Quality 911

I was channel surfing and came across the show Nanny 911.  The premise of the show is that there are families who cannot control their children, so they call Nanny 911.  The nanny focuses on the behaviors of the parents rather than the behavior of the children.  A nanny trying to control the behavior of children is analogous to putting your hand in a bucket of water in hopes of displacing water.  Your hand displaces the water, but as soon as your hand is removed, the water goes back to its original position.  The same analogy holds true for the quality department.  It is impossible to enforce quality standards within an organization without holding management accountable.

The nanny teaches parents that children need to have boundaries, and children need to understand there are consequences to their behaviors. Generally, the consequence for the children is timeout.  Since there is no adult time out, a manager can’t put an employee in time out; so, other types of consequences must be adopted.

Too often, quality consultants are focused to helping employees implement a process or fine tune existing processes.    They need to be working and consulting with senior management so management understands they have a role in implementing quality programs.

The bottom line, folks can work, talk, train, cajole, sell, and communicate process until blue in the face; but if management does not enforce the desired process, then the process is not going to happen.  By enforce, I mean there have to be consequences to following the process and for not following the process.  A consequence does include loss of job.  Many successful managers I have worked with do fire people for not following the process, and they also reward those who do follow the process.

Published in: on November 12, 2009 at 18:37  Leave a Comment  
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When the only tool you have is coding…

Abraham Maslow  once quipped,  “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”  If the only tool you have is coding then you tend to see every problem as a programming problem.

Great Software Design Ideas from 1844

The following quote is very applicable  to software development in 2010 even though it was written nearly two centuries ago.

“Great design gives no more than its purpose requires; its artistic resources are the very simplest; its arrangement and relationships are the most natural and comprehensible; it is far removed from all ambition, all splendor, and all overburdening.  It is not rich and does not deceive; but it is certain, virtuously true, and intimate.  It proceeds in a strong, straight line to its goal; and a certain childlike sincerity is evident throughout. “   German Encyclopedia 1844.




Reboot! Rethinking and Restarting Software Development

Published in: on November 6, 2009 at 15:24  Leave a Comment  
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Why do most diets not work? What does this have to do with software development?

Why do most diets not work and what does this have to do with software development? It turns out that diets don’t fail, but people fail to stick with the diet. The secret to losing weight is a pretty simple concept and hard to do. The secret, of course, is to eat less food, drink less booze, and exercise. The bottom line is if you burn more calories than you take in you will lose weight.

Most software process improvements don’t actually fail. People fail to stick with the process improvement just like most people fail to stick with a diet. When you think about it a diet is a process improvement plan too.

To stick with any process improvement takes a tremendous amount of discipline. It takes discipline to lose weight and it takes discipline to develop good software too. This little snack here or there adds up to a few extra pounds just like this little short cut here and there adds up crappie software.

Published in: on November 5, 2009 at 17:20  Leave a Comment  
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Telephones and Telegraph


In the 1950s Western Union, the first ecommerce company, was at the top of its game.  It dominated telecommunications but failed to adapt and enter into the voice telephone systems.   Employment in the telegraph industry soared in the late 1800s, but by the early 1960s, the telegraph was on its way out. It is hard to believe but the telegraph lasted until about 1991. In the end, the telegraph died of a slow death. Perhaps it died at the same rate as those who grew up with the telegraph and refused to change.

There are always those who refuse to adapt. Just like those who continue to use DOS or FORTRAN, or COBOL, there are those who continued to use the telegraph-even when better options were available.


The first commercial telephones started appearing in the early 1880s and by 1902, there were 2 million telephones landlines with 54,000 employed in the telephone industry. Like software development, there was a rapid growth period that was unheard of before. Twenty years later, in 1922, there were 13 million telephones and 210,000  salaried employees.   Over seventy percent of those employed by telephone companies were operators.    It was better tools, techniques, and automation that replaced the telephone operator.

Employment in the telephone industry grew until it peaked in 1979 with slightly more than 1 million employees.  Since 1979, the number of people employed by landline telephone companies had fallen to about 300,000 in 2006.  Today, everyone understands cell phones will replace landlines, and I am sure there are some who will hold onto their landlines until they die.

