Skip to content

Mis en place

kitchen knife photo
Photo by Australian War Memorial collection

Professional chefs have a concept termed ‘mis en place’.  While I know very few professional chefs, the idea appeals to me.  It basically means ‘keep your workplace in order, before you start doing anything important’.  (Of course, you can read about ‘mis en place’ more on Wikipedia.)

I find that this is very true of software development as well.  If you don’t have your workplace in order, you will suffer.  Now, the definition of ‘workplace’ varies–someone building a webapp has a different work environment than someone building software that will run on ASIC chips.  I’ll speak to my workplace, but I challenge you to review your workplace and see what, if anything, is out of sorts.

I’m going to break this up into three different segments.  First is the physical, then organizational, then the coding environment.

First off, the physical workspace.  This includes your desk, your monitor and computer setup, your work environment (headphones, bull pen), and your view.  It also includes your body–how you are sitting, how often you move around.  My current physical workspace is a desk with perhaps a bit too much clutter on it, a desktop machine (I know! they still sell them, apparently.  And you can get a lot of machine for not much money), and a view outside.  My work environment, since I’m working from home, is alternately morgue like and circus like, depending on who comes down to the basement.

Then there’s the organizational component.  Since I’m now contracting, this is something I have less control over, but it is important to organize your working environment in terms of the organization as much as you can.  Are you working on the right things?  Are the right people on the team?  Are they spending the right amount of time on the project?  In business speak, is everything aligned?  If the answer is no, how can you fix this?

Finally, there’s the actual hands on coding environment.  This can include everything from having a continuous deployment environment to your shell aliases to your software stack to your IDE (if you lean that way).  This is what I originally thought this post was going to be about, because this aspect of the workplace is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.

Problems with any of these can cause a project to fail.  So make sure your work environment as clean, ordered, and ready to go as possible before you start a new project, or if you are in the middle of one, take some time to clean things up as you go.  You’ll be happier and more productive.