by Leon Rosenshein

Crawl, Walk, Run

Or, as Kent Beck saidMake it work. Make it right. Make it fast”. But what does that mean? What's the difference between crawling, walking, and running or working, right, and fast? What goes in each phase?

Crawling or making it work is the happy path proof of concept. As long as the inputs make sense (whatever that means in a given context) then the output is good enough to use. Bad input might crash or give undefined results. Error handling and reporting is minimal to non-existent. The idea is to get enough signal to know if you really want to invest. Back in the aerial image processing days we used to have visible seams where two images touched, and we had artists and modelers fix things by hand. We started to use poisson blending for the textures and some line-following heuristics to hide the seams along natural image boundaries. In many cases it worked well, so we rolled it out and made accepting or sending the seam off for manual alteration part of the QC process. At that point we got to find more edge cases and understood the system we were working much better so we could do a better job going forward.

Walking (making it right) is productionizing. Hardening the system so that if there are problems you know early and can deal with them. It's handling all of the weird edge cases that come up. It's degrading gracefully. It's making sure you have the right answer (or know that you don't) all the time. It also means making sure the code itself is well written. That it's "clean" and extensible (if needed). That it's well factored. For that seam line processing it meant handling fields and forests and cities. It meant high confidence annotations on which seams still needed manual work and which didn't. It meant not blending colors across seam lines that ran down the side of a road. By this time, even with the much longer automated processing we were able to have higher overall throughput and more consistent quality.

Finally, running or making it fast. For me, this part is about making it literally fast and making it scale out, Being able to get more done with less. Eliminating bottlenecks. And not just in the code. Making it easier and faster to build, test, and deploy. Adding automation. Extending the use cases. For the seam lines most of it was really making it faster. Getting the process down from days to hours. We were able to reduce memory usage (we were memory bound, like many things) so we could do more in parallel. And because we had it "right" from phase 2 it was easy to make sure we didn't have any regressions.

So take things in steps, checking along the way to make sure you're still on track. You, and your customers, will be happier.