Sunday, March 20, 2011

Post Agile - Moving beyond Fads, Really this time!

"Hello, world" - This blog is about an idea. It's an idea I've been thinking about for awhile now. Let me introduce you to this idea by way of a question:

How does the budding software developer, Manager, BA, etc, sift through the public relations barrage that passes today as "informed comment" to discover what it really takes to develop high quality software?

Sounds like yet another sales pitch right? Trust me, this site is not a rouge for any product or service, honest :)

Right with the disclaimer out the way, what is the answer to the question? Well easy, just walk up to someone who as been around the block a few times and ask them. The problem is of course is how do you know they aren't trying to sell you something? Or merely massaging their own ego at your expense? It turns out that this simple question, as a much less then simple answer, especially in a climate where you can't take anyones word at face value.

I've labelled the idea Fad Free Development. Finding ways to develop software better without falling into the trap of following the latest fad. It turns out that it is much harder then it sounds. I've been involved in more fads then I can shake a stick at. All were valuable to the early adopters, and all had more then a smidgeon of truth to them, but by the time they reach a mainstream audience they had all turned into something unrecognisable.

The short answer to banishing fads is to think for yourself. Getting to the stage where you are able to do so however is a feat in itself. Besides thinking for yourself can't be productised. No one is going to try and sell it to you, simply because independent thought can't be bought.

The result is that the tools you need to think for your self aren't marketed so you never get to know about them, and invariably you have to go through the long sorry saga of trial and error to discover these tools yourself, one at a time, paying a heavy price at the school of hard knocks. Well at least I had to. When I think about the dead end fads that I spent hours, no years following, to only realise later that 90% was BS and the other 10% could have been summed up in a few sentences.

The injustice of it all. Surely there must be a better way? Well I think there is. My plan is to use the same tools that are used to sell fads to market and sell independent thought. But wait a minute, didn't I just say that independent thought cannot be sold or bought? Yes, true, but it can be given away. Hopefully with your help we can biuld a knowledge repository containing ideas and thinking tools that will free the minds of the many. The reward will be a larger pool of free thinkers, making the ecosystem in which we all have to live that more pallatable. At a minimum I hope to discover fellow like-minds. And of course my ultimate goal is to bring an end to fads once and for all :)

Sounds gradious? I don't think so. With all the tools at the disposal of the modern internet guerilla marketter I think its possible. If the web can bring down totalitarian governments, I'm sure it can remove the scales of ignorance from the eyes of the software development community.

Now I can't be the only one out there with this desire. I'm open to ideas on how we can develop this idea. I mentioned fraternity. I resent the price I had to pay to learn how to recognise BS when I see it. I'm sure that there are a bunch of seasoned practitioners out there that have had to pay a similar price, and like me would like to see the whole sorry cycle stopped, before it saps the life force from another generation of practitioners :)

Well now is your opportunity to join me. I want to invite guest bloggers. I want to make this a community effort. I'm also thinking of other internet media, like a wiki, Facebook etc.

So think of this as a call to arms for the well- informed to help out the less well- informed. Simply because we were all green and vulnerable once, and freeing our community from the tyranny of fads is the right thing to do.

Oh yes - I mention Agile in the title of this post. Well it's the 10th anniversary of the Agile Manifesto, and where is Agile today? Yes you guest it, it's the latest fad. I'll have more to say about that in a subsequent post.

Bye for now, and remember: "Use the Force Luke" :)


  1. Hi Paul, great post! I have been through many fads which typically ended up costing the customer more than necessary and often being the root cause - or a major contributor to - a failed project.

    Why do fads create a spellbound community? Maybe a part of the community likes moving from fad to fad. Personally it irritates me, but many I have seen over the years have enjoyed the boost to their technical egos.

    There may be several different classifications of fads which are driven by the basic motivations of those concerned, such as

    Organizational -
    Fads are driven by the enterprise to fuel the next income stream, sometimes because a current fad is evaporating, others just to diversify. They are often heavyweights with a serious budget to technically drown out the competition and sell at the CIO or head-of-department level. Their very existence may even be due to the fads they sell and like an organism under threat they will put up a serious fight to keep their offspring alive.

    Personal -
    1. Ignorance - I don't mean this in a bad way, but you really don't know what you don't know. It is very easy for people who aren't working directly at the cutting edge to believe that to buy into the fad must be the right move, since everyone is talking about it. There is an inherent impedence mismatch in the software industry in that many who make the purchasing decisions are the least qualified to do so. Unless you are deep in the technical details, it is impossible to know what the best choices are for the technical team.

    2. Fear - this one often emanates from technical managers who are not hands on. They want to believe that a fad can make their lives easier, thus reducing risk and helping them to meet their own targets. Failure to meet their obligations can sometimes lead to unpleasant repercussions. Although less common, managers sometimes believe that a fad will reduce their costs by allowing them to 'dumb down' their developer skill sets - another form of risk reduction. This is often manifest by the use of 'tools' that claim to operate at a higher level.

    3. Egoism - sometimes found in technical individuals, it is often manifest by the desire to prove their abilities to themselves and others. People in technical positions often enter their chosen profession because they do not excel at dealing with other people or in social situations. Such types make life more complicated than necessary to gain self-esteem and embrace new technology as a valid avenue to justify the cost.

    So, in other words, I think fads are a large part of human nature, in all walks of life. Perhaps it is more exasperating in software development because it is so easy to hide in amongst the complications, confusion and relative youthfulness of the discipline.

  2. Hi, just realized my comment may seem too cynical :-)

    On a more positive note, as with many things in life, the cure for fads is very simple: do the basics really well at whatever you do. Like a sports player, if your basic skills are really strong and practiced repeatedly, it doesn't matter what the latest styles or fads are, you will be a great player.

    Of course, the rather large caveat is that it all depends on motivation and intent.