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

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  • Adam Sroka
    ... 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
    Message 1 of 16 , Dec 2, 2008
      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
      profitability.
    • Ron Jeffries
      Hello, Adam. On Tuesday, December 2, 2008, at 3:37:25 PM, you ... Huh? Value isn t a finite quantity that projects draw down. Projects [can] /create/ value.
      Message 2 of 16 , Dec 2, 2008
        Hello, Adam. On Tuesday, December 2, 2008, at 3:37:25 PM, you
        wrote:

        > 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.

        Huh? Value isn't a finite quantity that projects draw down. Projects
        [can] /create/ value.

        Any project whose sole value is that it is causing people to be paid
        would be of more value if it also built something useful.

        Ron Jeffries
        www.XProgramming.com
        www.xprogramming.com/blog
        The fact that we know more today, and are more capable today,
        is good news about today, not bad news about yesterday.
      • Adam Sroka
        On Tue, Dec 2, 2008 at 1:35 PM, Ron Jeffries ... Yes, but what compels them to do so? ... Can it be that some projects create /sufficient/ value to justify
        Message 3 of 16 , Dec 2, 2008
          On Tue, Dec 2, 2008 at 1:35 PM, Ron Jeffries
          <ronjeffries@...> wrote:
          > Hello, Adam. On Tuesday, December 2, 2008, at 3:37:25 PM, you
          > wrote:
          >
          >> 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.
          >
          > Huh? Value isn't a finite quantity that projects draw down. Projects
          > [can] /create/ value.
          >

          Yes, but what compels them to do so?

          > Any project whose sole value is that it is causing people to be paid
          > would be of more value if it also built something useful.
          >

          Can it be that some projects create /sufficient/ value to justify
          their own existence but not as much value as is /possible/? And, what
          if a project provides sufficient value (to someone) without providing
          value in the form of working software?
        • Adam Sroka
          P.S. More to the point: much of the value in working software is that is satisfies some business need. What happens if my business has more budget for software
          Message 4 of 16 , Dec 2, 2008
            P.S. More to the point: much of the value in working software is that
            is satisfies some business need. What happens if my business has more
            budget for software than it has need?

            On Tue, Dec 2, 2008 at 1:53 PM, Adam Sroka <adam.sroka@...> wrote:
            > On Tue, Dec 2, 2008 at 1:35 PM, Ron Jeffries
            > <ronjeffries@...> wrote:
            >> Hello, Adam. On Tuesday, December 2, 2008, at 3:37:25 PM, you
            >> wrote:
            >>
            >>> 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.
            >>
            >> Huh? Value isn't a finite quantity that projects draw down. Projects
            >> [can] /create/ value.
            >>
            >
            > Yes, but what compels them to do so?
            >
            >> Any project whose sole value is that it is causing people to be paid
            >> would be of more value if it also built something useful.
            >>
            >
            > Can it be that some projects create /sufficient/ value to justify
            > their own existence but not as much value as is /possible/? And, what
            > if a project provides sufficient value (to someone) without providing
            > value in the form of working software?
            >
          • tmfspeck
            ... Then your business needs to learn to better budget ;)
            Message 5 of 16 , Dec 2, 2008
              --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Adam Sroka" <adam.sroka@...>
              wrote:
              >
              > P.S. More to the point: much of the value in working software is that
              > is satisfies some business need. What happens if my business has more
              > budget for software than it has need?
              >

              Then your business needs to learn to better budget ;)
            • Ron Jeffries
              Hello, Adam. On Tuesday, December 2, 2008, at 4:57:10 PM, you ... Never seen it happen but if that were true you could spend less or contract to do software
              Message 6 of 16 , Dec 2, 2008
                Hello, Adam. On Tuesday, December 2, 2008, at 4:57:10 PM, you
                wrote:

                > P.S. More to the point: much of the value in working software is that
                > is satisfies some business need. What happens if my business has more
                > budget for software than it has need?

                Never seen it happen but if that were true you could spend less or
                contract to do software for someone else.

