Need an unsolvable problem solved? Call in the Development Paratrooper

A guy walked up to me and said “I hear you’ve got a problem with Flash”. I hadn’t met him before but I’d heard about him. Mike Brown the Development Paratrooper.

Okay, I made up the nick name, but it fits. In that organisation, he parachuted into teams when they had unsolvable technical problems. At least unsolvable for the developers embedded in the Agile teams.

I had such a problem. I needed to get Flash to play eight live video streams simultaneously on a single screen. I’d had guys working on this for months and they had given me a solution of a sort but it wasn’t good enough. By a long shot. The page took minutes to load and start playing the streams. Given this was the home page of the new service we were going to launch “minutes” wasn’t good enough. I needed seconds otherwise we’d lose our audience before we had any.

Generally I think Specialists are a pain but having a development paratrooper available is very handy. You can point them at a problem and they’ll crack it. Often quite fast. In my case Mike had a proof of concept in a week and a production ready version only a couple of weeks later.

At the team level the Technical Lead has a similar paratrooper role. They dive in where the technical team are struggling. Unfortunately, in the case of the eight stream Flash problem, the senior technical folk already on the team didn’t have Flash expertise and so couldn’t help. I needed a specialist.

Bigger organisations, with more development teams, can afford to have a development paratrooper outside any particular team. Like Mike.

These guys are specialists. They can do what other people cannot. You can get them to churn out features and they will do this to a higher standard and faster than other people. But by doing that you’re wasting their talent. But I prefer to keep them off the production line and ready to dive in where needed – to go where the risk is.

If I were to embed the development paratroopers in a team they’d almost certainly be the Technical Lead. In fact I’ve subsequently worked with Mike in other organisations, with Mike as the Technical Lead and Architect who codes.

Mike Brown is also now a guest author on It’s a Delivery Thing.