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For a given level of function, however, that system is best in which one can specify things with the most simplicity and straightforwardness. Simplicity is not enough. Mooers's TRAC language and Algol 68 achieve simplicity as measured by the number of distinct elementary concepts. They are not, however, straightforward. The expression of the things one wants to do often requires involuted and unexpected combinations of the basic facilities. It is not enough to learn the elements and rules of combination; one must also learn the idiomatic usage, a whole lore of how the elements are combined in practice. Simplicity and straighforwardness proceed from conceptual integrity. Every part must reflect the same philosophies and the same balancing of desiderata. Every part must even use the same techniques in syntax and analogous notions in semantics. Ease of use, then, dictates unity of design, conceptual integrity.
Frederick P. Brooks, Jr.: The Mythical Man-Month. Addison-Wesley, Reading MA, 1995 (anniversary ed.)To me, development consists of two processes that feed each other. First, you figure out what you want the computer to do. Then, you instruct the computer to do it. Trying to write those instructions inevitably changes what you want the computer to do and so it goes.
In this model, coding isn't the poor handmaiden of design or analysis. Coding is where your fuzzy, comfortable ideas awaken in the harsh domain of reality. It is where you learn what your computer can do. If you stop coding, you stop learning.
We aren't always good at guessing where responsibilities should go. Coding is where our design guesses are tested. Being prepared to be flexible about making design changes during coding results in programs that get better and better over time. Insisting that early design ideas be carried through is short sighted.
Kent Beck: Smalltalk Best Practice Patterns. Prentice Hall, NJ 1997
One widespread delusion is that you can separate architecture from actual programming. In reality this is a fallacy. Designing software architecture is a complex activity that suffers greatly if it is detached from the implementation. You lose important feedback loop and things instantly became more complex and less predictable. The higher is the level of detachment of the architect from the implementation the higher are chances to get into Brooks "software development tar pit". As Kent Beck noted in Smalltalk Best Practice Patterns.
Coding is where our design guesses are tested. Being prepared to be flexible about making design changes during coding results in programs that get better and better over time. Insisting that early design ideas be carried through is short sighted.
That means that those approaches that simplify prototyping are vastly superior over alternatives. Among such "prototyping friendly" approach to design of complex software systems are:
As guys in Breadmear consulting aptly noted in their paper Who Software Architect Role:
A simplistic view of the role is that architects create architectures, and their responsibilities encompass all that is involved in doing so. This would include articulating the architectural vision, conceptualizing and experimenting with alternative architectural approaches, creating models and component and interface specification documents, and validating the architecture against requirements and assumptions.
However, any experienced architect knows that the role involves not just these technical activities, but others that are more political and strategic in nature on the one hand, and more like those of a consultant, on the other. A sound sense of business and technical strategy is required to envision the "right" architectural approach to the customer's problem set, given the business objectives of the architect's organization. Activities in this area include the creation of technology roadmaps, making assertions about technology directions and determining their consequences for the technical strategy and hence architectural approach.
Further, architectures are seldom embraced without considerable challenges from many fronts. The architect thus has to shed any distaste for what may be considered "organizational politics", and actively work to sell the architecture to its various stakeholders, communicating extensively and working networks of influence to ensure the ongoing success of the architecture.
But "buy-in" to the architecture vision is not enough either. Anyone involved in implementing the architecture needs to understand it. Since weighty architectural documents are notorious dust-gatherers, this involves creating and teaching tutorials and actively consulting on the application of the architecture, and being available to explain the rationale behind architectural choices and to make amendments to the architecture when justified.
Lastly, the architect must lead -- the architecture team, the developer community, and, in its technical direction, the organization.
|...some regard the management of software development akin to the management of manufacturing, which can be performed by someone with management skills, but no programming skills. John C. Reynolds rebuts this view, and argues that software development is entirely design work, and compares a manager who cannot program to the managing editor of a newspaper who cannot write.|
The main principle of software architecture is simple and well known -- it's famous KISS principle. While principle is simple its implementation is not and a lot of developers (especially developers with limited resources) paid dearly for violating this principle. I have found only one reference on simplicity in SE: R. S. Pressman. Simplicity. In Software Engineering, A Practitioner's Approach, page 452. McGraw Hill, 1997. But lack of references notwithstanding open source tools can help here if only because for those tools a complexity is not such a competitive advantage as for closed source tools. That also help to avoid what is called "technology mudslide".
In his book by Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen defined "technology mudslide" very similar to Brooks "software development tar pit" -- a perpetual cycle of abandonment or retooling of existing systems in pursuit of the latest fashionable technology trend -- a cycle in which
"Coping with the relentless onslaught of technology change was akin to trying to climb a mudslide raging down a hill. You have to scramble with everything you've got to stay on top of it. and if you ever once stop to catch your breath, you get buried."
A book by Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen is also somewhat relevant. He defined "technology mudslide" very similar to Brooks "software development tar pit" -- a perpetual cycle of abandonment or retooling of existing systems in pursuit of the latest fashinable technology trend -- a cycle in which
Featuritis or creeping featurism is the tendency for the number of features in a software product to rise with each release of the product. If software architect is detached from actual implementation that increase chances for the project to suffer from creeping featurism. What may have been a cohesive and consistent design in the early versions may end up as a patchwork of added features. And with extra features comes extra complexity.
As Donald Norman explains: "Complexity probably increases as the square of the features: double the number of features, quadruple the complexity. Provide ten times as many features, multiply the complexity by one hundred." (Norman 1988: p. 174) The result is, in other words, that the product may be extremely productive to the small proportion of expert users whose knowledge of the use of the product has been extended with each incremental addition of features. For the first-time user or the beginner, however, the sum of features is overwhelming and it can be very discouraging to have to spend large amounts of time finding out how to accomplish simple tasks.
Another factor in spreading featuritis in the project is the pressure caused by power users or designers. Power users are especially prone to request additional features to better meet their specific needs and naively think that such additional features could "improve" the software, at least from their point of view. In reality if features contradict existing architecture and are difficult to implement within the current design framework are often the major source of deterioration of project quality.
Moreover typically only few users can actually profit from the continuous addition of features as new features became difficult to remember and as such never used. It is important to differentiate adding a feature that generalized sequence of very frequently performed operations (variation of Huffman encoding) to adding a feature that might look desirable ("Wouldn't it be nice if it had this feature too?"). Well-meaning designers who are not aware of the danger of featuritis tend to respond to pressure from power users and in the process make it more difficult to use software by the average user or beginner, who are not necessarily interested in extra features.
Once a software application suffers from featuritis designers often resort to providing "beginner's mode", which contains a basic subset of the full set of features. But the resulting software complexity and destruction of initial architecture in the process of adding features represents more serious and not easily solve d problem, making featuritis a dangerous disease.
Don Norman Jan 1st, 1970 #1
Hah! The example shown in Figure 1 is a wonderful example of a "self-defeating mechanism" (a concept worthy of its own dictionary entry). Too many features in a product? Well, we will simply add yet another feature to let you reduce the number of features. As the text for the figure legend puts it: "Example of featuritis overcome by letting the user choose a 'mode' corresponding to his/her skills." Um, but I am confused. Seems like the addition cancels any reduction. Self-defeating mechanism, self-defined. That's not reducing featuritis -- that is propagating it. I can think of other similar examples -- such as all the manuals one can purchase that explain the instruction manuals of products. Witting manuals to explain PowerPoint or Photoshop is a big business. Manuals that explain manuals. Added features in order to reduce the number of features. It's wonderful.