                Ron Jeffries
                www.XProgramming.com
                www.xprogramming.com/blog
                Accroche toi a ton reve. --ELO
              • Adam Sroka
                On Tue, Dec 2, 2008 at 2:36 PM, Ron Jeffries ... Where I have seen it, in the context of government, it looks like this: The process of Undulation is very
                Message 7 of 16 , Dec 2, 2008
                  On Tue, Dec 2, 2008 at 2:36 PM, Ron Jeffries
                  <ronjeffries@...> wrote:
                  > Hello, Adam. On Tuesday, December 2, 2008, at 4:57:10 PM, you
                  > wrote:
                  >
                  >> P.S. More to the point: much of the value in working software is that
                  >> is satisfies some business need. What happens if my business has more
                  >> budget for software than it has need?
                  >
                  > Never seen it happen but if that were true you could spend less or
                  > contract to do software for someone else.
                  >

                  Where I have seen it, in the context of government, it looks like
                  this: The process of Undulation is very expensive. It costs the
                  taxpayer millions of dollars every quarter. We would like to develop
                  the Super-new Obfuscated Undulator (SOU) so that we can increase the
                  speed and reduce the amount of error in typical Undulations thus
                  reducing costs. Congress has allotted umpteen million to this project
                  and we have contracted Gratuitous Spending Corporation (GSC) to come
                  up with a design. GSC has told us that they will spend the next two
                  years designing the project after which we will return to Congress to
                  ask for more money.

                  A couple of things about this hypothetical project:

                  1) The agency is quite capable of continuing to do "Undulation" the
                  way they have always done it. It is expensive, but they have the money
                  and will continue to get the money as long as they ask for it.

                  2) The project is justified by the perception that it could reduce the
                  cost of existing processes. Lower costs are good. Thus, it fills a
                  real need and it is easy to justify the additional expense in terms of
                  future value.

                  3) The process is a black box. GSC walks away with the money and has
                  very little to account for in terms of what happens to it. At most,
                  they need to have a plan outlining how the money will be spent and
                  they need to deliver some documents showing that someone spent some
                  time thinking about a solution.

                  4) The agency's continued funding depends on it's continued spending.
                  It too is not very accountable for what happens to the money so long
                  as it can outline a plan and deliver some documents saying what
                  happened.

                  5) All that anyone really cares is that the "Undulation" gets done
                  regardless of how it gets done or how much money is wasted in the
                  process. Thus, there is no force /compelling/ success. Regardless of
                  the success or failure of the software project business will continue
                  as usual. In fact, in the long run occasional failures produce greater
                  revenues for the agency. So long as "Undulation" continues this is
                  good for business.

                  I won't get into specifics, but this is something I have seen first
                  hand at more than one government office. It is also part of the reason
                  that I used to live in DC and now live in Los Angeles :-)
                • Ron Jeffries
                  Hello, Adam. On Tuesday, December 2, 2008, at 4:53:02 PM, you ... Of course. All projects create less value than is possible. Many create sufficient value.
                  Message 8 of 16 , Dec 3, 2008
                    Hello, Adam. On Tuesday, December 2, 2008, at 4:53:02 PM, you
                    wrote:

                    > Can it be that some projects create /sufficient/ value to justify
                    > their own existence but not as much value as is /possible/?

                    Of course. All projects create less value than is possible. Many
                    create sufficient value.

                    > And, what
                    > if a project provides sufficient value (to someone) without providing
                    > value in the form of working software?

                    Then it wouldn't make much sense to have a software project would
                    it?

                    Ron Jeffries
                    www.XProgramming.com
                    www.xprogramming.com/blog
                    The practices are not the knowing: they are a path to the knowing.
                  • Adam Sroka
                    On Wed, Dec 3, 2008 at 8:25 PM, Ron Jeffries ... Except that it is the Emperor s New Clothing. They have to believe we re selling something or we don t get
                    Message 9 of 16 , Dec 3, 2008
                      On Wed, Dec 3, 2008 at 8:25 PM, Ron Jeffries
                      <ronjeffries@...> wrote:
                      > Hello, Adam. On Tuesday, December 2, 2008, at 4:53:02 PM, you
                      > wrote:
                      >
                      >> Can it be that some projects create /sufficient/ value to justify
                      >> their own existence but not as much value as is /possible/?
                      >
                      > Of course. All projects create less value than is possible. Many
                      > create sufficient value.
                      >
                      >> And, what
                      >> if a project provides sufficient value (to someone) without providing
                      >> value in the form of working software?
                      >
                      > Then it wouldn't make much sense to have a software project would
                      > it?
                      >

