Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What Did You Say?

A similiar image was in my Analysis and Design textbook in college
This says it all. Most of the time research focuses on if new stuff is possible. The real 'Silver Bullet' would be to find a way to solve the communication problem. Click on the image to embiggen.
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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

We Have Met The Enemy

In the previous post "Why Extreme Programming Fails"I attempted to shine a light on a dirty little secret of software development. The biggest obstacle was, is, and shall be, the people writing software. Do I condone the 48 Laws of Power, of course not. But to ignore the realities of human behavior in building software would be as foolish as building an elaborate sandcastle on a beach below the high-tide line and expect to hold back the water from destroying all your hard work. Programming is a social activity. See my review of Weinberg's book at

Sun Tzu wrote that you should know yourself and your opponent to have the best chance of victory. Understanding your team is the best place to start to ward off non-technical issues. Admitting that people have hidden motives is not to say those motives are good but to realize how situations should be approached or to understand why a given developer is so hard to work with. The 48 Laws are stated in an almost malevolent way in an effort to illustrate how people act at the extreme. Law #1, "Never Outshine the Master" can be taken either as a command for those who want to curry favor or it can be taken as a reason why a long-time developer may not take it well when showed up on a coding task by a new hire. At their foundation, the laws show behavior issues where ego, mistrust, control, and laziness are the motivations instead of loyalty, honesty, or integrity. We don't have the luxury of assuming everybody in the workforce is on the up-and-up or motivated to do a good job; once we learn that lesson we can begin to steer our own course, taking detours around those who put obstacles in our way instead of being at the mercy of those whose desires are as capricious as they are destructive.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

Why Extreme Programming Fails

In the decades of the young life of software development, we've discovered many behaviors, processes, and techniques which have nothing to do with software yet continue to hold back progress. We ask time and time again why the mythical silver bullet is still searched for by those who have already agreed that it is a fools errand. Why are death-marches allowed to form when the futility is obvious to all but the oblivious? Why are proven techniques not mandated by management or agreed to by the workers who constantly complain about the current poor practices? This is true whether we're discussing XP or Agile or SCRUM.

We can use rational thought to decipher the mystery, attempting to achieve clarity. However much success is possible in finding rational explanations, there comes a time when we must recognize the difference between clarity and understanding. We can state things extremely clearly and succinctly and still fail to understand why people continue their unproductive habits or why change is viewed by those in charge with such disdain.

Submitted here for your edification, The 48 Laws of Power.

Why does that developer refuse to pair with someone? There are lots of reasons, i.e. Law #1 - Never Outshine the Master or law #30 - Make your Accomplishments Seem Effortless, are good places to start. Why is Continuous Integration scoffed at? See law #11 - Learn to Keep People Dependent on You

The words 'politics' or 'management' may seem like pejoratives but they serve as simple placeholders for the understanding of human behavior. At their worst, they can be weapons in a Machiavellian conflict while at their best they can be the protective shield against those who see your efforts as a challenge to their plans. Is every use of these laws an instance of plotting and scheming? No, never forget that human nature operates below the level of conscious thought; these behaviors are ancient artifacts used for thousands of years to survive in a violent and irrational world. Disagree with them all you'd like but ignoring them can easily cost you your job.
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