The Joel Test: 12 Steps to Better Code

This week I read a post of Joel Spolsky, the CEO of Stack Overflow. This post talks about his sloppy test to rate the quality of a software team. The great part about it is that it takes about 3 minutes. The test form is:

“The Joel Test

  1. Do you use source control?
  2. Can you make a build in one step?
  3. Do you make daily builds?
  4. Do you have a bug database?
  5. Do you fix bugs before writing new code?
  6. Do you have an up-to-date schedule?
  7. Do you have a spec?
  8. Do programmers have quiet working conditions?
  9. Do you use the best tools money can buy?
  10. Do you have testers?
  11. Do new candidates write code during their interview?
  12. Do you do hallway usability testing?”

The Joel Test is so easy that to get a quick yes or no to each of the 12 questions. You don’t have to figure out lines-of-code-per-day or average-bugs-per-inflection-point. Give your team 1 point for each “yes” answer. However, please remember that you really shouldn’t use The Joel Test to make sure some formal or important things like your nuclear power plant software is safe. A score of 12 is perfect, 11 is tolerable, but 10 or lower and you’ve got serious problems. The truth is that most software organizations are running with a score of 2 or 3, and they need serious help, because companies like Microsoft run at 12 full-time. Certainly, these are not the only factors that determine success or failure. For example, you would not want a great software team working on a product that nobody wants. In contrast, it’s possible to imagine a team of “gunslingers” that doesn’t do any of this stuff that still manages to produce incredible software that changes the world. However, everything often has meaning itself, so, if a team gets these 12 things right, you’ll have a disciplined team that can consistently deliver.

The test addresses generally practical issues that a software team almost needs to work productively in building and testing software products that are feasible to get into market. The issues spread from tools and control to the working environment and habits for typical software team. The technology and environment have rapidly changed over time, but the issues mentioned in The Joe Test are still helpful.



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