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Hubris Antipattern for Software Development

 

 

There is a certain amount of arrogance that exists for someone to believe they can codify a business process they know nothing about in a very short period of time. This is the world of a software developer. Show any software developer a business or job, and they immediately start thinking about how a piece of software can do the work faster, better or cheaper.

Software isn’t magic—it takes jobs that either are or were or could be done by humans and makes them repeatable so that error is reduced or efficiency is increased. More output with less input while not forfeiting quality is how productivity is increased. It was just this combination of computing power, the Internet and software that caused the productivity model of economists to break in the late 1990s.

The definition of hubris is the characteristic of excessive confidence or arrogance, which leads a person to believe that he or she may do no wrong. Hubris is what happens when the excessive confidence of developers careens off into the ditch. Successful businesses are the culmination of a unique set of ideas and talents that fulfill a need of their customers. Over time, successful businesses collect quality people, products and processes, regardless of the software they use. Oftentimes they can become routine and out of date, however we must also remember that successful companies are successful for a reason. Some of the factors of success may be different than many business norms. Software developers must realize and act with the knowledge that the people within the business are the experts (subject matter experts or SMEs) and it is imperative that continual communications with these individuals and groups exist throughout any project. 

Software Development requires a lot of communication. Requirements gathering is what most think of when we discuss software development communications. However, the most important communication is about validating the completion of something. Project delivery is a collection of touchpoints with SMEs correcting a path to completion. Continually demoing software is important to ensure any deviation from a successful delivery is corrected as soon as possible. Communications must also be in the language of the user, which is working code.

Business, technical and management groups must be able to have real conversations without sarcasm, anger, pettiness, etc. The interactions must be healthy, driving the entire process to success. Humility from the software development team is a key characteristic to success. Expectations of completeness and correctness from any information gathered at the beginning of a project without continual communications throughout the project by key SMEs is a recipe for failure. In addition, management must serve developers in every way to add clarity, consistency, remove obstacles, etc. Developers (really all humans) will stop or slow when there is confusion—keeps us from getting eaten—and one the most important jobs of both software development and business management is to eliminate confusion.

An agile project development process embraces this reality and with humility, actively pursues a solution that provides value to its customers. The “Twelve Principles of Agile Software” takes this into account and lays out these principles:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
  • Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • Build projects around motivated individuals.
  • Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress.
  • Agile processes promote sustainable development.
  • The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
  • Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.
  • The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

After 30 years of software development I have found that hubris is the enemy of success and both the SMEs and developers must work together knowing that only through ample communication and teamwork is a successful software development project delivered.

 

– Hank Haines (CEO of SEQTEK)

 

 

 

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