Balanced Software Development

Agile2009 provided me with 3 sources of ideas which all complemented each other, and which I think make an important point that I want to repeat.

Firstly, on the flight over, I read John Shook’s blog post about his work with Starbucks. In it, he responds to the suggestion that by advising Starbucks on using Lean methods, he is transforming them into a robotic fast food joint like McDonalds. That suggestion sounds similarly like the common claim that Kanban transforms software development back into a robotic process. The piece that stood out for me was this:

Toyota combined old IE Scientific Management principles and techniques with social dimensions appropriate for the modern world. Even workers who do “manual labor” with their hands are knowledge workers. Front-line employees become the scientists.
By redefining roles, Toyota changed the answer to the question of who is the scientist in scientific management.

In other words, Scientific Management is still relevant for knowledge work, when the workers are the scientists. That keeps the balance between the Process and the People.

Secondly, Alistair Cockburn talked about three pillars of Effective Software Development in the 21st Century in his Agile2009 keynote. The 3 pillars are:

  • Cooperative Game
  • Craft
  • Lean Processes

Again, this to me demonstrated the need for a balance between the People and Process focussed elements.

Finally, I attended Jon Dahl’s talk on Aristotle and the Art of Software Development. This focussed on the differing ethical philosophies of Kant, and Mill and Aristotle:

  • Kant looked at the Acts, known as Deontology. This can be equated to looking at Process.
  • Mill looked at the Effect, known as Utilitarianism. This can be equated to looking at Outcome.
  • Aristotle looked a the Actor, known as Virtue. This can be equated to looking at the Participant.

Chatting with Matt Wynne after the talk, we both had the same thought. While individuals will probably sway to one form of these philosophies, there is room for all of them, and again, a balance is good. I would even go so far as mapping the three philosophies on to Alistair’s three pillars.

  • Deontology is Lean Processes
  • Utilitarianism is Craft
  • Virtue is the Cooperative Game

In many of the recent discussion I have seen and been involved in on Lean and Agile, and Kanban in particular, it seems to me that most of the debate is because the various participants are talking from the perspective of one of these pillars or philosophies. We should remember that they are all important, and that achieving the right balance is what is going to help us be successful in delivering valuable software.

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