John Mashey (mash(at)heymash(dot)com) says: Oct 13th, 2008 #2
The term "creeping featurism" was used in a 1976 Programmer's Workbench paper I wrote, and in a talk first done in 1977, and later gave (as an ACM National Lecture) about 50-70 times through 1982. The original foils were scanned in 2002, and the phrase is used on Slide 033 within the talk.
I've lost the cartoon pair that went with this: the first, a smiling little innocent baby feature, the second, the monstrous tentacled adult creature.
I can't recall if I actually coined this myself or heard it somewhere, but in any case, the phrase was certainly in public use by 1976.
Martin Van Zanten (martinjzu(at)gmail(dot)com) says: Nov 11th, 2008
Quite well said! One other aspect I would like to point out: part of this featuritis is the feeling of "shooting on a moving target". It would be great if a "core application" would stay the same forever, so in my lifetime the "language used" would stay the same!
Of course modules could also be treated in this way... and for the adventurous this modular setup would provide an open end to experiment in different directions...
Get the point?!
Mads Soegaard (mads(at)interaction-design(dot)org) says: Nov 19th, 2008 #4
Frank Spillers has written a good article called "Feature frenzy - 10 tips to getting feature creep under control".
You can find it at http://experiencedynamics.blogs.com/site_search_usability/2007/02/feature_frenzy_.html
Great authors of literary work are often known on relentless rewriting their masterpieces, achieving perfection only after a dozen of drafts. Software is not that different. Writing a software system is a learning experience and after finishing you can start anew with much different level of understanding the problem and greater level of understanding of advantages and disadvantages of various solutions. That's why software prototyping is such a valuable approach to writing complex software systems. See Software Life Cycle Models
Sometimes people start with fundamentally flawed architecturally "first draft" and continue to enhance and debug it long past the point, when it would have been much simpler and faster to rewrite it based on better understanding of architecture and better understanding of the problem. In this case the second variant of the system can be aging improvement, if you resist the temptation for "overstretch" and adhere to kiss principle. If you fail, then Brooks "effect of the second system" comes into play and typically dooms your effort. Humility and clear understand of you own limitations to deal with complexity is a necessary trait for any good software architect.
Actually rewriting and simplification of the first "draft" can save tremendous amount of time spend in debugging of the initial version, which typically suffer from inferior in comparison with your later ideas architecture. Clean architecture simplifies debugging multiple times. And despite additional effort in rewriting/refactoring when you're done, you get codebase that is easer-to-understand, and much easier and faster to debug. With chances of getting most bugs out, instead of just systems that "seems to work okay" but as soon as you stray form a limited, common set of cases fails almost instantly.
An interesting note about programming as art form can be found at The GNU-Linux Art Farm - 08-30-99
On component level, usage of refactoring (see Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code) might be a useful simplification technique. Actually rewriting is a simpler term, but let's assume that refactoring is rewriting with some ideological frosting ;-). See Slashdot Book Reviews Refactoring Improving the Design of Existing Code.
The complexity caused by adopting new technology for the sake of new technology are further exacerbated by the narrow focus and inexperience of many project leaders -- inexperience with mission-critical systems, systems of scale, software development disciplines, and project management.
A Standish Group International survey recently showed that 46% of IT projects were over budget and overdue -- and 28% failed altogether. That's normal and probably the real figures are more dramatic: great software managers and architects are rare and it is those people who determine the success of a software project.
Software prototyping, refers to the activity of creating "disposable", threw-away version of software applications to test the key ideas of the architecture .
A prototype typically simulates only a key aspects of the system, avoiding bells and whistles and as such can use different, higher level implementation language then the final product. It also can be a virtual machine, not a software implementation in traditional sense (see below).
As Wikipedia article states
Prototyping has several benefits: The software designer and implementer can get valuable feedback from the users early in the project. The client and the contractor can compare if the software made matches the software specification, according to which the software program is built. It also allows the software engineer some insight into the accuracy of initial project estimates and whether the deadlines and milestones proposed can be successfully met. The degree of completeness and the techniques used in the prototyping have been in development and debate since its proposal in the early 1970s.
The monolithic "waterfall" approach to software development has been dubbed the "Slaying the (software) Dragon" technique, since it assumes that the software designer and developer is a single hero who has to slay the entire dragon alone. Prototyping can help in avoiding the great expense and difficulty of changing an almost finished software product due to changes in specification or understanding of the problem (and understanding of the problem often comes too late in the "prototype-less" development of software).
The process of prototyping involves the following steps
Unless this is a re-implementation of a pre-existing software, writing a complex system in a low level language such as C, C++ or Java is actually a questionable idea. You will get all the necessary insights but of pretty high price. Usage of "tandem programming" when the system is programmed with the tandem of a scripting language which serves as the main implementation language and low level subroutines which are used when scripting language is insufficient or inefficient (the latter can't be determined priory, and you need to profile the program to see which part have critical influence of the total execution time and which of them represent bottlenecks. Using a mixture of scripting language and complied language, say Python and C++ is a more productive approach then OO. The latter has its place and advantages, but they are overrated. The main danger of OO that it puts of the forefront of designing of software system religious fundamentalist type of people who will defend their (often stupid and applicable) object structuring ideas to death. See also Software Prototyping. Prototyping allow you quicker get the most important insights into the actual problem and at the end create a better system at much less cost.
In these days the usage of scripting languages can cut the volume of code more than in three times in comparison with Java or C++. People say that "Real Beauty can be found in Simplicity," and as you may know already, "Less" sometimes equal to "More" as it enables reuse of given tool and use it combination with others in Lego fashion. As Unix pipe-based components architecture demonstrated to everybody long ago. I continue to adhere to that philosophy. And this component-based approach can be implemented in CGI applications too. If you, like me, value simplicity in software engineering, then you might benefit from this collection of selected quotes and links below.
Simplicity does not guarantee commercial success. On the contrary is somewhat complicated your market position as cloning of your ideas is simper and less expensive. Microsoft, which in many ways can be called the king of software complexity, demonstrated that it is possible to success and keep market share with complex, but well debugged products. So value of simplicity is, in a way, relative. But all-in-all simplicity has a deep aesthetic value. See Aesthetics and the Human Factor in Programming.
I think writing a good software system is somewhat similar to writing a multivolume series of books. Not all writers can do that. Still most writers, even writers of short stories, will rewrite each part of the final product several times and changes general structure a lot. Rewriting large systems is more difficult, but also very beneficial. The only problem here is that life is short ;-). Still, it make sense consider the current version of the system a draft that can be substantially improved and simplified by discovering some new unifying and simplifying paradigm. Sometimes you can take a wrong direction, and rewrite fails despite honest efforts to make the system architecture simpler and more transparent. But still "nothing venture, nothing have."
On the subsystem level, a decent configuration management system is a must as it simplify recovering from the wrong turns in development. In software development, the road to hell is paved with good intentions way too often.
Compiler design and related set of classic algorithms provides a pretty flexible software architecture that can be called "abstract machine" architecture. Sometimes using this architecture and adapting it to a particular task can make design more transparent and more easily debugged. Separating lexer, parser and semantic routines is very powerful way of structuring many types of programs, especially text conversion/transformation programs.
