David Lemphers has a great post that outlines a training plan to prepare a team for migrating their Visual Basic 6 & classic ASP application to ASP.NET using Team System. In it, he touches on some excellent points about keeping your team in top form for the current project, and the one that looms ahead.
If you hire a bunch of smart developers et al, and put them to work, and expect that because they are developing then they are honing their skills, you dead wrong. What they are doing is practising their existing skills, but all the things they know, that haven’t been practised, lay in wait. If they don’t do practise sessions, and cement their “what I know” into “how I do it”, then they will never feel confident to try the “what I know” in “what I’m doing now”.
Refresher training and practicing existing skills is just as important as learning new ones. Too often we allow our skills to lose their edge despite frequent use. We become lazy and take shortcuts, or we accept performance that’s below par. But practicing known skills and developing new ones is crucial in most human endeavors. There are a multitude of processes we follow every day to accomplish tasks, but there are some we only “practice” when we have to actually do them.
It’s an extreme example, but it makes me consider the constant drills I went through when I was in the Navy. There were many drills I practiced year after year (reactor accidents, radioactive spills, battle stations, firefighting, etc.) without ever having to execute them in a real-life situation. I’m confident my skills were ready had the need arisen to use them; however, since I haven’t exercised those skills in over ten years, I’m sure I’d be a liability today.
In the world of software, let’s consider the Defect Cost Increase chart. What is the cost savings of identifying a defect before a project has even started by honing your skills? I suppose it probably depends upon when that defect would’ve occured in the project, but the defect that doesn’t happen is by far the cheapest to fix.
Why does practice make perfect? See this article.