Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Elizabeth White, Yeshim Deniz, Pat Romanski, ManageEngine IT Matters, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: Adobe Flex, ColdFusion

Adobe Flex: Article

Agile Chronicles #4: P to the Oh to the Sea, Strategy, and Design Challenges

Creating proof of concepts

This entry is about creating proof of concepts that tackle challenging components in your application before Sprint #1 starts, when Strategy happens in the process, and the design challenges that still exist.

Proof of Concept

The POC stands for Proof of Concept. It’s a formal term used to describe the process in which a programmer tackles some of the high risk functionality items of a finished design comp to assess their feasability before the official start of the project.

At least, that’s what we define it as. The concept of iterations in software is to flush out the real problems with a design. When you have a 2 week deadline to code something, reality comes around really quick to expose miscommunications, not well thought out designs, and generally a firm challenging of assumptions.

…and there is Flash. With the amount of creativity expressed over the years in both design, multimedia, and applications, the reputation has grown that Flash Player is a wonderful platform to build your dream; an application rich in good design and experience. Like Apple products, only on the web.

This naturally makes things significantly more challenging for the programmer. Yes, the Flash Player, and subsequent software libraries (Flex SDK, Papervision3D, fluint, etc.) do help, but bottom line is, some of the components these designers create for us to build are just insane. Flash has allowed a lot of their ideas to come to fruition, so they are conditioned to do what a lot of good designers do, and raise the bar. There is a fine line between insanity and genius, and designers know it. Whether they are smart or not, they know that if a programmer can pull off some of their crazy ideas… it’ll be an extremely cool app.

Therefore, when looking at potential design comps for an application, you can pretty easily point out the things that look impossible to pull off. Rather than start going down a path you know will end in failure, you can chose to bring it up, OR prove it can’t be done in a reasonable time frame. Again, anything can be done, it’s the time element that is always the first metric for success. The POC relaxes that constraint a little bit, and lets you tackle the big items; the crux functionalities of how the app will work. You know these things will come up without even doing an interation, and since they are so insanely hard, you don’t even know if you can pull them off, you allot time to try.

For example, the ones I did were:

  1. Can you scrub a Flash H264 video frame by frame instead of using keyframes?
  2. Can you show hundreds of images instantaneously in Flash?
  3. Can you cache bitmaps utilizing Flash’s local SharedObjects (Flash Cookies)?
  4. Can you draw thousands of data points?

Now, keep in mind, this doesn’t categorically “prove” you can pull the functionality off. Remember, a Sprint is supposed to produce a real feature in real software. Test code you wrote working vs. the same code implemented in a real app are two different things. What it DOES do is at least ensure your Sprint has a modicum chance of success. Or, it could be a core feature to your application as a whole; even more important. For example, while I successfully completed all 4 POC’s above in a reasonable time frame, #3 did NOT work in production. Saving local SharedObject’s in Flash over 10 megs really bogs down the SWF. I didn’t think I’d have scaling problems; I mean, why would I? The Settings dialogue allows you to set it to “unlimited”… *face palm*. While I’m sure I could work on optimizations, that was not time I allotted for the original task, thus jeopardizing getting the user story it was associated with in the Sprint.

Again, iterations really do help in nailing down what can / can’t be done in a reasonable time frame. A few well chosen POC’s really help challenge assumptions about complicated components on a design, ensure you have a fighting chance doing them during a Sprint, and serve as a good litmus test for the team. If you don’t complete it, is it your lack of ability or the technology’s? In other words, the litmus test is somewhat subjective, but your team’s reaction to it is real and actionable.

Strategy

A project manager had written me an email asking “When does strategy happen?”. To answer, before I come in. Meaning, this project’s design and business strategy/planning was all completed before I came on board to really contribute anything of value. The POC’s were utilized to challenge key functionality, but beyond that, all wireframes, comps, and plans of for product launch and components were all ready to go. May someday I’ll care enough to plan, but for now, that stuff is boring to me; I like building other people’s visions.

