When something persists, some reward exists

This content is syndicated from George Dinwiddie's blog by George Dinwiddie. To view the original post in full, click here.

Jason Gorman has just written a piece in defense of Software Craftsmanship that highlights how very dependent our world has become on software.  He offers Gorman’s Law Of Software-Dependent Business Evolution:

Software-dependent businesses can only evolve as fast as their ability to write and evolve their software allows them to.

I think this is not only true, but an incredible opportunity for businesses that understand that.  Let’s face it: most businesses spend an awful lot of time for a very meager increase in systems capability.  Companies that do better than average can shoot to the top.  Look at the spectacular successes of some of the relatively young internet companies, for examples.

As Corey Haines points out, we, as an industry, know how to produce relatively bug-free software in a steady stream, delivering needed functionality early and often to businesses starved for capability. But, for the most part, the IT industry doesn’t do so.

Jason’s proposals for addressing this gap fall short, in my opinion. The first, that getting more kids to choose software development as a career, seems odd to me.  I don’t think we’ve got a lack of people. I think we’ve got a lack of people who know and practice the techniques that we, as an industry, have found to work.  The second, getting more practioners to want to do better, addresses this lack.  I’m all in favor of this, but I don’t think it, alone, will make much of a dent in the overall situation.

Even if we’ve got excellent software craftsmen, if the quality isn’t demonstrably valued by their organization, they’re most likely to either get demoralized and slack off their efforts, or leave that organization for greener pastures.  So, while I do think that most software developers need to improve their skills (and continue to do so over their entire career), I don’t think that will drive improvement in those organizations that need it most.

Organizations, like most systems composed of people, tend to develop amazingly stable patterns of operation.  These patterns persist through reorganizations and changes in personnel.  The reason they persist, is that there is an informal network of effects that regulate the system, putting and keeping it in its current state.  This stability doesn’t happen without forces reinforcing the behavioral patterns and inhibiting other behavioral patterns.

The study of these patterns and the forces that reinforce them is called Systems Thinking.  You can read more about it in Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, Jerry Weinberg’s Quality Software Management: Systems Thinking, or An Introduction to General Systems Thinking, among others.

A fundamental lesson I’ve learned from Systems Thinking is that when some behavior persists over time, there’s something that’s rewarding it in some fashion (perhaps unintentionally).  If the behavior doesn’t make sense to me, or seems counterproductive, then I often find it more productive to look for what that reward might be rather than plead harder for a different behavior.

In this case, I think that large organizations operate in ways that support doing a slapdash job of software development.  I’ve seen many organizations that primarily reward behavior that’s irrelevant to helping them evolve more rapidly.  That and simple neglect of the behavior that would aid being more nimble in the marketplace are enough to produce the stability of the systems I see.

Many of these instances of rewarding irrelevant behavior come down to focusing on costs (which are easy to quantify) at the expense of value (which is much harder to quantify).  To promote the development of higher quality, more valuable software, I think we need to make that value more visible to the decision-makers.  They’re not stupid, after all.  They’re just working with the information they have.

What other drivers do you see behind the vast sea of mediocre software production?


Leave a Reply

What is 4 + 1 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
Please do this simple sum so I know you are human:)

There are 101 ways to approach anything.
To find the best way, sometimes you need expert help

What People Say

“Kelly revolutionised the way our digital department operated. A true advocate of agile principles, he quickly improved internal communication within our teams and our internal clients by aligning our business and creating a much enhanced sense of transparency in the decisions the business was making. Kelly also introduced a higher sense of empowerment to the development teams...”

PETER SILVA-JANKOWSKI
IPC MEDIA

“Kelly’s a leading program director with the ability to take charge from day one and keep strong momentum at both a program and project level driving prioritisation, resourcing and budgeting agendas. Kelly operates with an easy-going style and possesses a strong facilitation skill set. From my 5 months experience working with Kelly, I would recommend Kelly to program manage large scale, complex, cross company change programs both from a business and IT perspective.”

LUKE SHARKEY /STRATEGY & IMPLEMENTATION LEADER
SUNCORP

“Kelly is an extremely talented and visionary leader. As such he manages to inspire all around him to achieve their best. He is passionate about agile and has a wealth of experience to bring to bear in this area. If you're 'lucky' he might even tell you all about his agile blog. Above all this, Kelly is great fun to work with. He is always relaxed and never gets stressed - and trust me, he had plenty of opportunity here! If you get the chance to work with Kelly, don't pass it up.”

GILES BENTLEY, DEVELOPMENT & OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
TIME INC

“Kelly is an Agile heavy-weight. He came in to assess my multi-million $ Agile development program which wasn’t delivering the right throughput. He interviewed most of the team and made some key recommendations that, when implemented, showed immediate results. I couldn’t ask for more than that except he’s a really nice guy as well.”

DAN PULHAM, DIGITAL DIRECTOR
TELSTRA

“Kelly and I worked together on a very large project trying to secure a new Insurer client. Kelly had fantastic commercial awareness as well as his technical expertise. Without him I would never had secured this client so I owe a lot to him. He is also a really great guy!”

GINA MILLARD
GLASS'S INFORMATION SERVICES

“Kelly came to the department and has really made a huge impact on how the department communicates, collaborates and generally gets things done. We were already developing in an agile way, but Kelly has brought us even more into alignment with agile and scrum best practices, being eager to share information and willing to work with us to change our processes rather than dictate how things must be done. He is highly knowledgable about agile development (as his active blog proves) but his blog won't show what a friendly and knowledgeable guy he is. I highly recommend Kelly to anyone looking for a CTO or a seminar on agile/scrum practices - you won't be disappointed!”

ANDY JEFFRIES/TECHNICAL LEAD
IPC MEDIA

“Kelly was a great colleague to work with - highly competent, trustworthy and generally a nice bloke.”

HANNAH JOYCE
GLASS'S INFORMATION SERVICES

“Kelly was engaged as a Program Director on a complex business and technology transformation program for Suncorp Commercial Insurance. Kelly drew on his key capabilities and depth of experience to bring together disparate parties in a harmonised way, ensuring the initiate and concept phases of the program were understood and well formulated. Excellent outcome in a very short time frame. ”

BRUCE WEIR/EGM
SUNCORP

“I worked with Kelly on many projects at IPC and I was always impressed with his approach to all of them, always ensuring the most commercially viable route was taken. He is great at managing relationships and it was always a pleasure working with him.”

BEATRIZ MONTOYA/CONSUMER MARKETING DIRECTOR
IPC MEDIA

“I worked with Kelly whilst at Thoughtworks and found him to be a most inspiring individual, his common-sense approach coupled with a deep understanding of Agile and business makes him an invaluable asset to any organisation. I can't recommend Kelly enough.”

PETER THATCHER, SENIOR ACCOUNT DIRECTOR
ThoughtWorks

“Kelly was a brilliant CTO and a great support to me in the time we worked together. I owe Kelly a great deal in terms of direction and how to get things done under sometimes difficult circumstances. Thanks Kelly.”

JULIE PEEL
GLASS'S INFORMATION SERVICES