank you for taking my reply as serious as i took your post. I think i understand what temptations you have to face. Try to stay passionate about delivering 100% quality. And discipline; IMHO that's so important...
    Keep sharing your thoughts with your colleagues, all thought i have to agree that one learns most by doing and experiencing. And it should be possible to do so.
    When your colleagues are not there try contacting them via your website, your wiki, email, telephone or msn. They love you and will help you remember.
    Overzealous managers. Ha, it sounds a bit like a oxymoron (words that form a logical inconsistency) :-scroll

    Be well!

Add a Comment