Saturday, 13 September 2008

Can you sell a software process?

Most software groups (and I'm sure that this doesn't apply to just software groups) with any sort of history have a record of trying out prescribed process improvement after process improvement, many of them ending in some sort of failure - generally meaning that the process didn't meet the expectation or goals it was introduced with.

This can be especially true of process improvements that are built around an expensive software tool. I've had my fair share of colleagues lost to some sales type or evangelist touting the latest and greatest in software silver bullets. The use of the word 'evangelist' is telling, and conjures up images of an overzealous individual pushing unfounded ideas at you - it gives an indication of the mysic aura that a 'process guru' can give themselves by which one can be blinded.

CASE tools aren't that useful when they constrain you too much to one process, and some companies that push tools as well as processes rely on a self-created cult-like following whipped up from the guru of the day's scribblings. When these words of wisdom are unfounded, unproven and (even better) not understandable, they can be taken by savvy marketers to sell the tool.

A prescribed process (from a heavy one to a very light or 'agile' one) may fit perfectly into the company, work environment, or culture it grew up in but moving it into another environment, more often than not, can transform it into a useless or even dangerous beast.

In the translation, you can lose the meaning of important concepts, miss out on understanding vital assumptions and all the other pitfalls associated with one person attempting to describe a complex system to another. No matter how many reams of written documents or concise manifestos one writes, some things just get missed - even when the two communicator's work cultures are very similar.

What would be much more useful and less prone to failure is an expert in processes to mentor a group over a period of time (even indefinitely), who can prescribe and tailor a process to meet their current needs, to put in place mechanisms to measure the success and progress of the group and ultimately advance the group's software capability - a process specialist or change agent.

A software CASE tool is no substitute for an experienced mentor!