Design Challenges


One thing using Agile/Scrum processes hasn’t solved is the same design issues I’ve always had. Those are:

  • The designer has to see a working version of their designed components before they can truly define how it’s supposed to work.
  • Design comps do not express how something works.
  • Flash / AfterEffects animations do help express how something works, but get out of date quickly.
  • Fonts are a PIA.

For some complicated components, the team really didn’t know some of the finer details of how it should work. So, I’d have to guess, make a quick build, upload to the server, and show the link to the designer. I’d then call him on the phone and work through it. It was actually a pretty quick process, but made me feel insecure sometimes because a lot of my point estimations (and thus time estimations) weren’t really aimed at figuring these things out. Yes, I’d designate something as hard if it looked hard to pull off, but I had already assumed I had a decent understanding of how it worked… which was wrong for a few components. This happens to me in every project.

It’s not so much the components, but rather, how they interact with other components. Once you start wiring things together, you start to see the application in a new light, and holes in the user interface are exposed. A lot of times they are minor, but those minor issues add up in un-accounted time. I don’t know how to fix this. Unless designers can physically sculpt the application with instant feedback, I fail to see how they can effectively communicate to me how it should work. So while I respect this, it’s really challenging to plan time for it. It’s also frustrating because you have to just make a gut decision and pray it’s close to what the designer wants. Then again, it’s better to be doing this in quick Sprints with only a few user stories working towards a valid build vs. an entire app over the course of a few months.

Wireframes and design comps are great. I couldn’t live without them in the more complicated projects. The more detailed, the better. The downsides to them are they get out of date quickly, versioning is a bitch because UX and designers don’t use version control, and all the CMS systems like BaseCamp don’t make it easy to keep track what version you are looking at during meetings where all of you “open the PDF” only to find you all have different PDF’s. Additionally, as an engineer, I make extreme inferences on how things work. The designer then goes through it explaining it, and this usually changes a lot of my inferences. While good, I’m still making inferences. An inference is an educated guess. That’s another way of saying, “I think I’m smart, so ensure I don’t look like a moron to my readers, I’ll use the word inference instead of assume to avoid all the cliches”. While perception may be better, it’s still an assumption.

If a designer takes the time to knock out a quick Flash demo that’s clickable or even just an animation showing how the app works, this is extremely helpful to those are visual learners. I’m audio, so just need to talk over the phone; others need pictures. Regardless, it’s a lot more iron clad than a comp. The downside is, it’s more work for the designer and they can get out of date when you decide you no longer like the functionality in the end of week UAT. I’d rather have and use them vs. not, though, that’s for sure.

Finally, fonts are still the biggest pain the ass in Flex; same as Flash, only different IDE. Sometimes they work, sometimes they only work for one developer, sometimes only on one OS. You then start doing lines of coke whilst trying crazy ideas such as renaming the TTF file names, finagling with your CSS, and generally trying all kinds of shotgun approaches to “get it to work”… that don’t.

Conclusions

I’m glad I had the POC’s to do in the beginning. They really did help give me a broader picture of what the stakeholders felt was challenging, what I perceived as challenging, and what everyone perceived as important. Besides, it’s nice to get the hard stuff out of the way first so you can focus on being awesome. While a lot of great online services have come about to help the development process, design to me is still touchy feely throughout the entire life-cycle, every Sprint.

