Measure what is not measurable

It does not matter what is trying to be done, if it can’t be measured, it  can’t be understood , controlled, or predicted.  If it can’t measured it  can’t moved forward.  If the software development process can’t be measured it can’t be understand it.  Measurement has been the basis of all science since the time of Galileo.   The idea of measurement is nothing new; it is only new to the field of software.  If the software development process is not measured it cannot be studied, it cannot be understood, and it is difficult for the organization to move forward. Measurement is one of the most ordinary actions.  We speak its language whenever we exchange goods or information.

Better A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance is a recent book written by Atul Gawande.   The book is an investigation into how medical professionals can progress from good to great.    Many of the lessons outlined in the book apply to everyone including software developers.  Gawande recommends, “Count something. Regardless of what one ultimately does in medicine or outside of medicine – one should be a scientist in this world.”    This applies to software developers too.  To be considered a scientist, something needs to be counted and measured.   It is common for software developers to refer to themselves as a computer scientists or software engineers.  Both of these titles imply utilization of the scientific method, systematic study, and measurement.

Knowing something
The most common and accepted way to know something is through systematic study and utilizing the scientific method.  Another way to know something is through personal experiences.  Through all experiences, each individual constructs a “reality” of the world.  The danger arises when this method is the only method since biases develop or information can be distorted. Often, the events experienced represent a biased sample that in turn can lead to inaccurate conclusions.   Most biased individuals do not see themselves as biased, and often they defend their opinions with a lot of passion. Basically, the scientific method is a set of assumptions and rules about collecting and evaluating data.  The idea is to reduce bias as much as possible, and the proof of the science is the data. “Stripped of fall its glamour, scientific inquiry is nothing more than a way of limiting false conclusions.”

The real conflict in software  is between systematic study and personal opinion.  There are a number of software professionals who rely on personal experience and hold the misconception that systematic study and measurement of the software development process is not possible or not necessary.  Some believe that measuring the software development process is just too complex.

One reason why software professionals do not measure is because they do not have the necessary basic quantitative and qualitative skills.  They do not know how to study a software environment.  Many of them studied computer science where there was an emphasis on learning programming languages instead of learning about the software development process. The emphasis has been on writing code and not on the idea of developing software to solve customer problems.   Since the emphasis has been on programming, it is hard for a programmer to explain how he or she knows what they know.  There is also limited knowledge and experience of what goes on before  code is written and what happens after it has been written.  The reason for this is because there is little interaction with the actual customer or the person who uses the products.  Many developers do not have the desire to know the customers either.

Read more at Reboot! Rethinking and Restarting Software Development

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