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Assessing coders productivity

By markstone ·
I am a manager with an underperforming coder. Or maybe they're not, and my expectations are too high. And that is the problem - do I or don't I have cause for concern?

I won't bore you with other experiences so far, but so I can get feedback from you experienced coders out there (which I am not), here is a recent example.

We need data downloading from a website. This is then put into a SQL table. This part is successful.
The data then needs to be put into a delimited file, in a certain format.
The resulting file is then ftp'd elsewhere in the world for use by another system.

We are at testing stage, so a manually exported file is all we need. Later on we'll automate the process and add a GUI so our internal customer can do the job themselves every week.

We know the structure of the sql tables. We know the structure of the file needed by the receiving system. There are a few differences in heading names, but the data under them are the same. There is one field in each record where incoming text must be changed to something else to suit the final system - but they are always the same equivalents so a translation should be easy.

But it's taking forever to get a converted file out that we can FTP up for testing. I'm talking about 4 weeks now. I've been reassured by the coder that she'll have it done "next week", but our internal customer has pointed out we've said that 3 times now. I'm at the point where I want to pull the plug and outsource the job (we only have the one coder), but I shouldn't have to for something this "simple". Not only would this cost money, but it brings into question the competence of a staff member who I expect to be the "expert" on these matters.

Tell me I'm being unreasonable. As a manager I need to trust the experts I hire to do the things I can't do due to time constraints or simple lack of knowledge. Do I believe what they say, and lower my expectations while fending off our customer? Or am I right to be worried and have a staff member who's somehow in over their head?

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If it is as simple as you say, send me the req and I can do it overnight! Done this too many times to count.

Seems to me you've got more than this one issue, but I am not there.

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What Has Been Accomplished?

by Wayne M. In reply to Assessing coders producti ...

The question should be, what has the developer accomplished in 4 weeks? I would suggest borrowing a couple of ideas from Extreme Programming to get both you and the programmer on the same page.

Create a backlog of tasks for the programmer and list them on 3x5 cards. Every Monday reprioritize the cards, then sit down with the Programmer. Let the programmer estimate the work on the cards until there is approximately 2 weeks of effort. If any task is longer than 1 week, work with the programmer to break it into smaller pieces. Post the prioritized cards on the wall in a to do space; the programmer will move them to done as they are completed. Meet everyday for 5 minutes (same time, same place) and have the programmer report what was accomplished yesterday, what is being worked on today, and what issues are blocking work.

This is a very effective means of letting the programmer take ownership of the task and provides visible feedback as tasks are accomplished. Sitting down and getting a commitment for completion is one week is much more effective than just having an off-hand, "It'll be done next week." As a manager, you will also know exactly what commitments your staff has and this avoids giving them tasks in an ad hoc manner where the staff does not know the relative priorities of any of the work.

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Great Idea

by drinkmetoo In reply to What Has Been Accomplishe ...

Thank for the great idea, it a good one to use and for the Managers File.

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Logging helps too.

by In reply to Great Idea

This is a good idea. When doing graphics (pre computers) we used to log in 15 min increments what we did and which account to bill. I have gotten into the habit now to still do that with my day.

My supervisor laughed at me one day telling me that this wasn't required but later when he came to me with the need to know what I was doing and how much time I was spending on it, I just pointed him to my logs and told him to help himself.

It also helps me realize just how much time I spend reading TechRepublic aritcles and threads.

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From what you've described

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Assessing coders producti ...

it doesn't sound unreasonable.
There's definitely a problem somewhere, missing a deadline three times and you've no clue as to why. How simple or complex the task is immaterial from that point of view.
I'm reluctant to second guess from this distance, but in your position I'd be having concerns as well. At the least there's a massive communications failure somwhere.
Get him to detail the outstanding work (just bullet points) and when he is now expecting each part to be complete. If he sticks to the week, get him to report progress daily. If misses makes sure he provides a reason.