In other words structuring a large program as if it were a compiler for some new specialized language helps to solve problem that are more difficult or even impossible to solve other way. It can adds some elegance in architecture of many types of text processing and interactive programs. BTW coroutines were first introduced as a way to simply writing compilers. An approach when an input to the program can be treated as some formal language and program transforms it to another language now got some traction in XML world. But in no way it is limited to XML and the idea has much wider applicability. In other words, elements of compiler technology, especially a notion of scanner-parser-generator troika are applicable to a wide range of programming tasks. Of course to use it you need to understand how compiler is structured and what algorithms are used. That's why complier construction course is so crucial. And again, while difficult (especially if overloaded is redundant formalisms) it is really existing. In some way, creating a new language is the way human solve complex problems.
If you don't want to outdo Microsoft in design of interface and can limit yourself to basic staff, then LAMP (with Perl or Python or Ruby instead of PHP which I don't like ;-) is a tremendously powerful platform for creating almost applications that fall into this paradigm (and this is pretty broad class of applications).
In this case you can structure the application in several abstraction layers such as interface layer and partial "abstract machine" layer implemented as CGI interface. In a way this reminds a structure of a complier and using this structure is a very powerful software architecture paradigm, actually more deep then OO (the latter can be considered as a primitive compiler-compiler system). See also Software as a Service
With the advent of virtual machines it is now possible to create an architecture of a software system in which OS is used as a complement not as an environment in which software runs. This is pretty new approach and has its pitfalls (you need VM to implement it, so VM became the necessary part of the solutions).
Still such an approach provide important advantages in comparison with traditional software application architectures. A specialized virtual machine provide many services that would be costly and difficult to implement with other approaches to the architecture of particular application.
On limitation is that you need to work in a particular VM environment (Xen or VMware) but with the tremendous power of modern PCs and servers this is less and less of a negative factor.
This approach is sometimes called Virtual Software Appliances.
This way you can use all the facilities of OS as complements of your system. In case you use Unix you can usually reuse quite a bit. You also have ability to use multiple process with tools to control them, schedule them, use named pipes for communication between them, etc. It's pretty liberating. In a way that allow to reuse Conway idea of writing a complex system as set of coroutines on a new level. Here is my old review of Salus book that touched this aspect of Unix:
Expensive short chronology; most material is available online, July 9, 2004
This is an expensive short book with mainly trivial chronological information, 90% of which are freely available on the Internet. As for the history of the first 25 year of Unix it is both incomplete and superficial. Peter Salus is reasonably good as a facts collector (although for a person with his level of access to the Unix pioneers he looks extremely lazy and he essentially missed an opportunity to write a real history, setting for a glossy superficial chronology instead). He probably just felt the market need for such a book and decided to fill the niche.
In my humble opinion Salus lucks real understanding of the technical and social dynamics of Unix development, understanding that can be found, say, in chapter "Twenty Years of Berkeley Unix from AT&T-Owned to Freely Redistributable" in the book "Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution (O'Reilly, 1999)" (available online). The extended version of this chapter will be published in the second edition of "The Design and Implementation of the 4.4BSD Operating System (Unix and Open Systems Series)" which I highly recommend (I read a preprint at Usenix.)
In any case Kirk McKusick is a real insider, not a former Usenix bureaucrat like Salus. Salus was definitely close to the center of the events; but it is unclear to what extent he understood the events he was close to.
Unix history is a very interesting example how interests of military (DAPRA) shape modern technical projects (not always to the detriment of technical quality, quite opposite in case of Unix) and how DAPRA investment in Unix created completely unforeseen side effect: BSD Unix that later became the first free/open Unix ever (Net2 tape and then Free/Open/NetBSD distributions). Another interesting side of Unix history is that AT&T brass never understood what a jewel they have in hands.
Salus's Usenix position prevented him from touching many bitter conflicts that litter the first 25 years of Unix, including personal conflicts. The reader should be advised that the book represents "official" version of history, and that Salus is, in essence, a court historian, a person whose main task is to put gloss on the events, he is writing about. As far as I understand, Salus never strays from this very safe position.
Actually Unix created a new style of computing, a new way of thinking of how to attack a problem with a computer. This style was essentially the first successful component model in programming. As Frederick P. Brooks Jr (another computer pioneer who early recognized the importance of pipes) noted, the creators of Unix "...attacked the accidental difficulties that result from using individual programs together, by providing integrated libraries, unified file formats, and pipes and filters.". As a non-programmer, in no way Salus is in the position to touch this important side of Unix. The book contains standard and trivial praise for pipes, without understanding of full scope and limitations of this component programming model...
I can also attest that as a historian, Peter Salus can be extremely boring: this July I was unfortunate enough to sit on one of his talks, when he essentially stole from Kirk McKusick more then an hour (out of two scheduled for BSD history section at this year Usenix Technical Conference ) with some paternalistic trivia insulting the intelligence of the Usenix audience, instead of a short 10 min introduction he was expected to give; only after he eventually managed to finish, Kirk McKusick made a really interesting, but necessarily short (he had only 50 minutes left :-) presentation about history of BSD project, which was what this session was about.
Unfortunately, I don't have time to rebut the sheer quantity of wrong in this article. I hope someone else who has experience delivering large software projects will come along to do so.
I will simply state that there is no "crisis" in software engineering. Software engineering practices have improved remarkably since the famous 1994 Standish Group Chaos study.
What has not improved at all in that time is the procurement and specification process. Software continues to be specified and purchased by people who are utterly unqualified to do so, and I have never seen any attempt by a procuring organization to impose any sort of accountability on those responsible for making critical decisions.
I've seen many projects that were doomed to failure from the moment they were greenlighted.
To use a civil engineering analogy, just because you want to build a bridge to Hawaii, and can find a salesman who will promise to build one for you, doesn't mean it is going to happen, no matter how much you beat up on the engineers.
Brooklin BridgeBrooklin Bridge
Personally, I think what you did is wonderful and only wish more people would try it. One of the strongest concerns I have regarding the direction computing is taking is that computer literacy in general and programming specifically is becoming so far removed from the general public and its needs and so tailor made for resolving problems on behalf of big business and big data only. Problems that Big Business uses invariably to extract more RENT from and more intrusive monitoring of the public and for little else.
In the early 90′s, it looked for a while as if Microsoft was truly going to provide a foundation for the democratization of computer literacy and software development. But then they took a sharp turn in the opposite direction. Soon after, they became lost, like everyone else, in the race to generate web based services for RENT EXTRACTION and to set up an environment – the cloud – where people increasingly HAVE to use them. Most people didn't even notice this trend and couldn't care less, they are utterly seduced by convenience, but it comes at a huge hidden cost and partly explains why violations of our privacy create such a collective yawn – people simply are NOT aware of what is going on, of how deep and intrusive the invasion of privacy is.
What the industry now calls easy programing languages such as Java and C# are not necessarily easy for the general public; they are easy for sweat shops full of poorly paid programmers that are hired to crank it out more and more quickly with less and less skill and definitely less and less craftsmanship, but they are not easy for the average person to just pick up. The software industry needs its own Charlie Chaplin to poke fun at the way the software industry is becoming more and more drone like and less and less human in its goals.
Why has OO not lived up to its promise? Object oriented design can be very difficult, for one thing. To make an elegant framework that publishes its functionality in an inheritable object oriented manner requires unusual skill and considerable practice.
Also, it doesn't always lend itself well to groups of Engineers where every one of them is to some degree the designer of his/her own solutions to their part of a project but who are not given time or don't have the inclination to develop a common set of objects between them.
You can have an extremely smart engineer who might do quite poorly when trying to think in OO. That doesn't mean his or her solutions to problems don't represent excellent solutions.
Then, OO's emphasis on hierarchy doesn't always adapt readily to modeling every problem. OO code can be wonderful at making tool kits and frameworks, such as a graphical interfaces; things that are specifically designed for subsequent use by other developers. But if your job is to design and implement some one-off that hooks up two protocols, by yesterday, OO design in its formal sense may be more than you want.
