Is Software Management Doomed?

Committees don’t make great software. It takes a single person, an author. Maybe he gets some help. Teams don’t do it. Nobody sees the whole elephant.

I’m pretty sure I heard that basic sentiment first in about 1986, from Dave Winer, who was then the author of a Macintosh outlining program named More (now he’s better known as the de-facto father of blogging).

What reminded me of this over the weekend was my son emailing me about Jeff Atwood’s Software Engineering: Dead post on Coding Horror. In his post, Jeff’s looking at this article by Tom DeMarco, author of Controlling Software Projects, a software management classic.

Creative Programming

What DeMarco seems to be saying — and, at least, what I am definitely saying — is that control is ultimately illusory on software development projects. If you want to move your project forward, the only reliable way to do that is to cultivate a deep sense of software craftsmanship and professionalism around it.

The guys and gals who show up every day eager to hone their craft, who are passionate about building stuff that matters to them, and perhaps in some small way, to the rest of the world — those are the people and projects that will ultimately succeed.

That sounds to me a lot like what Dave Winer was getting at about 25 years ago. And if it takes a single user, someone writing code and working the application because he or she wants to use it, then that’s hard to manage.

And if you’re interested in software quality, creativity, and management, you might want to look at an exchange between user interface designerDustin Curtis and an interface designer at American Airlines. It starts here with Justin’s rant about the hostile interface on the AA website; and gets more interesting here with an AA interface designer’s answer.

However, there are large exceptions. For example, our Interactive Marketing group designs and implements fare sales and specials (and doesn’t go through us to do it), and the Publishing group pushes content without much interaction with us… Oh, and don’t forget the AAdvantage team (which for some reason, runs its own little corner of the site) or the international sites (which have a lot of autonomy in how their domains are run)… Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that is a huge corporate undertaking with a lot of tentacles that reach into a lot of interests. It’s not small, by any means.

And apparently frustration was had by all.

And it certainly won’t make you wish you had a creative or design oriented position in a large company.

Two guys wrote the original spreadsheet (VisiCalc), one, Paul Brainard, wrote the main part of the first page layout program (Pagemaker). One of the more interesting facets of a lot of Web 2.0 work is that the programs are smaller, written more by authors, less by teams.


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