blue bus
Software Collaboration Workflow Engineering
June 1st, 2021 - Jon Armour

Mitigating the Bus Factor Risk for a Software Project

Organizations strive to employ technical staff with the expertise and education that contribute to successful project implementations. But what happens when key team members with critical roles leave the company and are difficult to replace? To avoid these scenarios, project managers must avoid what is known as a low bus factor to bring the project to successful completion.

What is the bus factor?

The term bus factor is defined as the number of people it takes to get hit by a bus before the project comes to a screeching halt. In this case, we will be discussing software development projects specifically.

The bus is symbolic, of course, of any event that could take someone off the project temporarily or permanently, such as a long-term illness, parental leave, a sabbatical, or changing companies. The lower the number is for your bus factor, the higher the risk for your project. Needless to say, a bus factor of one is the riskiest since it indicates that the loss of one developer could cause the software project to fail.

How to determine your project’s bus factor

There is no fancy calculation that determines your project’s bus factor. In its simplest form, you need to take inventory of your project team. Under each person’s name, list the tasks they usually take on for the project. Then continue the list by adding the tasks the COULD do for the team, even if it’s not that team member’s ideal role.

After you are finished, review the list. If you have a task (or tasks) that only appear under one team member - your bus factor is one. If you have a task (or tasks) that only appear under two team members - your bus factor is two. You get the picture.

How to increase the bus factor

While the primary responsibility of management is to ensure the project is running efficiently, they must also consider their team's bus factor and its possible effects on the timeline. Increasing the bus factor is recommended to avoid project failure from the loss of team members. This can be accomplished with the following actions.

Cross-train developers to handle other tasks. This provides valuable experience for others on the team who will be able to transition into more critical roles. For instance, can your front-end-focused developers take on my UX/UI if needed? Or could each of your developers learn the QA processes to push the releases live?

Empower junior members of the team. Allow them to play a role in the project and receive assistance from advanced colleagues. This doesn’t just increase your bus factor, but it also invests in your team members which can help with employee retention.

Provide complete and concise documentation. No one likes writing up detailed documentation, but it can be essential if a key team member leaves a team or has to take an unexpected PTO during critical parts of the project. Additionally, it’s smart to share any critical information during periodic meetings.

Be a team player. There is no I in Team, as we all know, so developers should be siloed either. Encourage pair programming and swarming on project components so more team members can understand what and why certain code is being written. In cases where this isn’t possible, writing code that everyone can read and understand as well as including helpful comments can make a difference.

Addressing the FAANG Competition

Many developers dream of working for any one of today's well-known tech giants. These FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) companies can well afford to offer substantially higher salaries and benefits that entice many developers to seek employment with them. The question becomes how can smaller businesses compete with FAANG companies to hire and retain top-quality developers.

Smaller startups must emphasize the role the developer has in the project. The company's smaller size can improve a developer's visibility as an integral member of the project team, rather than getting lost in a sea of hundreds of engineers inside FAANG companies. Additionally, while the tech behemoths can offer higher base salaries, many who work there have expressed frustration at their multiple layers of management and oversight. Emphasize the benefits of direct contact with a small group of founders to efficiently solve problems rather than dealing with the infinite FAANG management organizational chart.

Most of the FAANG companies' core projects are focused on improving the functionality of current products. Many developers who seek to work on new and innovative ideas may not be satisfied with such tasks. Highlighting the scope of future projects can entice developers who wish to work on ways of improving a product or service.

How Ruby on Rails reduces a projects bus factor risk

Another way to reduce the risk of relying on a few advanced developers to carry the project is to incorporate a more efficient web development framework. Ruby on Rails fits this criterion since it contains readymade solutions for common functions without writing each line of code manually. Additionally, the framework has numerous features making it easy to create and maintain projects. These include the following:

  • Variety of gems (plug-ins) available that saves developer time and effort.
  • Built on Model-View-Controller (MVC) architecture which centralizes the application's business logic and rules to manipulate the data.
  • Consistency with standardized file storage and programming conventions.
  • The use of concise language allowing the development of features quickly and easily, making Rails one of the most productive programming languages.

The Rails framework enables developers to keep their code cleaner and less prone to bugs. Rails also abide by a set of best practices that recommend leaving instructions and coding justifications. Rails is also open source with online communities for support and helpful advice, which allows developers to self-service if they hit a roadblock while coding.

Ruby on Rails is widely recognized for its user-friendliness and flexibility. Other team members can easily adapt to the framework and take over a project when necessary.

Conclusion

While the bus factor reflects the unique skill sets individual developers to bring to projects, there are best practices that can be put into place to ensure their absence does not adversely affect the timeline and success of the project. By implementing a few new priorities and routines for your team members, you can increase your flexibility as a team. This can help build morale and build strong, committed team members.

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