Frequently there is confusion about OO languages such as Java and C#. It is assumed that because they are object oriented by nature, their power derives from that aspect. But frequently developers get around this aspect when for what ever reason they don't want to design actual OO solutions. Make every procedure into an object and voila, you have OO code used in a procedural manner. Each object has little or no relation, and absolutely no hierarchical relation, to the objects surrounding it. They are called from a managing routine with the usual and traditional control flow directives.
But often the greatest power of these "interpreted" languages (run inside a virtual machine – often written in straight C), is in managing memory and other aspects of the code process that languages such as C++ left up to each developer and/or team with extremely diverse results running the gamut from true shanty town to absolutely sparkling and breathtaking Taj Mahals.
As to the three points Mr. Goodwin made, Standards, Transparency and Modularity/Simplicity, I always have problems with software evangelists no matter how brilliant or well presented their arguments are or how good their intentions.
A lot of these suggestions such as enforced standardization, and modularity would benefit business as rent extractor at the expense of innovation (and thus ultimately at the expense of business). It would direct the purpose of software to a narrow band of leggo applications and the result would tend towards an increasingly narrowly skilled set of programmers – particularly with the overtones of enforcement Mr. Goodwin requires of putting his views into practice. How many times have I heard the phrase, "Let's not re-invent the wheel", only to find that someone with no special license and no special authorization makes a MUCH better widget than the one that was supposed to be the "standard". It's called evolution and yet has the terminal flaw of timidity when forced into a world of GMO's where even the inventors must be authorized to invent.
Code requirements in the building industry are an excellent example of the dangers involved in this approach. Ten years ago there used to be essentially one book of code requirements for building residential homes. Now there are seven or eight. The average contractor simply doesn't have time to keep up with it all. Naturally, one can argue that as we develop more and more restrictions on what one can do, and more and more requirements on what they must do, we are making the buildings safer and more energy efficient. And that is true as far as it goes. But we are also making them expensive to the point no one except big business can afford to build them and no one except big business can afford to buy them and they come with so many restrictions about what even the home-owner can do that no one would want to live in them. Indeed, they DO satisfy all the requirements Mr. Goodwin specifies above, but the outcome is essentially that everyone will end up renting them. And as to innovation, forget it. Just plain forget it unless it is officially sanctioned or unless you are very rich (the two are usually one and the same). It may start out that everyone can be "innovative" with software as much as they want to, say in their own officially sanctioned play pens, but end up, as with building codes, being illegal to even own a compiler without obnoxious and often corrupt code inspectors sniffing around at every turn.
As a physics PhD with 25 years experience working in software engineering, I've heard and considered the building analogy before. I always find that it misleads more than it illuminates. Here are some of the reasons.
(1) Building is based on slowly evolving properties. The size of people does not change over time, nor do the properties of wood or the laws of physics. Software is built to run on systems which have increased in performance by many many orders of magnitude in relevant dimensions over just a few decades. Economics dictates that large software systems take advantage of this fire hose of new performance. Software projects that delay time to market in order to build in much future extensibility fail. Nor do the relevant dimensions change at the same rate. Over just a decade this can open up a relative order of magnitude or more between two of the dimensions (say, bandwidth to SSD vs bandwidth to disk). This rate of change means completely reorganized software systems become (un)economic over little more than a decade. Simple scale-up does not work for long.
(2) Software can be copied free, unlike buildings. We never build the same thing twice. True, applications that are popular and similar enough spawn frameworks and automation tools (think thick-client apps during the 90′s and three tier web apps in the 2000′s). Then, given (1), the very monoculture of these opens up competitive opportunities for doing better for some important subclass of the problem space (think, NoSQL databases).
(3) Software system testing faces more challenges than than do physical systems. There are several reasons which bear on this. Building materials have very good continuum approximations – we don't have to model atomic scale structure to understand when a beam will fail. So far, there are few similar effective descriptions for software systems which offer compositional utility together with the kind of guarantees that can enhance reliability testing (operating systems are relatively good at hiding hardware details–maybe the most important success) Also most software has very complex inputs and outputs, and the flow of information down the layers is also very complex - it's "all surface" compared with the physical interface of, say, a tunnel or bridge. Think of modeling a fractal bridge as an analogy and you won't be far wrong. It might be objected that these are deficiencies of software engineering, and not inherent in the undertaking. I won't argue it, but they are not easily solved, and building analogies won't help solve them.
(4) Building codes involve the legal system. Now consider for a moment the speed at which the legal system adapts to change in the world (sometimes with very good reason), and the political forces which are involved. There is a huge impedance mismatch between the legal and the techno-economic evolution of (1).
So, it would be nice, and good luck to you with helping it happen. We shall watch your future career with interest!
If you're driving too fast to be able to pay attention, the normal, logical step is to SLOW DOWN. Cursing the road or the car for being too old and slow does not help.
Jul 2003 | STSC CrossTalk"
Attention! Throw out those other improvement methods - we have just discovered the best ever. With our method, your quality will go up and costs and cycle time will go down." Almost any improvement method is hailed as the best way to save business from problems when it is new. Unfortunately, a few years later, this same method is now the reviled, flawed method that a new method is replacing. This parable tells how this happens.
In the 17th century, Europeans believed that silver bullets could kill werewolves. Today's executives seek silver bullets to protect themselves not from werewolves but from sliding profits, disillusioned stockholders, and lost market share. The silver bullets for our executives are those new management trends that promise to transform the way business is done.
Examples over the decades have included Management by Objectives and Total Quality Management, while Six Sigma, Lean Enterprise, the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI®), and agile software development techniques are more recent methods earning silver-bullet reputations.
Process improvement initiatives like these can and do work, but how they are implemented is critical to their success. The following parable shows the 11 phases in the life cycle of such an improvement initiative.Phase 1: Fresh Start
An executive of Porcine Products, Mr. Hamm, decides to throw away all silver bullets. He decides that no one knows his company like he does. He takes a close look at how the company is working to determine what its problems are and how they arose. He also looks at company strengths to leverage them and make them more effective in the future.
Envision a little pig in a suit, wiping a bunch of architectural drawings and books off a table.Phase 2: Executive Dedication and Openness
Hamm makes it his single-minded focus to improve Porcine Products. Having identified its problems and strengths and determined how to address them, he dedicates time and money to implementing the identified improvements and eliminating conflicting initiatives. He hires forward-thinking, intelligent managers and devotes considerable amounts of his own time to be sure that the problems are truly solved, not just glossed over. Hamm and his managers research a number of current and future improvement methods to help define current problems and to be potential tool kits providing applicable suggestions.
The executive insists that the senior managers become part of the solution. Hamm forces them to examine their roles in contributing to company problems and to restructure their own work to change the way the company operates. A climate of openness without retribution is fostered, and senior managers listen to messages from all levels of the company, especially messages suggesting improvements in their own work.
Envision a little pig constructing a house made of bricks.Phase 3: Success
Porcine Products reaps the rewards of this thorough effort. Executives and managers change the way they lead. Cross-company improvements change the way the company operates. Products are created more efficiently and have better quality. Costs go down, orders increase, and morale improves.Phase 4: Publicity
The business press notices the successes of Porcine Products. Hamm explains the improvements his company has achieved and is asked for a name for his method. In honor of his French grandfather, he calls the improvement Balle-Argentee. The press also wants to report how much time and money was spent, and what was reaped from the improvements; Hamm looks back and makes estimates. From these the business press calculates the magic return-on-investment (ROI) number for the Balle-Argentee method of business improvement.
