Sunday, July 27, 2008

Most Software Development Obstacles are ______

Fill in the blank in the following statement:

Most Software Development Obstacles are ______
(A) Technical
(B) Cultural

If you answered (A), then I am intensely jealous :-)

When I became a programmer, my answer definitely would have been (A) and I probably wouldn't have had a clue why (B) was even on the list. I doubt that I had any idea what "Cultural Obstacle" even meant in the context of Software Development.

I was drawn to programming because of the technical challenges (I love solving puzzles and building things). My University classes (except for electives) were all concerned with Science and Engineering. Now I realize that I should have taken some basic classes on Psychology.

Let me give you one example:

The implementation methodology that I practice and the one that I encourage others to practice can be expressed pretty simply:

Build "something that works" and start using it.
Identify the next most iimportant thing to extend or enhance and then build and use that thing.
Continue these cycles until everything is "good enough".


I now call this "iterative development"... but I use to call it "the shaft of light theory". Others might call it Agile.

I arrived at this approach pretty early in my career... as I think many of us do. I found myself working on overly ambitious projects that just seemed to drag on and on with no end in sight. Nobody knew what worked and what didn't. Everything on the project plan was 80 percent complete.

As deadlines approached we'd start dumping feature right and left until we got down to the stuff we could actually finish by the due date.

On top of that we'd often "finish" only to find that the output of our labors wasn't what the end user really wanted. Perhaps we had misunderstood or perhaps they had changed their minds. Regardless, nobody was happy despite our hard work.

I am a huge fan of "play backs"... Demonstrate the application to the users as you develop it to insure that what you are building is what they need. Often the requirements will change as the users become fully aware of what (you think) they asked for... and that's okay with me.
Admittedly, this approach won't work for everything... but for the jobs that I do (where there's a lot of human interactions) it works most of the time.

Most of the Quality Assurance people that I know hate my approach. How can they assure the Quality of the product if the requirements are in flux?

Look at QAs objections from a process perspective: one measure of a good process is the amount of necessary rework - less rework is good, more rework is bad.

From a QA perspective iterative development is bad because it requires them to do a lot of rework - testing "the same" functionality over and over. Prior to a production deployment everything must be tested, and in many cases even regression testing is foiled by new requirements.

From my perspective this is a small price to pay... It's more important to get "something" to the user as early as possible, and we're much more likely to build what they really need.
I have to admit that QA has a point though... Without a comprehensive plan from day one... How can you reliably estimate when you'll be done?

I've focused on QA and Development - but you know the same applies to Security, DB and Network Admins, etc. Each have their own jobs to do and their own ideas on how to do their jobs well.

There are no right answers here... It's a clash of cultures rather than a question of technical merit.
"Measure twice and cut once" versus "Shave off a little and see if it fits".

Both approaches "work"... But they don't work together.

What's crucial is for each organization to develop a culture that works for them. If you hire an Agile Development Manager then you'd better hire an Agile QA manager. Some might argue that it's good to have divergent viewpoints within an organization, but my experience has taught me that everyone is much happier (and everything works smoother) if the department heads agree on the fundamentals. I don't agree with executives who believe that underlings who fight with each other produce better results.

So what do you do when you find yourself working with others who disagree with your approach? What do you do when you disagree with their approach? My guess is that you've already dealt with these questions many times... sometimes with positive outcomes and sometimes with negative outcomes.

Hopefully your positive outcomes are on an upward trend... If not it may be a good time to reflect on "life, the universe and everything" and adopt a more effective approach for dealing with others.

They may be morons. They may be idiots. They may even be slackers and lazy. But I doubt it.
They probably just belong to a different culture than yours (they value things differently than you).

If you want to be an effective programmer, you are going to have to find a way of dealing with them - or your efforts will be wasted...

Welcome to the wonderfuil world of programming ;-)
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