FileMaker Development: A Real Team Sport
OK, OK, I know that FileMaker Development, or any software development, isn’t a sport. Sports, by definition, require physical exertion of energy and another team or person to compete with. But couldn’t it be a sport in the sense of what skills are required to be successful at a sport? Most sports require team work, communication, strategy, and research. Since it so conveniently happens to be the start of football season, let’s use football as the example for this blog.
Football teams often have team captains, and for each game, they have a scouting report, play strategy and a depth chart rotation plan. When I think about this, it makes me think a lot of how we, at Extensitech, as a team, approach each project. We have a team. For each project, there’s a lead developer and during different phases of the project, there may be a different captain involved in heading up the project. For every project, we learn about each unique client and what makes their organization unique. We gather information and research. We create a unique strategy for each project. Much like how an NFL team approaches each new game week-to-week.
Now that I planted those thoughts in your head about comparing your favorite NFL team’s big game to a team software project, now imagine if those football players, coaches and staff, were never in the same room at the same time. Imagine if the players only saw each other during game day. Imagine if the players had never met their coaches. Imagine if the training staff gave medical advise from the other side of the world. It’d be easy to assume the team would perform a bit differently now doesn’t it?
What if the same were true of your development team? What if they didn’t have the advantage of being able to all be (literally) hands on with each project? Would it change the outcome of your project? Would it affect the service and project management? Would it make you think twice about the project? I’m not answering these questions for you, because they’re open to interpretation and I know many successful development teams who’s members are spread across the country. In most cases, the architect creates the structure, a lead developer is assigned, and a project manager remotely keeps the project rolling.
Now imagine if all the team members were in the same place? What if the senior developer and developer were sitting across from each other when working on your project, would you expect better results? What if project management included the entire team sitting down, in person, to review your project, would it create a better environment for your project? What if the architecture of your project was done by a three developer team in the same room, would you feel more secure in the process? I’m guessing most people shopping for software assume that all of the team members are also located in the same area, or building, as the office they contacted. I’m not saying you’ll be sure to get better, or worse, results one way or another, I’m just asking you to think about an aspect that’s often overlooked in this industry.
We happen to be a FileMaker development company that has all of our team members in the same area so we have the experience to help you understand the advantages of working with a team that works together hands on. If you aren’t sure where the team is located and what members will be working on your project, you can always ask. Most FileMaker development firms will be forthcoming in answering your questions. Since we’re talking about it, all of our FileMaker developer, the architect and the customer account manager will be hands on with every project.
So let’s discuss some of the advantages of having your team in one place!
Mastering the Technique
Technique is key to mastering a position on the field. The same is true for architecting, designing and developing a truly good solution. Any good FileMaker developer is constantly learning new techniques. The saying that “you learn something every day” might apply to many people, but a developer is sometimes learning many new things every hour. This is true for our architect Chris Cain, even after over 20 years of developing solutions in FileMaker. FileMaker is very approachable for a new developer, but in the same way that chess is an easy game to learn; you can get started quickly with a little understanding of how the pieces move, but you can also devote the rest of your life to various nuances and techniques.
I’ve noticed that the developers will often review the work done by another developer to add a fresh set of eyes in an approach to ensure continuous learning. After years of listening to their conversations, I’ve been able to pick up on the proper terminology of the industry and with each project, I continue to learn what our team is capable of doing by leveraging FileMaker. I can’t think of a single day that I haven’t learned at least one thing new, or I’ve witnessed a team member learn something new. It’s safe to say that we all probably learn at least a couple of new things every day because of the way we’re able to conveniently communicate and work together. We positively challenge each other often setting up a system where we’re all learning from one another more often.
I can compare this to football too. It only takes a few years to learn the technique of how to throw a perfect spiral accurately but few Quarterbacks will ever understand how to read defenses and find a way to put points up week after week. As a great QB leans, he leads him team by example and as a result, they learn to understand the offense through him. Because of our continuous learning environment, we apply the same learning process to each and every project and as a team, we’re continuously learning from one another and from each project.
A Roster is a list of players on each team, and each team hopes to get as much experience on that roster as possible. That’s true with FileMaker developers, they should have a certain level of experience, or be surrounded by experience. What’s also true of FileMaker developers is that with such a large body of knowledge, every developer has particular strengths, and also particular areas that can fall through the cracks just due to lack of exposure. No matter how fast, and how much, you’re learning, there’s always the danger of finding a better way after you’re already far down a path and the “good enough” way is already ingrained in the system. This is why working with a team of developers, and collaborating frequently with other developers, is critical to developing excellent solutions. Having all the developers in the same place and meeting in person often prevents a team going too far down that “good enough” path.
Even a relatively new developer can come up with a “good” solution to most FileMaker challenges. Each of our developers, as experienced, FileMaker Certified Developers, can usually come up with a few solutions, and compare them to pick the “better” method. Working together, our team is able to collaboratively contribute different approaches, and have a much better chance of finding the “best” method for each challenge within a project.