Envision a little pig proudly holding a book showing a house of bricks on the cover. The book's title is "The Balle-Argentee Method."Phase 5: Momentum
Other companies look eagerly at the success of Porcine Products. Some of them are experiencing a competitive disadvantage because Porcine Products is now working more effectively than their own company, while others want to achieve the publicized ROI. Discussions at meetings of executives focus on what Porcine Products did, and why it worked.Phase 6: First Replication
Executives at these other companies decide they want to reproduce Porcine Product's success. They talk with Hamm and others in his company about what actually happened. Each company assigns a senior manager to oversee the implementation of this improvement method across the companies. These senior managers carefully read the literature about the Balle-Argentee method. Implementers look at their own companies' problems and seek to implement the spirit as well as the letter of the Balle-Argentee approach. When they make recommendations, they listen to suggestions for improvement in their own work. They keep close watch on expenditures and benefits of this approach so they will be able to report their ROI.
Envision two or three other little pigs constructing house of wood.Phase 7: Confirmation
Some of these companies publish studies of their own success using the Balle-Argentee method. The studies cite the specific improvements each company decided to make. Because of the attention paid to investments and returns since the adoption of Balle-Argentee, this set of companies can cite precise ROI figures. These companies earn accolades from shareholders for fiscally effective management. General business books about this method are published, including "Balle-Argentee in Warp Time," and "Balle-Argentee for Small Companies."
Envision a collection of books with houses of wood on the cover.Phase 8: Proceduralization
Many more companies decide that this method is valuable. The ROI convinces some, and the fact that their competitors are reaping the returns from Balle-Argentee convinces the rest. With this second set of companies, the executives and senior managers add Balle-Argentee as one more method in their current process initiatives. Because they cannot adequately focus on all of the methods, they delegate implementation of the Balle-Argentee effort to middle managers. These middle managers are given ROI goals that match the published numbers. Other middle managers are given comparable ROI goals for simultaneously implementing different process improvement efforts. Executives believe that the competition engendered by these multiple initiatives will increase the fervor in implementing all the initiatives.
What the implementing managers know about the Balle-Argentee method is limited to the published results. Time constraints prevent these managers from contacting Porcine Products or from reading any of but the shortest summary articles. To reduce the risk of missing their ROI goals, the managers seek ways to improve the cost-effectiveness of Balle-Argentee as they implement it. Implementation that took Porcine Products several years must now be completed within a fiscal cycle. The implementing managers require their people to use some of the specific improvements described in the literature exactly as they are described, without costly discussion or modification. Other specific improvements are ruled out because they would be costly to implement. The stated rationale is that these improvements will not work here because company circumstances differ.
Instead, the implementing managers restate general strategies in the Balle-Argentee literature as broad goals, which they then apply in a sparing manner. In almost all cases, the imperative for executives and managers to listen to workers and to change their own work accordingly is the first general strategy to be deleted. It is restated as improve communication and then becomes implemented as improve communication downward. These implementing managers have risen in their companies because they respect the wisdom of their superiors. They do not ask for literal implementation of the strategy executives must listen more because to do so might cause their superiors to feel threatened or embarrassed.
Finally, these implementing managers seek to cast their own actions in the best light. They believe involving executives would signal weakness. Much of the implementation of Balle-Argentee shifts to managing the news. Executives and senior managers remain uninformed and are uninvolved in the improvement effort except in expecting to reap benefits.
Envision an entire village of houses made of straw.Phase 9: Diminished Returns
Because of cost cutting, time compression of the improvement effort, lack of executive involvement, dilution of emphasis due to other improvement initiatives, and a tendency to apply the steps as a checklist rather than to seek and fix the company's basic business problems, these more recent Balle-Argentee improvement efforts do not reap the published ROI numbers. This happens broadly across the industry.
Envision the village of straw houses starting to crumble, propped up by sticks and invaded by mice.Phase 10: Blaming the Method
Workers in these companies feel bombarded by misunderstood management initiatives, and Balle-Argentee is applied intrusively asking for additional work in order to claim compliance. Workers know that the checklists they are being asked to follow and fill out are not solving any real problems. Some attend conferences and complain that the Balle-Argentee method makes companies do stupid things. They cite their experiences, complaining that the Balle-Argentee sponsor does not want to hear about any real problems that are not quickly solved. They complain that checklists and complex documentation substitute for investigation and solutions, and that the intense focus on the ROI severely decreases the investment money for making complex improvements rather than applying Band-Aids.
Coupled with the evidence from Phase 9 that current implementations of Balle-Argentee do not provide good ROI, these very real complaints cause the business press to be ruthless in denigrating Balle-Argentee as a flawed approach. Articles appear advocating slaying the Balle-Argentee monster.
Envision the big bad wolf blowing down the village of straw houses.Phase 11: Starting Fresh
Mr. Boar, a true improvement-minded executive at Animalia, Inc., decides that no one knows his company like he does. He decides to throw out Balle-Argentee along with all the other silver bullets and takes a close look at Animalia's problems and how to fix them.
Envision a different little pig wiping a bunch of books and drawings off his desk. One of the books has a picture of a house of bricks on the cover.Morals of the Story
How to Use Silver Bullets
- A sequence of steps, each consisting of decisions made for good reasons, does not necessarily lead to a good result. In the parable, each executive and manager was making good decisions within the constraints established by those higher up. The end result was disastrous.
- For best results, start at Phase 1 and stop at Phase 3.
- Only by really looking at your company's problems can you solve them. Other people's strategies worked for them because the strategies were made for them. If you want to make real improvements, you have to do the work of determining your business problems and applying methods that make sense to fix them.
- Do not assume that people who claim to be using a method really are using it. In Phase 8, actual use of the original method ceases. Instead we have a method bearing the same name that attempts to reap results quickly and dirtily, and is thoroughly unsuccessful in doing so. (Unfortunately, Phase 8 is also where most companies try to use the method.)
- There is nothing like the original. Do not read everyone else's interpretation of a method, read the original. If possible, talk to the creator. Find out the principles behind the steps, so you can ensure your adaptation is consistent with the principles.
- The ROIs of multiple improvement initiatives do not add; they interfere. Focus on what problems you want to solve, and work out as executives how the initiatives contribute to solutions. Determine where the initiatives will appear as conflicting to the workers and reconcile them. Display a unified front to the workers.
- Do not assume other companies' ROI numbers will apply to you. They started from a different place and made different investments .
A great deal has been written about the appropriate way to do process improvement. You must focus on the business goal of improvement, not just on the method used to get there (e.g., CMMI) or on intermediate indicators (e.g., Level 3) [2, 3]. Executives must devote the appropriate resources and stay involved . Managers must learn what is real and react appropriately [5, 6]. The process group must analyze the real causes of problems , plan changes, get them approved, and make sure the organization follows through . And everyone must make sure the changes actually improve the product development processes, not interfere with them.
Specific guidance on how to avoid making mistakes with a silver bullet follows:
- Everyone: Realize that all methods are a means to the end of an improved company, not the end themselves. You cannot paste on improvements - you have to look at how your company is working right now and how any given method will alter that.
- Executives: You have the responsibility to develop your own understanding of what is impeding your company's path to a better future and determining what steps will remove those barriers. Take time to understand any externally generated initiative before pushing it. Does your company even have the same problems as the companies that succeeded with the method?
