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Thoughts on Software Development Methodologies and being Antifragile

IT development processes are an attempt to define patterns of behavior for each of the participants in identifying, designing, developing and delivering software, hardware and services.  In general processes are needed to organize people as they work toward creating the value needed.  I have found that people in general want to do a good job.  It has been rare that someone has said to me, “I’m going to mess this up, so I can look bad, have to work on it again, and ensure my manager looks bad.” It just doesn’t happen, assuming a modicum of sanity.  So why is it that there are numerous methodologies, why is that coaches and PMOs are needed to encourage, train, coach, hound, demand, or worse to get work done?

Understanding is rooted in behavior as is any endeavor where people are involved. Of course, where people aren’t involved I suppose it really doesn’t matter.  Here are some of my observations.

“Human will generally do that which is easiest.”  Of course there are exceptions and you probably think you’re one of them. The exceptions to this are easily identified in history and current affairs.  These are entrepreneurs, politicians, inventors, writers, painters, sculptors; those that create, organize and build. My experience tells me that this is not most people.  Too many find comfort in the lives and foibles of others as presented in books, movies or TV shows. Other popular “comforts” are video games and sports. The number of conversations I hear around sports and video games is disturbing.  Consequently and getting back to IT methodologies, since humans tend to do that which is easiest most will shy away from complicated processes, having to learn a new methodology language, work with coaches to learn a “new way”.  Leaders of these processes must overcome the natural bias of humans to avoid work and do what is easy.  People don’t follow up, because that requires effort, they don’t complete tasks on time or provide real commitment because that is actually hard. People fail to properly plan because that takes brain power.  So what do leaders do: create processes, methodologies, and procedures.  And what does it cost to implement and maintain these artificial organizational initiatives?

Instead of a fixed methodology we need a way to bring diverse people together under a common banner. This needs to be done in a way that instills a desire on the part of the team to perform work, to collaborate, and to succeed in a more natural way.  There is no one size fits all. What is needed is a loose framework around which teams can naturally fit together to get work done.  The teams would be self-organizing, with a leader committed to the success of others first, and with each person accepts ownership of his or her part.  One approach that gets close to this clarion call is Conscious Agility. With roots in several methodologies and deep understanding of human nature, Conscious Agility provides a framework for organizing to achieve value.

Antifragility is a word coined by Nassim Taleb in his work “Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder”. Antifragility is the idea that things that grow and adapt from stress, the unknown or from disorder are more adaptable, able to change, and thus are better off.  This concept describes why fixed methodologies are less than ideal. They are inherently fragile while attempting to be robust. Take SAFe for example. The attempt is to take Agile processes and scale them to handle large complex efforts. In the process new language and terms are introduced. New dynamics are required as teams attempt to work the concepts. All this has led to an industry to provide training and coaching. I have to ask, how useful is a process that requires coaching to maintain.

I’m not advocating abandoning methodologies. They are needed to combat lethargy. Processes are needed to help organize work efforts. What I am advocating is the use of a simple process that takes into account human nature and works with it instead of trying to mold it.  This is one of the reasons Si Alhir and I have authored and are editing a new book, “Exploring the Practice of Antifragility“.  As we explore the practice of antifragility I hope we begin to take in the human element in our work.

til next time

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