Football is the perfect example of how experience adds so much value. Any team needs experience to succeed. If you have a very talented Quarterback who’s been in the league for only a couple years, he’ll need experience to shine. Having experience on the offensive line will make him feel safer, less pressured, giving him more time to make good reads and make big plays. No one wants to be rushed, pressured, and forced to make costly mistakes. Experience creates for a better team. Our roster is geared towards individual experiences.
Each player has to contribute and perform all tasks they are expected to do on each and every play. Just like how we’d approach the art of team work. We understand the strengths of each of our team members. Jason has a wealth of experience dealing with large implementations and huge data sets. Wayne’s natural tendency is to focus on user interface, aesthetically pleasing design, and the ‘feel’ of a solution. Chris has a background in working with complex data structures, spotting risks to data integrity and recognizing hidden business requirements. We know where each member really shines and we’re able to apply those individual talents to each project.
Each of us lend a different perspective to how to approach the parts of each project. Any one of our FileMaker developers could create a good -I dare say very good – solution on their own. Only by working together and sharing their different perspectives, though, can our team pursue truly excellent solutions that take into account 35+ years of collective experience and different individual strengths and tendencies.
This is perhaps the best example of teamwork. The kind of teamwork it takes to win football games. Each player on offense has strengths and weaknesses and the plays are made to expose the defense based on those strengths. Teams create game day strategy designed to the promote the strengths and hide the weaknesses of the offensive players. Implementing and winning requires team work and this game day strategy and it’s exactly the same process we use for each project. We’d never ask the slowest linebacker to cover a speed receiver, or ask a powerful runner to run around the outside and beat the fast defensive players swarming in. We know the strengths of our team members and we leverage them accordingly to get the most out of our team.
Teams spend much of their time running drills, practicing and keeping their athlete’s bodies in prime condition. The same can be said about a FileMaker developer. Our brains, and mental dexterity, is the primary muscle we flex on a day-to-day basis. It’s just as important for us to keep our brains as sharp as it is for any athlete to keep their body in shape. We do this through a variety of educational materials.
There are many resources for developers to share and hone their skills, and keep up with the latest features and techniques. There’s the annual FileMaker Developers Convention (“DevCon”), Pause On Error, the Product Conference, FileMaker Pro User Groups (FMPUG), FileMaker Forums and more. We participate in all of those whenever we can, and also maintain a network of other great developers with whom we “geek out” online regularly, sharing things we’ve learned and methods we’ve developed. If two of us go to DevCon, we each come back with copious notes and share our takeaways with the team. We take turns presenting at FMPug. We all participate in the FM forums as well as read each other’s content. I can’t think of much, if anything at all, that really isn’t a team effort here.
Because we work so closely with our own team, day-to-day, with our real-world projects, we’re getting genuine peer review as we develop client solutions, and leveraging all the knowledge and experience we can bring to bear on each project.
Too often, working alone, it’s easy to work through a “good” method, then go to DevCon six months later, learn something new and say to yourself “Why didn’t I think of that?” Instead, working together and reviewing one another’s work, our development team ensures that they’re weighing lots of potential approaches to each challenge, and applying the best solutions available.
Our developers stay current in their FileMaker Certifications and I stay current on FileMaker licensing training and their marketing content trainings so that we’re always up-to-date, knowledgeable and ready to deliver all the FileMaker needs our clients have.
Keeping our brains sharp is key to us doing exactly what we do. If we didn’t take advantage of all of these certifications, trainings, materials, events, etc. we may not have the mental clarity it takes to provide the value we do to our clients. If a defensive end stopped weight training and let himself get out of shape, how would he be expected to perform in games? He’d probably lack the strength, quickness and agility needed to rush the opponents quarterback. To perform in a team environment, everyone must perform and that means staying in shape. We like to keep our brains in shape in order to deliver the performance of a Super Bowl caliber team!
We strive to stay on top of all things FileMaker in an attempt to deliver robust, highly valuable solutions, along with top notch customer service, on time and within budget. It’s like beating your opponent without deviating from your game plan within the regulated time of game play. A well executed game with an offense that’s in sync and a ball hawking defense. We’re constantly striving to finish every project with that same strategy of starting on a fundamentally strong architected solution, designed for extensibility that delivers everything an organization needs to be more efficient, more profitable and allow for growth.
It’s true that for any NFL team, the Super Bowl is the ultimate goal. It’s the greatest team achievement. Only the best teams can hoist the Lombardi Trophy. It takes the ultimate balance of technique, experience, player contribution, athletic performance, strategy, and commitment. Only a few teams will be contenders to be the best. We’d like to think that the caliber of our team is a Super Bowl contending team. We deliver new solutions, rewrite solutions, and enhance existing solutions in a fraction of the time and cost through our unique hybrid development methodologies. It’s due to our technique, our experience, our team work, our mental dexterity and our approach to each project. Each year we look back and continue to see quality, a high level of client satisfaction and improvement. It must be the same feeling a player would get when the confetti drops and the Super Bowl is won.