Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Dear boy, have you ever tried programming?

I sometimes come across teams who are wrapped up in discussing what they should be building. OK, I suppose this is because I hang out with too many management types. Sometimes there are only a couple of programmer, occasionally one, or maybe they haven’t got that far.

Sometimes I come across pre-teams, people who will form a team to do some work but haven’t started yet. I guess the project folk would call this “pre-project phase” and there is a lot of discussion: “Should we do Agile or Waterfall? Scrum or Kanban?” and “Which outsourcer will we use?” and “If we are agile how will we….”

In short these people are wrapped up in agonising about what might happen.

On these occasions I’m reminded of a story I once heard about the actors Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman. In the story Hoffman, who is a famous method actor, says to Olivier something like:

“Mr Olivier, I am honoured to be working with you, but please tell me how do you learn you character? I mean do you use the method or some other approach? What should I do?”

To which Olivier says:

“My dear boy, … have you tried acting?”

This is what I feel, but usually don’t, to these teams, managers, analysts, whoever:

“Have you actually tried developing and delivering some software?”

Some planning, some forethought, some agonising is good. It helps you think things through. But it quickly becomes a game of diminishing returns. Its the old Eisenhower quote again:

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

Which is a natural follow on from Helmuth von Moltke’s observation:

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

Peter Drucker has a similar, though to my mind better, quote too:

“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”

So let me say:

“No plan for software development survives contact with the code. (Double so for legacy code.)”

“No requirements roadmap ever survives contact with the market.”

(According to wikipedia the Olivier-Hoffman exchange happened during the filming of Marathon Man and isn’t exactly true but does contain a grain of truth.)