The common thread in all these industries is a belief that the growth is going to last forever.  I am not sure where we are on the growth curve for software development, but I do know the industry will peak and then rapidly decline.   The software industry will continue to change rapidly and automate impacting those employed in the industry .

Published in: on November 4, 2009 at 01:01  Comments (2)  

Railroads and the Software Industry


Once upon a time, the railroad industry was the world’s largest employer; and, like software jobs in the 1990s’, some of the best jobs were with the railroads.  The railroad industry had similar growth to the software industry.   In the 19th century Europe, the UK and the USA had rapid growth in railroads.   In the USA, there were only 34 miles of railroad track in 1830; and 50 years later, in 1880, there were nearly 100,000 miles of railroad track.  Over the next 20 years, from 1880 to 1900, the number of miles of railroad tracked doubled, reaching 200,000 miles.   In only 70 years the railroad industry went from a dead stop to 200,000 miles of railroad track.

Employment was not limited to just laying track; there was large employment in manufacturing the locomotives, passenger cars, and freight cars.   In the UK, workers built 23,000 locomotives, 73,000 passenger cars, and an amazing 1.4 million freight cars in less than 50 years.[1] This is an amazing feat when considering the tools and technologies that were available.

The building of the railroads and the railcars that ran on the railroad spawned rapid employment growth in the USA and UK.  The railroad industry employed about nine percent of the total workforce of Chicago.  The rapid growth did not last forever.   Railroad employment peaked in the 1920s, declined during the Great Depression, and rose again during World War II.   Starting in the late 1940s the railroads had to compete against other forms of transportation: cars, buses, trucks and airplanes.   Much of the manual labor was replaced by automation. The railroad companies improved their technology, and they started using diesel locomotives, track-laying machines, and other innovations that reduced demand for labor.

Like the software industry, the railroads suffered from a lack of standardization.  There was no standardized track gauge, the distance between the rails, until the 1880s.[2] The distance between the tracks depended on who operated the rails. This lack of standardization caused a lot of problems for those individuals that wanted to ship freight or move people from one point to the next.  Parts between freight cars were not standardized either.   This is a similar problem faced by the software industry.   There is little industry standardization for software development.  In the software industry, it is common that software applications developed by the same companies do not communicate and share data.

From 1920 to 1995, those employed by railroads had dropped by nearly 90 percent. In the end, it was a combination of foreigner labor, competition and automation that did the railroad workers in.  In the USA, the railroads were built by cheap foreign labor especially by those coming from Asia.  Software developers are facing stiff competition from India and China (Asian labor).

[1] http://www.trackoff.org/pdf/Abriefhistoryofrailways.pdf


[2] http://www.ansi.org/consumer_affairs/history_standards.aspx?menuid=5

Published in: on November 2, 2009 at 01:01  Leave a Comment  

Blacksmiths and Programmers


About one hundred years ago blacksmiths were considered a highly skilled occupation and like software development, it was labor intensive.  While the blacksmith had been around for centuries, it was the Industrial Revolution that created a rapid growth in employment from 1880 and  1915[1].   The blacksmith was critical to the Industrial Revolution, and the software developer is a critical component of the information and knowledge revolutions.

If, in 1915, someone would have suggested to the million plus blacksmiths employed in the industrialized economies they would be obsolete in less than 50 years, they would have thought that person crazy.  The idea of working with metals, fabricating metals, did not evaporate; it was the role of blacksmith that became obsolete.    The role of blacksmithing turned into ironworkers, and those blacksmiths that did not learn the new skills of ironworkers were not able to find employment.   As software development rolls down the road of progress, the programmer will become obsolete; and the idea of software developer will continue into the future.  I imagine there are those reading proclaiming, “You will always need someone writing code,” and I am sure there were those blacksmiths who could not imagine a world without them, either.  It will be a combination of automation and outsourcing that will make the Western programmer obsolete.

The story of the blacksmith does not end with the decline of employment.  Today blacksmiths are artists and a novelty profession.  The British Artist Blacksmith Association (BABA) continues blacksmithing as an artist profession as well as offering courses on blacksmithing, and they have regular events..   It has nearly 700 members worldwide and their members create brilliant works of art.

[1] United States Statistical Abstract 1915.  Page 233 Table 158


Published in: on November 2, 2009 at 01:01  Leave a Comment