Understanding your true problems requires upward communication. Know what currently makes upward communication unsafe, particularly, do your managers have incentives to tell you only good news [9, 10]? Find out what happens to bad news and where it stops. Find a way around that barrier or you will not hear what is really happening in your company.
- Managers: You have to understand the method(s) you are pushing. Needing something really badly does not mean you can get it faster by means of wishing or whipping. Determine what is realistic and do not ask for shortcuts.
Insist on understanding the relationship between initiatives that compete for people's attention. Clarify that relationship, coordinate with other sponsors, and make it easy for the workers to comply with all of the initiatives. Your products make the money, not your management initiatives. You have to be sure the initiatives do not make it difficult to make the product!
- Process Groups: Push back on managers demanding the same results as other companies but in less time, with fewer resources, and with less thought. Point out why it is not going to happen. Then propose something that will work. Do not compound the problem by giving only the good news.
- One Last Word: A truly successful effort will result when a company develops specific solutions to its specific concerns. Second-generation applications of these methods can work if they are studied to determine where the true benefits came from, and applied intelligently with appropriate investment. But a house of straw is erected when companies believe they can quickly gain return from low-budget adherence to someone else's solutions.
Special thanks goes to Cathy Kreyche for her contributions to this article.References
- Sheard, Sarah A., and Christopher L. Miller. The Shangri-La of ROI. Proc. of the 10th Annual Symposium of the International Council on Systems Engineering, Minneapolis, MN, July 2000.
- Sheard, Sarah A. What Is Senior Management Commitment? Proc. of the 11th Annual Symposium of the International Council on Systems Engineering, 2001. Republished in Proc. of the Software Technology Conference, Salt Lake City, UT, 2002.
- Kaplan, Robert S. "Implementing the Balanced Scorecard at FMC Corporation: An Interview with Larry D. Brady." Harvard Business Review Sept.-Oct. 1993.
- Gardner, Robert A. "10 Process Improvement Lessons for Leaders." Quality Progress Nov. 2002.
- Gilb, Tom. "The 10 Most Powerful Principles for Quality in Software and Software Organizations." CrossTalk Nov. 2002.
- Baxter, Peter. "Focusing Measurements on Managers' Informational Needs." CrossTalk July 2002: 22- 25.
- Card, David. Learning From Our Mistakes With Defect Causal Analysis. Proc. of the International Conference on Software Process Improvement, Adelphi, MD, Nov. 2002.
- Bowers, Pam. "Raytheon Stands Firm on Benefits of Process Improvement." CrossTalk March 2001: 9- 12.
- Argyris, Chris. Overcoming Organizational Defenses: Facilitating Organizational Learning. Prentice Hall, 1990.
- Argyris, Chris. Flawed Advice and the Management Trap. New York: Oxford UP, 2000.
About the Author
Sarah A. Sheard is technical lead for Systems Engineering at the Software Productivity Consortium. She has more than 20 years of experience in systems engineering and process improvement. Sheard has published more than 20 articles and papers on systems engineering and process improvement in CrossTalk, the proceedings of software technology conferences, International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE) symposiums, and the INCOSE journal. Sheard received INCOSE's "Founder's Award" in 2002. As the consortium's technical lead for the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI®), Sheard was the lead author of the Software Productivity Consortium's course on "Transitioning to the CMMI."
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Posted by Jeremy on Friday, September 30, 2005 - 20:14
In a conversation that began as a request to include the SAS Transport Layer in the mainline Linux kernel, there was an interesting thread regarding specifications. Linux creator Linus Torvalds began the discussion saying, "a 'spec' is close to useless. I have _never_ seen a spec that was both big enough to be useful _and_ accurate. And I have seen _lots_ of total crap work that was based on specs. It's _the_ single worst way to write software, because it by definition means that the software was written to match theory, not reality."
Linus went on to list two reasons to avoid specifications when writing software. First, "they're dangerously wrong. Reality is different, and anybody who thinks specs matter over reality should get out of kernel programming NOW." Second, "specs have an inevitable tendency to try to introduce abstractions levels and wording and documentation policies that make sense for a written spec. Trying to implement actual code off the spec leads to the code looking and working like CRAP." As a "classic example" he pointed to the OSI model, "we still talk about the seven layers model, because it's a convenient model for _discussion_, but that has absolutely zero to do with any real-life software engineering. In other words, it's a way to _talk_ about things, not to implement them. And that's important. Specs are a basis for _talking_about_ things. But they are _not_ a basis for implementing software."
From: Linus Torvalds [email blocked] To: Arjan van de Ven [email blocked] Subject: Re: I request inclusion of SAS Transport Layer and AIC-94xx into the kernel Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2005 12:57:05 -0700 (PDT)
On Thu, 29 Sep 2005, Arjan van de Ven wrote:
> a spec describes how the hw works... how we do the sw piece is up to
> us ;)
How we do the SW is indeed up to us, but I want to step in on your first
A "spec" is close to useless. I have _never_ seen a spec that was both big enough to be useful _and_ accurate.
And I have seen _lots_ of total crap work that was based on specs. It's _the_ single worst way to write software, because it by definition means that the software was written to match theory, not reality.
So there's two MAJOR reasons to avoid specs:
- they're dangerously wrong. Reality is different, and anybody who thinks specs matter over reality should get out of kernel programming NOW. When reality and specs clash, the spec has zero meaning. Zilch. Nada.
It's like real science: if you have a theory that doesn't match experiments, it doesn't matter _how_ much you like that theory. It's wrong. You can use it as an approximation, but you MUST keep in mind that it's an approximation.
- specs have an inevitably tendency to try to introduce abstractions levels and wording and documentation policies that make sense for a written spec. Trying to implement actual code off the spec leads to the code looking and working like CRAP.
The classic example of this is the OSI network model protocols. Classic spec-design, which had absolutely _zero_ relevance for the real world. We still talk about the seven layers model, because it's a convenient model for _discussion_, but that has absolutely zero to do with any real-life software engineering. In other words, it's a way to _talk_ about things, not to implement them.
And that's important. Specs are a basis for _talking_about_ things. But they are _not_ a basis for implementing software.
So please don't bother talking about specs. Real standards grow up _despite_ specs, not thanks to them.
From: Luben Tuikov [email blocked]
Subject: Re: I request inclusion of SAS Transport Layer and AIC-94xx into the kernel
Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2005 16:20:13 -0700 (PDT)
--- Linus Torvalds [email blocked] wrote:
> A "spec" is close to useless. I have _never_ seen a spec that was both big
> enough to be useful _and_ accurate.
> And I have seen _lots_ of total crap work that was based on specs. It's
> _the_ single worst way to write software, because it by definition means
> that the software was written to match theory, not reality.
A spec defines how a protocol works and behaves. All SCSI specs are currently very layered and defined by FSMs.
This is _the reason_ I can plug in an Adaptec SAS host adapter to Vitesse Expander which has a Seagate SAS disk attached to phy X... And guess what? They interoperate and communicate with each other.
Why? Because at each layer (physical/link/phy/etc) each one of them follow the FSMs defined in the, guess where, SAS spec.
If you take a SAS/SATA/FC/etc course, they _show you_ a link trace and then _show_ you how all of it is defined by the FSM specs, and make you follow the FSMs.
> So there's two MAJOR reasons to avoid specs:
Ok, then I accept that you and James Bottomley and Christoph are _right_, and I'm wrong.
I see we differ in ideology.
> It's like real science: if you have a theory that doesn't match
> experiments, it doesn't matter _how_ much you like that theory. It's
> wrong. You can use it as an approximation, but you MUST keep in mind
> that it's an approximation.
