Chief Programmer Team

In software development, there are many different models in how to organize the team structure. I have read the Chief Programmer Team model in Rapid Software Development and Mythical Man Month and I always wanted to try it. The Chief Programmer Team model is base on the fact that the best programmer is often much more productive than an average programmer. The idea is to amplify the productive of the superstar by organizing the development team around him. The chief programmer is the brain of the team, he architect the code and write the most complex part, leaving all the supporting, secondary or mundane tasks to other team members.

I found this development model works exceptionally well with Indian contractors. I have been auditing their code does not meet our quality. I tried explaining what they need to do in email and over the phone how to fix their code, but somehow they just could not get it exactly right. It is to the point of frustration that it would simply faster for me just fixing their code. However, I only have two hands and I couldn’t not do all the work myself. I decided to try the chief programmer team model. I clean up the structure of their code and take care of make sure all the pieces works coherently. Then I wrote instruction in the code and get my team clean up any syntax error or careless logical error and most important finish the mundane wiring work.

I found I am super productive using this work model. I can focus my mind on solving the big problem and let my guys take care of the boring details. When I am writing and qualify my own code, I can work on one file at a time. Now I can work on 3-4 files at the same time. It is like I have an AI automated code generator or I have a few extra pairs of invisible hands help me type the code. I just specify the flow and structure of the code, jot down some high level instruction and the code is auto generated the next morning. I gave enough information in the code so my guys only need to fill in the blanks like in high school programming assignment. I estimate I am 3-4 times more productive by having 3-4 contractors serves as my remote fingers and low-level brain. If I leave those contractors figuring out the code on their own, they won’t even be half as productive as me.

The only problem of chief programmer team model is hard to implement in a typical N.America work environment where everyone is more or less equal in the hierarchy. No one wants to be the supporting programmer who carry out all the boring grunt work while the chief program gets the fun of creativity and all the glory. Moreover the role of supporting programmer seems like a dead end job with no career perspective, so naturally no one want to stick around doing it. The supporting programmer has to reach at least the basic competency level or he won’t be any use, but at the same time he much not be very competent or he will seek a greener pasture other than working as a supporting programmer. The biggest challenge of the chief programmer team model is find some stable decent supporting programmers.

2 thoughts on “Chief Programmer Team”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences in applying the “Chief Programmer Team” method. Also some interesting commentaries re some of the East Indian S/W engineers you are working with.

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