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A sidelong view of organizational transformation failure

Looking at the corporate landscape of the 2020s, I’m compelled to wonder why large organizations today seem no different from those of 150 years ago, despite the work of people like W. Edwards Deming, Peter Senge, Taiichi Ohno, and others; and well-thought-out improvement programs/frameworks/methods like Kaizen, Business Process Reengineering, Operational Excellence, Total Quality Management, Agile- and Lean-derived frameworks, and others, all diligently applied year after year.

There’s been speculation about why all this time, money, and effort has yielded no fruit.

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Mastering the keyboard

You’ve probably heard advice from certain quarters that a software developer doesn’t need a pointing device. Everything they need to do can be done with the keyboard, and the work is much faster that way.

The advice seems succinct until you unpack some of the underlying assumptions. Besides that, I think we should think about the effect on novice developers when highly-experienced trainers and coaches tell them to throw away their mouse. They often end up spouting off on their blogs about how anyone who ever reaches for a mouse for any reason is unprofessional.

They have been told by mentors they respect that they don’t need a mouse. All they need is a keyboard. And they’ve practiced working that way through code katas and other exercises. They can navigate their favorite text editor flawlessly using the keyboard alone.

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Focus on Delivery

Year by year, the general quality of software worldwide, in every industry, declines. Software testing specialists lament the low quality of applications they use in their regular lives as well as those they are engaged to test.

It has become a sort of game to take photos of crashed billboards, kiosks, train and bus signage, and other software failures and post them online. The examples are called Kevlin Henneys, after a software engineer who started posting such photos several years ago. They’re amusing, but also lead one to wonder why software failures are so common, and how we came to accept bad software as normal.

I don’t claim to know all the causes of the phenomenon. One cause may be the sheer number of people involved with developing software. It’s been said that the number of programmers in the world has doubled every five years since about 1970. That may or may not be absolutely accurate, but in any case the key observation is that half the people writing the software products we depend on in our lives have less than five years experience.

Many of them never learn software development as an engineering discipline. They are graduates of rapid learning programs such as “bootcamps,” aimed at enabling a person to generate a mostly-boilerplate mobile app or web app quickly. Intuitively, this looks like it could be one cause of poor software quality.

But I’m exploring another possible cause in this post: The obsessive, almost manic preoccupation with delivery.

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Institutionalized Workarounds

I’ve heard it said that sometimes we learn a different way of looking at things, and it influences the way we see the world from that point forward.

For me, one such way of looking at things is Lean Thinking. I became aware of that school of thought about fifteen years ago, and it had a profound effect on the way I approached my work in software consulting and team coaching.

As I learned more about Lean, it became the default lens through which I viewed software development and support processes. It changed the way I think about two concepts that people talk about a lot: value and waste.

My observation is there are two kinds of value and most people don’t distinguish them. Similarly, there are two kinds of waste and most people don’t distinguish them. One of the kinds of value overlaps with one of the kinds of waste. As a result, in many organizations people emphasize the wrong kind of value, while simultaneously treating some forms of waste as “value.”

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My personal quest for a UML diagramming tool

Guest post by A. Cranky, Old Man

tl;dr – I’m using Visual Paradigm.

When I needed a way to create a reasonably good-looking sequence diagram for a recent engagement, I was suprised to discover more than 80 diagramming tools on the market. Given such a large pool of candidates, I expected to find several good ones, and I embarked on my quest in hight spirits.

You’d think at my age I would know better.

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Of Cockroaches and Kings

A recent toot on Mastodon reminded me of a phenomenon I believe is pretty common these days: An unusual event causes us to reconsider our habits and assumptions in some way.

The toot was this one from Benji Weber, posted on February 9, 2023:

The blog post he references is here: I Was Saved By Test Driven Development.

The toot and blog post explain what happened clearly enough; there’s no need to reiterate the details.

The angle I’d like to bring out is the pattern: We operate in domain X in a certain way based on our established habits and our assumptions about the best way to do X. Then something unexpected and/or unusual happens that causes our habitual way of doing X to be uncomfortable, clumsy, expensive, or unworkable. At that point we reconsider our habits and assumptions, and possibly change the way we do X.

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The THX 1138 Rule

In the 1971 movie THX 1138, George Lucas’ first feature film, the title character gets in trouble with the law when he gets his girlfriend, LUH 3417, pregnant. In the highly regimented society in which they live, relationships like theirs are illegal. The authorities throw him in jail and redesignate LUH 3417 so he can’t find her again.

THX 1138, along with a couple of other escapees from jail, look for a way out of the subterranean complex where their society lives. Ultimately, THX 1138 is the last of the escapees still at large. The robot cops try to convince him to return with them, but he refuses. When the pursuit exceeds 6% of the budget allocation for chasing escapees, they let him go and he reaches the surface.

The question you may be asking is, “What does that have to do with anything?”

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Where to Find Prominent Voices in Software Other Than Twitter

Where to Find Prominent Voices in Software Other Than Twitter

Updated 6 Nov 22

Thousands of thoughtful and experienced software professionals use Twitter to share information and interact with one another. We’ve come to depend on Twitter as a source of information and interaction with colleagues.

With the recent changes at Twitter, many users are looking for alternative social media platforms. But many of us hesitate to “leave” Twitter because that’s where we find industry leaders in the software field, and we don’t want to miss out on what they have to teach us.

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