But this is _the_ definition of a theory. No one is arguing that a theory is not an approximation to observed behaviour.
What you have here is interoperability. Only possible because different vendors follow the same spec(s).
> - specs have an inevitably tendency to try to introduce abstractions
> levels and wording and documentation policies that make sense for a
> written spec. Trying to implement actual code off the spec leads to the
> code looking and working like CRAP.
Ok, I give up: I'm wrong and you and James B are right.
> The classic example of this is the OSI network model protocols. Classic
Yes, it is a _classic_ example and OSI is _very_ old.
_But_ the tendency of representing things in a _layered_, object oriented
design has persisted.
> spec-design, which had absolutely _zero_ relevance for the real world.
> We still talk about the seven layers model, because it's a convenient
> model for _discussion_, but that has absolutely zero to do with any
> real-life software engineering. In other words, it's a way to _talk_
> about things, not to implement them.
> And that's important. Specs are a basis for _talking_about_ things. But
> they are _not_ a basis for implementing software.
Ok. Let's forget about maintenance and adding _new_ functionality.
> So please don't bother talking about specs. Real standards grow up
> _despite_ specs, not thanks to them.
Yes, you're right. Linus is always right. Now to things more pertinent, which I'm sure people are interested in:
Jeff has been appointed to the role of integrating the SAS code with the Linux SCSI _model_, with James Bottomley's "transport attributes". So you can expect more patches from him.
P.S. I have to get this 8139too.c network card here working.
From: Linus Torvalds [email blocked]
Subject: Re: I request inclusion of SAS Transport Layer and AIC-94xx into the kernel
Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2005 17:35:27 -0700 (PDT)
On Thu, 29 Sep 2005, Luben Tuikov wrote:
> > It's like real science: if you have a theory that doesn't match
> > experiments, it doesn't matter _how_ much you like that theory. It's
> > wrong. You can use it as an approximation, but you MUST keep in mind
> > that it's an approximation.
> But this is _the_ definition of a theory. No one is arguing that
> a theory is not an approximation to observed behaviour.
A scientific theory is an approximation of observed behaviour WITH NO KNOWN HOLES.
Once there are known holes in the theory, it's not a scientific theory. At best it's an approximation, but quite possibly it's just plain wrong.
And that's my point. Specs are not only almost invariably badly written, they also never actually match reality.
At which point at _best_ it's just an approximation. At worst, it's much worse. At worst, it causes people to ignore reality, and then it becomes religion.
And that's way _way_ too common. People who ignore reality are sadly not at all unusual.
"But the spec says ..." is pretty much always a sign of somebody who has just blocked out the fact that some device doesn't.
So don't talk about specs.
Talk about working code that is _readable_ and _works_.
There's an absolutely mindbogglingly huge difference between the two.
From: Theodore Ts'o [email blocked] Subject: Re: I request inclusion of SAS Transport Layer and AIC-94xx into the kernel Date: Fri, 30 Sep 2005 01:31:49 -0400
On Thu, Sep 29, 2005 at 04:20:13PM -0700, Luben Tuikov wrote:
> A spec defines how a protocol works and behaves. All SCSI specs
> are currently very layered and defined by FSMs.
A spec defines how a protocol works and behaves --- *if* it is well-specified and unambiguous, and *if* vendors actually implement the spec correctly. (And sometimes vendors have major economic incentives to cheat and either intentionally violate the specification, or simply not bother to test to make sure whether or
not they implemented their hardware correctly.)
Computing history has been literred with specifications that were incompentently written and/or incompentently implemented --- from the disaster known as ACPI, to FDDI (early FDDI networking gear was interoperable only if you bought all of your gear from one vendor, natch), consumer-grade disks which lied about when data had been
safely written to iron oxide to garner better Winbench scores, and many, many, many others.
This is one of the reasons why the IETF doesn't bless a networking standard until there are multiple independent, interoperable implementations --- and even _then_ there will be edge cases that won't be caught until much, much later.
In those cases, if you implement something which is religiously adherent to the specification, and it doesn't interoperate with the real world (i.e., everybody else, or some large part of the industry) --- do you claim that you are right because you are following the specification, and everyone else in the world is wrong? Or do you adapt to reality? People who are too in love with specifications so that they are not willing to be flexible will generally not be able to achieve complete interoperability. This is the reason for the IETF Maxim --- be conservative in what you send, liberal in what you will accept. And it's why interoperability testing and reference implementations are critical.
But it's also important to remember when there is a reference implementation, or pseudo-code in the specification, it's not the only way you can implement things. Very often, as Linus has pointed out, there are reasons why the pseudo-code in the specification is wholely inappropriate for a particular implementation. But that's OK; the
implementation can use a different implementastion, as long as the result is interoperable.
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As I posted here a while back, Obamacare was implemented by amateurs who had no experience in how to run a large federal IT contract. It was run by a Civil Servant cadre who allowed the White House to delete the very programmatic tools needed to have ANY chance to succeed. Led by a SW System neophyte, the Healthcare.gov program suffered:
- Endlessly changing requirements
- The deletion of its Concept of Operations document (vacated because it laid out the true challenges of ObamaCare – thus depriving the developers and stakeholders any agreed upon baseline to work against)
- A test program that was a joke because it never happened
- Serious and criminal security lapses, etc
I think the amateurs at HHS pretty much nailed every thing you should NEVER do on any computer based development effort.
July 23, 2011 | NYTimes.com
AT Apple, one is the magic number.
One person is the Decider for final design choices. Not focus groups. Not data crunchers. Not committee consensus-builders. The decisions reflect the sensibility of just one person: Steven P. Jobs, the C.E.O.
By contrast, Google has followed the conventional approach, with lots of people playing a role. That group prefers to rely on experimental data, not designers, to guide its decisions.
The contest is not even close. The company that has a single arbiter of taste has been producing superior products, showing that you don't need multiple teams and dozens or hundreds or thousands of voices.
Two years ago, the technology blogger John Gruber presented a talk, "The Auteur Theory of Design," at the Macworld Expo. Mr. Gruber suggested how filmmaking could be a helpful model in guiding creative collaboration in other realms, like software.
The auteur, a film director who both has a distinctive vision for a work and exercises creative control, works with many other creative people. "What the director is doing, nonstop, from the beginning of signing on until the movie is done, is making decisions," Mr. Gruber said. "And just simply making decisions, one after another, can be a form of art."
"The quality of any collaborative creative endeavor tends to approach the level of taste of whoever is in charge," Mr. Gruber pointed out.
Two years after he outlined his theory, it is still a touchstone in design circles for discussing Apple and its rivals.
Garry Tan, designer in residence and a venture partner at Y Combinator, an investor in start-ups, says: "Steve Jobs is not always right-MobileMe would be an example. But we do know that all major design decisions have to pass his muster. That is what an auteur does."
Mr. Jobs has acquired a reputation as a great designer, Mr. Tan says, not because he personally makes the designs but because "he's got the eye." He has also hired classically trained designers like Jonathan Ive. "Design excellence also attracts design talent," Mr. Tan explains.
Google has what it calls a "creative lab," a group that had originally worked on advertising to promote its brand. More recently, the lab has been asked to supply a design vision to the engineering and user-experience groups that work on all of Google's products. Chris L. Wiggins, the lab's creative director, whose own background is in advertising, describes design as a collaborative process among groups "with really fruitful back-and-forth."
