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5869Re: [agile-usability] Article on Design and Agile on A list Apart

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  • Adam Sroka
    Dec 2, 2008
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      On Tue, Dec 2, 2008 at 12:54 PM, William Pietri <william@...> wrote:
      > Adam Sroka wrote:
      >> However, from a macro-economic viewpoint the value in software
      >> development isn't always delivering working software. Despite all the
      >> dire predictions about the economy, the US government is still
      >> spending at unprecedented levels. Hundreds of billions of dollars go
      >> into government sponsored software projects every year. Yet, more than
      >> half of those will never deliver working software to an actual user.
      >> So, what is the value of those projects? Why wouldn't they just become
      >> Agile and deliver something useful. The reason is that the real value
      >> of those projects is in their ability to infuse large sums of money
      >> into a large bureaucracy to fuel it's continued existence. Even if
      >> they produce nothing they still keep people in jobs and money flowing
      >> through the economy. If every project had to produce value we would
      >> soon find that there wasn't enough value to be had to justify all of
      >> these jobs.
      > I couldn't disagree more strongly. As long as governments don't just use
      > the savings from Agile methods to cut spending, then a switch to
      > delivering actual value would be macroeconomically positive, not negative.
      > Part of your analysis seems reasonable to me: sometimes the value of a
      > project to a bureaucracy is in perpetuating the bureaucracy and
      > advancing the career of its leaders by seeming big and important.
      > Macroeconomically, though, there's no reason to waste money. Your take
      > is a common one, but among economists it's known as the "broken window
      > fallacy":
      > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_broken_window
      > It's true that during a recession the government shouldn't cut spending,
      > as a counter-cyclical fiscal policy can lessen the length and severity
      > of a recession. But the only reason to do a low-value project is if
      > government is already spending all it can on higher-value projects. I
      > guess that's theoretically possible, but off the top of my head I could
      > name project after project that would be more beneficial to the public
      > than the typical large-project development failure.
      > Your analysis also neglects the human cost. If we employ a lot of people
      > in jobs that are essentially valueless, then we've in effect trained an
      > entire time-wasting army. So not only do we lose the resources spent on
      > the individual project, but we severely impair the future productivity
      > of the workers involved.
      > Despite having advocated XP since 2000, I have never seen a company that
      > used the efficiency gains to cut staff. Instead, they find other things
      > for people to do, and better ways to spend their excess money. There's
      > no reason governments couldn't do the same thing.
      > William

      I think you misunderstood my intentions. I was attempting to describe
      the current situation and why I think Agile has not been more widely
      adopted. I was also trying to discount the premise of TFA that current
      economic conditions compel us to be more Agile. I was not arguing that
      the current situation was reasonable or valid.

      It is possible that government projects could adopt Agile and produce
      more value. It is also possible that government projects that don't
      produce value could cease and that those people could find productive
      jobs elsewhere. I was merely making the case that there is currently
      no economic force compelling them to do either. (I also made the point
      that software development is overvalued and that when its valuation
      becomes more realistic other factors may be more compelling.)

      BTW, there are a lot of government projects that do produce value and
      many that have adopted Agile. However, these are not the majority by
      any stretch. Also, the same situation can and does exist outside of
      the government. I think that government tends to be a refuge for these
      projects, however, because their oversight is not motivated by
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