It’s long been my belief that the whole software industry could be doing so much better than it is doing, and so much better than it has been doing for the past fifty years and more.
In that belief is where my work on Rightshifting, and the Marshall Model, originated, some fifteen years ago now.And continues today.
In my travels I’ve seen countless organisations, groups and individuals demonstrate an oblivious disregard for the potential for significant improvement. I say oblivious because there’s almost no one in the industry with knowledge of or even a vision for how great things could be.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, “oblivious” originally meant “characterised by forgetfulness”. Perhaps those in the software industry today have forgotten what previous generations, long since retired, once knew about effective software development. Or perhaps folks have just never known.
I hear some readers wonder: “is it obliviousness, or just ignorance?”. Given current usage “lacking active conscious knowledge or awareness”, I myself wonder about the roots of the phenomenon.
Through my work, in particular at Familiar, and through study of the positive deviants (outliers) in the industry, I have come to see the scope of possible improvement, and the means thereto, too.
Aside: Positive deviants include SSE (Denmark), Forward Engineering (London, UK), Lockheed Martin, and in slightly different spaces, Toyota, Semco, and Buurtzorg. ISBSG also has much confirming data.
Data (e.g. ISBSG) shows there’s a x2, x3, x4, even x5 scope for improvement in organisation-wide effectiveness of software-led organisations.
I’m regularly struck by the obliviousness of folks to this scope for improvement. To misquote R Buckminster Fuller:
“You cannot question an oversight you do not know you have made”
Whether the Software Crisis is a thing – or even was ever a thing – or not, it’s clear to me that software organisations woefully underdeliver vs their potential.
Why is this? I largely attribute it to folks of all stripes being oblivious to the scope for improvement. Whence this obliviousness? I’m guessing now, but I guess it’s down to either a lack of curiosity, or to fear of the wholesale changes to organisational assumptions and beliefs necessary to realise the potential on offer.
It’s become clear to me over the years that management has to fundamentally change, or even disappear – in the form we have known it – before we see the untapped potential of software businesses begin to be realised. And folks in the industry who may be in a position to effect such change fear for their jobs and careers. As Machiavelli, oft-quoted, wrote:
“It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones.”
Thomas Kuhn, in his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” asserts that science advances vis “paradigm shifts”. Donella Meadows makes much the same assertion with her “12 leverage points of change”.
I posit we’ll not see a widespread uptick in the effectiveness of software organisations, nor in the effectiveness of the software industry as a whole, unless and until the existing paradigm (primarily the prevailing management paradigm) changes.
Interested readers may wonder how, if, and when this might happen. I have some ideas on this, which I’ve set down in numerous posts here on this blog.
I know that neither data, nor rational argument convinces, nor moves the needle on action. With this post, I only hope to invite some few folks in a position to take action to become a little curious.
The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems ~ Pascale, Sternin and Sternin
All Executives Are Unethical ~ FlowchainSensei (Falling Blossoms White Paper)
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions ~ Thomas Kuhn