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The Joel Test for Web Development - Conclusions

4 October 2004

These are the closing notes of a three part series looking at applying The Joel Test to a web development setting. You should really read the whole thing through from the first post before continuing, else your eyes will glaze over, catapulting you into a trance not seen since the finale of the American/Pop Idol was aired.

The point of translating The Joel Test into web development terms was to find out if there are any useful lessons web developers can learn from the traditional software industry. By asking if the test easily translates into terms and principals that are meaningful to us, we are not only forced to analyse the questions, but also look long and hard at the way we work and identify where improvements can be made.

Rate Your Team

The first thing to do is to take the test yourself for the team you work in (even if that’s a team of one) and see how you score. If you score 12 you get a lollipop. If you score less you get some fun new challenges to think about.

Here’s how I score:

  1. Do you use source control? Yes
  2. Can you make a build in one step? Not quite!
  3. Do you make daily builds? No
  4. Do you have a bug database? Yes
  5. Do you fix bugs before writing new code? From today, Yes. See, improvement already!
  6. Do you have an up-to-date schedule? Yes
  7. Do you have a spec? Yes
  8. Do programmers have quiet working conditions? No, at least not consistently.
  9. Do you use the best tools money can buy? No
  10. Do you have testers? Yes but I think we need more.
  11. Do new candidates write code during their interview? Yes
  12. Do you do hallway usability testing? Yes

So that’s 8/12 which isn’t too shabby, but we have room for improvement. It’s dirty-laundry-in-public time, leave your scores in the comments below. Be honest.

What can we learn?

Well, aside from the twelve questions in the test, one of the important points this highlights is the fact that these principals do translate easily to web development. And if this little test can produce so much helpful wisdom, imagine what can be learned from all the rest of the stuff on software development out there.

- Drew McLellan

Comments

  1. § Matt: Scored 8 here too, but it was a different 8. Thank you for writing this series, I enjoyed it quite a bit.
  2. § Mark Rowe: When I started working for my current employer, their score on this test would have been near zero. Since I have been here I have gone out of my way to try and improve the situation. I started by using Subversion and Trac for source control and bug tracking. On several occasions the source control has saved a work-mate several hours of ‘unbreaking’ code. The other more managerial aspects of the test are a little more difficult to change, but over time even those will improve.

    Before My Changes:
    * Do you use source control? No
    * Can you make a build in one step? No
    * Do you make daily builds? No
    * Do you have a bug database? No
    * Do you fix bugs before writing new code? No
    * Do you have an up-to-date schedule? No
    * Do you have a spec? Almost
    * Do programmers have quiet working conditions? Kind of
    * Do you use the best tools money can buy? No
    * Do you have testers? No
    * Do new candidates write code during their interview? No
    * Do you do hallway usability testing? No

    Around 1/12.

    Now:
    * Do you use source control? Yes
    * Can you make a build in one step? Almost. This is a work in progress.
    * Do you make daily builds? Almost. Another work in progress.
    * Do you have a bug database? Yes
    * Do you fix bugs before writing new code? Yes
    * Do you have an up-to-date schedule? No
    * Do you have a spec? Almost
    * Do programmers have quiet working conditions? Kind of
    * Do you use the best tools money can buy? No
    * Do you have testers? No
    * Do new candidates write code during their interview? No
    * Do you do hallway usability testing? Yes

    Around 5/12. Still poor, but improving.
  3. § Darren: 7, it was about 3 when we first read about it.
    Sadly we’ve only ever been able to fix the ones that don’t need help from management. :-(
  4. § Jesse: We scored pretty bad (5/12). At least I have the toys, err i mean tools part right ;) Good computers bring the geeks to work on time. I just got my co-op student an iMac G5 to work on, how nice am I?

    Being in a management position helps my ability to change things but the first task has been getting the resources to have people actually focus on web projects. Uni work is so much fun.

    As I sort out the team I can also incorporate some this. Just working on the subversion and trac installs, bring us to 7, and a spec.. I wouldn’t consider scribbles on a white board spec. So that is an easy-ish to achieve 8.

    Thanks Drew for this.. it was timely. I am sticking to my ‘this is the web business maturing’ line. Articles like this help move things along.
  5. § Dewayne Mikkelson: Great set of posts!!!

    * Do you use source control? Kinda Sorta, but nor really!
    * Can you make a build in one step? NO
    * Do you make daily builds? NO
    * Do you have a bug database? NO
    * Do you fix bugs before writing new code? NO
    * Do you have an up-to-date schedule? NO
    * Do you have a spec? NO
    * Do programmers have quiet working conditions? NO
    * Do you use the best tools money can buy? NO
    * Do you have testers? NO
    * Do new candidates write code during their interview? NO
    * Do you do hallway usability testing? NO

    OUCH! I knew it was bad but that really settles the question. One half out of 12. That is terrible.
  6. § Brandon Dennis: Great article, thanks so much for all your work. I wish I had reviewed this back when I was running my company in 2001. We were so close on so many things, but still so far on others. However, I think one of the important issues with some of this is the Clients as well. Certainly clients need different things and it’s not as easy to adapt a diverse team into a compartmentalized platform for every project. Some things work, some things break, and some things complain a lot :)
  7. § Jon Berg: It’s good to have a list of things that will help the develop process go smoothly. One top I would rank excelent people. It is all about the knowledge and work morale of the workers.
  8. § TomA: Our small web shop scores 8/12, it would’ve been about 4/12 before I read the original Joel test (two weeks ago). Now we have a svn repository, reorganized office and stuff. Getting better… build in one step is next.

    Great article, thanks Drew!
  9. § Kevin Jump: We are just a few weeks in, getting a quite small but politically crippled development team from at best a 1, up to as high as we can go, at the moment, I think we have a 3, but we are trying to take a five year project and put some organisation behind it.

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About Drew McLellan

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Drew McLellan (@drewm) has been hacking on the web since around 1996 following an unfortunate incident with a margarine tub. Since then he’s spread himself between both front- and back-end development projects, and now is Director and Senior Web Developer at edgeofmyseat.com in Maidenhead, UK (GEO: 51.5217, -0.7177). Prior to this, Drew was a Web Developer for Yahoo!, and before that primarily worked as a technical lead within design and branding agencies for clients such as Nissan, Goodyear Dunlop, Siemens/Bosch, Cadburys, ICI Dulux and Virgin.net. Somewhere along the way, Drew managed to get himself embroiled with Dreamweaver and was made an early Macromedia Evangelist for that product. This lead to book deals, public appearances, fame, glory, and his eventual downfall.

Picking himself up again, Drew is now a strong advocate for best practises, and stood as Group Lead for The Web Standards Project 2006-08. He has had articles published by A List Apart, Adobe, and O’Reilly Media’s XML.com, mostly due to mistaken identity. Drew is a proponent of the lower-case semantic web, and is currently expending energies in the direction of the microformats movement, with particular interests in making parsers an off-the-shelf commodity and developing simple UI conventions. He writes here at all in the head and, with a little help from his friends, at 24 ways.