                      Except that it is the Emperor's New Clothing. They have to believe
                      we're selling something or we don't get paid. Software is the perfect
                      thing to be selling, because no one is quite sure what it is (The
                      magical stuff that the internet is made from.) And, everyone already
                      expects us to fail (After all it's /really hard/.)

                      I'm being cynical, and you don't have to join me. On the other hand,
                      cynics are people who have seen how screwed up the world can be.
                    • Ron Jeffries
                      Hello, Adam. On Thursday, December 4, 2008, at 12:02:31 AM, you ... Well, to operate that way, wouldn t one have to be living a lie? ... Everyone with their
                      Message 10 of 16 , Dec 4, 2008
                        Hello, Adam. On Thursday, December 4, 2008, at 12:02:31 AM, you
                        wrote:

                        > Except that it is the Emperor's New Clothing. They have to believe
                        > we're selling something or we don't get paid. Software is the perfect
                        > thing to be selling, because no one is quite sure what it is (The
                        > magical stuff that the internet is made from.) And, everyone already
                        > expects us to fail (After all it's /really hard/.)

                        Well, to operate that way, wouldn't one have to be living a lie?

                        > I'm being cynical, and you don't have to join me. On the other hand,
                        > cynics are people who have seen how screwed up the world can be.

                        Everyone with their eyes open sees how screwed up the world can be.
                        The question is what do you do next.

                        Ron Jeffries
                        www.XProgramming.com
                        www.xprogramming.com/blog
                        Find the simple path to what works and follow it,
                        always looking for a simpler path. -- Patrick D. Smith
                      • Adam Sroka
                        On Thu, Dec 4, 2008 at 6:15 AM, Ron Jeffries ... More or less. It is a mob mentality. The more people you have working on something the less stake they have
                        Message 11 of 16 , Dec 4, 2008
                          On Thu, Dec 4, 2008 at 6:15 AM, Ron Jeffries
                          <ronjeffries@...> wrote:
                          > Hello, Adam. On Thursday, December 4, 2008, at 12:02:31 AM, you
                          > wrote:
                          >
                          >> Except that it is the Emperor's New Clothing. They have to believe
                          >> we're selling something or we don't get paid. Software is the perfect
                          >> thing to be selling, because no one is quite sure what it is (The
                          >> magical stuff that the internet is made from.) And, everyone already
                          >> expects us to fail (After all it's /really hard/.)
                          >
                          > Well, to operate that way, wouldn't one have to be living a lie?
                          >

                          More or less.

                          It is a mob mentality. The more people you have working on something
                          the less stake they have individually. Add deep hierarchies and long,
                          slow feedback loops and you have an environment where no one has any
                          personal responsibility.

                          I think a lot of software people just want to build things. If the
                          "architect" comes and says, "I need a component that takes these
                          inputs and produces these outputs, and I need it in six weeks," they
                          are content to do that with little stake in how that relates to the
                          business and the success of the overall project.

                          I think the blame for mismanagement generally lies with such
                          "architects" and whoever is pulling their strings. Sometimes it is
                          malicious. Sometimes it is incompetence. Sometimes you have True
                          Believers who are sure that what they are doing is the Right Way to
                          develop software even though they've never personally seen it succeed.

                          >> I'm being cynical, and you don't have to join me. On the other hand,
                          >> cynics are people who have seen how screwed up the world can be.
                          >
                          > Everyone with their eyes open sees how screwed up the world can be.
                          > The question is what do you do next.
                          >

                          Personally, I make as much noise as I can and then try to get the next
                          gig lined up. At some point I'd like to settle down and take some
                          responsibility, but that hasn't been in the cards yet.
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