"There's only one Steve Jobs, and he's a genius," says Mr. Wiggins. "But it's important to distinguish that we're discussing the design of Web applications, not hardware or desktop software. And for that we take a different approach to design than Apple," he says. Google, he says, utilizes the Web to pull feedback from users and make constant improvements.
Mr. Wiggins's argument that Apple's apples should not be compared to Google's oranges does not explain, however, why Apple's smartphone software gets much higher marks than Google's.
GOOGLE'S ability to attract and retain design talent has not been helped by the departure of designers who felt their expertise was not fully appreciated. "Google is an engineering company, and as a researcher or designer, it's very difficult to have your voice heard at a strategic level," writes Paul Adams on his blog, "Think Outside In." Mr. Adams was a senior user-experience researcher at Google until last year; he is now at Facebook.
Douglas Bowman is another example. He was hired as Google's first visual designer in 2006, when the company was already seven years old. "Seven years is a long time to run a company without a classically trained designer," he wrote in his blog Stopdesign in 2009. He complained that there was no one at or near the helm of Google who "thoroughly understands the principles and elements of design" "I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide," Mr. Bowman wrote, adding, "I can't operate in an environment like that." His post was titled, "Goodbye, Google."
Mr. Bowman's departure spurred other designers with experience at either Google or Apple to comment on differences between the two companies. Mr. Gruber, at his Daring Fireball blog, concisely summarized one account under the headline "Apple Is a Design Company With Engineers; Google Is an Engineering Company With Designers."
In May, Google, ever the engineering company, showed an unwillingness to notice design expertise when it tried to recruit Pablo Villalba Villar, the chief executive of Teambox, an online project management company. Mr. Villalba later wrote that he had no intention of leaving Teambox and cooperated to experience Google's hiring process for himself. He tried to call attention to his main expertise in user interaction and product design. But he said that what the recruiter wanted to know was his mastery of 14 programming languages.
Mr. Villalba was dismayed that Google did not appear to have changed since Mr. Bowman left. "Design can't be done by committee," he said.
Recently, as Larry Page, the company co-founder, began his tenure as C.E.O., , Google rolled out Google+ and a new look for the Google home page, Gmail and its calendar. More redesigns have been promised. But they will be produced, as before, within a very crowded and noisy editing booth. Google does not have a true auteur who unilaterally decides on the final cut.
Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley and a professor of business at San Jose State University. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I used to work as a software developer many years (and generations of hardware and software) ago. The large systems integration houses tend to assign their worst staff to government projects and governments complain less about quality of work, and are less likely to go ballistic when projects fail (and many certainly do in both private and public sectors). To put a career bureaucrat in charge (responsible/accountable on the RACI chart) of a complex software development project is irresponsible.
I also question why they had to build from scratch when production code is available from third-parties, some of it written for consumer-driven healthcare (CDHP) which shares some of the Obamacare functionality. While those systems are far less complex in terms of constraints and total functionality, the software core of these systems contain (once again) production grade code that have been tested extensively. Why on Earth anyone would want to build this from scratch is beyond my comprehension, unless of course someone wanted to enrich one or more government contractors.
If read some inept excuse about the project team not being able to perform beta testing. The combination of using production grade code would reduce part of that problem, and of course stress testing (!) the code for greater-than-anticipated volume of users and transactions would have revealed any design or environmental problems early.
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Kamran Sartipi's Software Architecture Bibliography
SEI Bibliography on Software Architecture
Groupthink : Two Party System as Polyarchy : Corruption of Regulators : Bureaucracies : Understanding Micromanagers and Control Freaks : Toxic Managers : Harvard Mafia : Diplomatic Communication : Surviving a Bad Performance Review : Insufficient Retirement Funds as Immanent Problem of Neoliberal Regime : PseudoScience : Who Rules America : Neoliberalism : The Iron Law of Oligarchy : Libertarian Philosophy
War and Peace : Skeptical Finance : John Kenneth Galbraith :Talleyrand : Oscar Wilde : Otto Von Bismarck : Keynes : George Carlin : Skeptics : Propaganda : SE quotes : Language Design and Programming Quotes : Random IT-related quotes : Somerset Maugham : Marcus Aurelius : Kurt Vonnegut : Eric Hoffer : Winston Churchill : Napoleon Bonaparte : Ambrose Bierce : Bernard Shaw : Mark Twain Quotes
Vol 25, No.12 (December, 2013) Rational Fools vs. Efficient Crooks The efficient markets hypothesis : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2013 : Unemployment Bulletin, 2010 : Vol 23, No.10 (October, 2011) An observation about corporate security departments : Slightly Skeptical Euromaydan Chronicles, June 2014 : Greenspan legacy bulletin, 2008 : Vol 25, No.10 (October, 2013) Cryptolocker Trojan (Win32/Crilock.A) : Vol 25, No.08 (August, 2013) Cloud providers as intelligence collection hubs : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2010 : Inequality Bulletin, 2009 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2008 : Copyleft Problems Bulletin, 2004 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2011 : Energy Bulletin, 2010 : Malware Protection Bulletin, 2010 : Vol 26, No.1 (January, 2013) Object-Oriented Cult : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2011 : Vol 23, No.11 (November, 2011) Softpanorama classification of sysadmin horror stories : Vol 25, No.05 (May, 2013) Corporate bullshit as a communication method : Vol 25, No.06 (June, 2013) A Note on the Relationship of Brooks Law and Conway Law
Fifty glorious years (1950-2000): the triumph of the US computer engineering : Donald Knuth : TAoCP and its Influence of Computer Science : Richard Stallman : Linus Torvalds : Larry Wall : John K. Ousterhout : CTSS : Multix OS Unix History : Unix shell history : VI editor : History of pipes concept : Solaris : MS DOS : Programming Languages History : PL/1 : Simula 67 : C : History of GCC development : Scripting Languages : Perl history : OS History : Mail : DNS : SSH : CPU Instruction Sets : SPARC systems 1987-2006 : Norton Commander : Norton Utilities : Norton Ghost : Frontpage history : Malware Defense History : GNU Screen : OSS early history
The Peter Principle : Parkinson Law : 1984 : The Mythical Man-Month : How to Solve It by George Polya : The Art of Computer Programming : The Elements of Programming Style : The Unix Hater’s Handbook : The Jargon file : The True Believer : Programming Pearls : The Good Soldier Svejk : The Power Elite
Most popular humor pages:
Manifest of the Softpanorama IT Slacker Society : Ten Commandments of the IT Slackers Society : Computer Humor Collection : BSD Logo Story : The Cuckoo's Egg : IT Slang : C++ Humor : ARE YOU A BBS ADDICT? : The Perl Purity Test : Object oriented programmers of all nations : Financial Humor : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2008 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2010 : The Most Comprehensive Collection of Editor-related Humor : Programming Language Humor : Goldman Sachs related humor : Greenspan humor : C Humor : Scripting Humor : Real Programmers Humor : Web Humor : GPL-related Humor : OFM Humor : Politically Incorrect Humor : IDS Humor : "Linux Sucks" Humor : Russian Musical Humor : Best Russian Programmer Humor : Microsoft plans to buy Catholic Church : Richard Stallman Related Humor : Admin Humor : Perl-related Humor : Linus Torvalds Related humor : PseudoScience Related Humor : Networking Humor : Shell Humor : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2011 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2012 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2013 : Java Humor : Software Engineering Humor : Sun Solaris Related Humor : Education Humor : IBM Humor : Assembler-related Humor : VIM Humor : Computer Viruses Humor : Bright tomorrow is rescheduled to a day after tomorrow : Classic Computer Humor
The Last but not Least
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Last modified: September 12, 2017