More Stories By Jesse Randall Warden

Jesse R. Warden, a member of the Editorial Board of Web Developer's & Designer's Journal, is a Flex, Flash and Flash Lite consultant for Universal Mind. A professional multimedia developer, he maintains a Website at jessewarden.com where he writes about technical topics that relate to Flash and Flex.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devic...
"The Striim platform is a full end-to-end streaming integration and analytics platform that is middleware that covers a lot of different use cases," explained Steve Wilkes, Founder and CTO at Striim, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Calligo, an innovative cloud service provider offering mid-sized companies the highest levels of data privacy and security, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Calligo offers unparalleled application performance guarantees, commercial flexibility and a personalised support service from its globally located cloud plat...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datera, that offers a radically new data management architecture, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datera is transforming the traditional datacenter model through modern cloud simplicity. The technology industry is at another major inflection point. The rise of mobile, the Internet of Things, data storage and Big...
"We provide IoT solutions. We provide the most compatible solutions for many applications. Our solutions are industry agnostic and also protocol agnostic," explained Richard Han, Head of Sales and Marketing and Engineering at Systena America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"We've been engaging with a lot of customers including Panasonic, we've been involved with Cisco and now we're working with the U.S. government - the Department of Homeland Security," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"We are focused on SAP running in the clouds, to make this super easy because we believe in the tremendous value of those powerful worlds - SAP and the cloud," explained Frank Stienhans, CTO of Ocean9, Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
DX World EXPO, LLC., a Lighthouse Point, Florida-based startup trade show producer and the creator of "DXWorldEXPO® - Digital Transformation Conference & Expo" has announced its executive management team. The team is headed by Levent Selamoglu, who has been named CEO. "Now is the time for a truly global DX event, to bring together the leading minds from the technology world in a conversation about Digital Transformation," he said in making the announcement.
"MobiDev is a Ukraine-based software development company. We do mobile development, and we're specialists in that. But we do full stack software development for entrepreneurs, for emerging companies, and for enterprise ventures," explained Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
While the focus and objectives of IoT initiatives are many and diverse, they all share a few common attributes, and one of those is the network. Commonly, that network includes the Internet, over which there isn't any real control for performance and availability. Or is there? The current state of the art for Big Data analytics, as applied to network telemetry, offers new opportunities for improving and assuring operational integrity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Frey, Vice President of S...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
In his opening keynote at 20th Cloud Expo, Michael Maximilien, Research Scientist, Architect, and Engineer at IBM, discussed the full potential of the cloud and social data requires artificial intelligence. By mixing Cloud Foundry and the rich set of Watson services, IBM's Bluemix is the best cloud operating system for enterprises today, providing rapid development and deployment of applications that can take advantage of the rich catalog of Watson services to help drive insights from the vast t...
SYS-CON Events announced today that EnterpriseTech has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. EnterpriseTech is a professional resource for news and intelligence covering the migration of high-end technologies into the enterprise and business-IT industry, with a special focus on high-tech solutions in new product development, workload management, increased effic...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks, that helps your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. As a premier telecommunications provider, Massive Networks is headquartered out of Louisville, Colorado. With years of experience under their belt, their team of...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloud Academy named "Bronze Sponsor" of 21st International Cloud Expo which will take place October 31 - November 2, 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloud Academy is the industry’s most innovative, vendor-neutral cloud technology training platform. Cloud Academy provides continuous learning solutions for individuals and enterprise teams for Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and the most popular cloud com...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudistics, an on-premises cloud computing company, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloudistics delivers a complete public cloud experience with composable on-premises infrastructures to medium and large enterprises. Its software-defined technology natively converges network, storage, compute, virtualization, and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CHEETAH Training & Innovation will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CHEETAH Training & Innovation is a cloud consulting and IT training firm specializing in improving clients cloud strategies and infrastructures for medium to large companies.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datanami has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datanami is a communication channel dedicated to providing insight, analysis and up-to-the-minute information about emerging trends and solutions in Big Data. The publication sheds light on all cutting-edge technologies including networking, storage and applications, and thei...
The current age of digital transformation means that IT organizations must adapt their toolset to cover all digital experiences, beyond just the end users’. Today’s businesses can no longer focus solely on the digital interactions they manage with employees or customers; they must now contend with non-traditional factors. Whether it's the power of brand to make or break a company, the need to monitor across all locations 24/7, or the ability to proactively resolve issues, companies must adapt to...