If he's surprised by you climbing up his back over this just tell him you are passing it on from the customer, us bottom feeders can relate to that sort of thing.

Next task you give this guy ,do the same, let up when he starts meeting his own estimates. He'll get better at estimating if nothing else!

I mean his own, can't emphasise that enough, only he can say how long it is going to take him. If I told you it would take me x days, that's no use to you, after all it's not me who is doing it.

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I disagree, not entirely, but I disagree..

by marketingtutor. In reply to From what you've describe ...

This coder is flawed in some way. You can in fact tell him how long it should take to complete a task. Even if it means you sit down with him and go overthe steps. Which you shouldn't have to do inthe first place if he is an organized and responsible employee.

I also think it is terrible management style to cop out and say you're just passing the customer irritation on to him. The boss is the boss, not his buddy that he can jerk around and stretch a week deadline into nearly a month without good cause, and extensive explanation.

I would say that there is a point where, as a manager, you should know enough about what your employees are working on, to know if they are screwing around instead of working. Personally, I would install some monitoring software on this guys PC to find out how much time he is actually spending working. Cause this terrible overshoot of the deadline sounds like farting around onthe job.

Missing one, MAYBE two deadlines is understandable, provided there is a darn good reason. But there is no way, given the simplicity of this task, and the small number of steps involved, that he should be overshooting this job by that far and not be able to give a SUPER-DOOPER reason for it.

There are certain levels of proficiency that can and should be demanded. How much are you paying this guy per hour? You likely could have already outsourced it and had it done weeks ago for much less than you paid him during this time.

I personally write many small apps for myself all of the time, and this is really a simple one, ESPECIALLY given that the UI is not involved yet. Yes, as a coder I CAN say it would take me X hours. There is something really wrong with this guy if many say "Oh, I could do that in an afternoon" and this guy is taking weeks. Yes, I CAN say that, and YES this guy is severly underperforming!!

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Without errors we don't know

by hlhowell In reply to I disagree, not entirely, ...

It is easy to say that an apparenlty easy file transition is simple. However, having produced translations between hardware and software in the past I know that the surface can be simple, but the details may be overwhelming. (I have written more than 10 program translators) Your description is simple, but I cannot imagine any system where the solution you describe would work. Therefore I suspect that some detail, such as file or structure formatting is not correctly specified. I would work a bit with the programmer to see exactly what is causing the delays. It could be that something is improperly specified on one side or the other, that the transfer mechanism has some requirement that is not well defined, or that the file format itself is not compatible with the target machine. Here it is just hard to tell.

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Don't fall into that trap

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to I disagree, not entirely, ...

You aren't doing the task, an estimate based on your understanding is how long you would take to do if your understanding is both correct and current.

How long do you thing it would take a developer who's been using Delphi for 11 years to change the captions on two labels on one form, the main one in an application. If you said five minutes, you would be right, course it actually took me an hour to find the labels and five minutes to do the change.

An underestimate that made me look lazy or incompetent. Course I'm competent enough to communicate why it took so long and not as lazy as the person who left me in the mess.

Was it a lazy developer who couldn't be bothered to do the job right or a lazy manager who wouldn't allow the devloper enough time to do it right?

As for this guy all things being equal, he either is incapable of programming, he's doing other things, or he's solving the wrong problem. The first and last are management failures, the second could easily be as well.

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by marketingtutor. In reply to Don't fall into that trap

Agree 100% Tony! Haha, Delphi dev for nearly 12 years now.

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No, you are not.

by Jaqui In reply to Assessing coders producti ...

the db dump file can be altered easily enough to fit the format with the find and replace function in all text editors.
then turning it into a delimited file is simple.

one thing though, the sql data can be dumped into a delimited file from the start, then changing the field names is a simple search and replace and you have the required format for the ftp transfer. this removes a step and gives the needed result file.
takes only a couple of hours to do the search / replace toget the final file needed.

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