Let me tell you a story.
This is a story about a brand new software project, using last technologies and mobile devices, a really important project for BigCorp. They want to use this new product as a vitrine to show how good they are to create mobile applications.
The gold rush
BigCorp invests a lot on this project, quickly a team of 15 people was created. 1 project manager, 1 assistant project manager, 1 scrum master, 3 business analysts, 3 testers 1 architect and 5 developers.
Everybody wants to be in, the global mood was very good, all the requirements were clear, this will be the best project we’ve ever seen.
Sprinting to reality
After 3 weeks it was time for the first release… And the first deadline was missed. Less than half of the expected User Story were produced, and the code was really brittle.
During the retrospective (where project managers and business analysts were missing because they are busy) it was decided to do less automating testing and less refactoring, because it was obviously a lot of time invest in unproductive stuff. We need to deliver more User Stories.
The project is now 1 year old. Half of the team was replaced. One of the business analysts was fired because he “screwed” up a demo to the company board. The mood is no longer that good. The requirements were not clear enough after all, it’s even hard to know who the users of the system are. The technology is no longer shiny because 2 new frameworks have been created during the year and seem much cooler.
The software is still really brittle, which leads to even less refactoring because “we don’t want to break it”. New attempt to add unit tests were made, but it “costs” too much, this is obviously “not possible for us to do unit testing”. Retrospectives were stopped, because who can afford one unproductive day?
And yet another awful legacy
The project is now 5 years old. No one from the initial team is still working on the project. The team is only 1 developer now, half-time. We ask her to “maintain and fix bugs” that users will find. The code is a nightmare to work with. We have no idea of what is done, and how it’s done.
It creates lots of frustration for the developer, and for the user.
Failure = lesson learned?
Not really, it’s just a normal software project in BigCorp. It’s actually so common that most people in BigCorp think that software projects are always going this way. From developers to the top management, no one is shocked anymore, this is how software project works.
What can we learn from BigCorp?
Software of big companies and governments are usually pretty bad. Because the product is just a mirror of the system that produces it. A system with lots of hierarchy, politics, arbitrary deadline and silos. A system with no idea of the level of communication and collaboration required to achieve great software. A system where the customer does not really exist, because the company is too big to care about them. A system that erases the creativity required for good software.
Most companies have systemic errors. They produce bad software, no matter how skillful the employees are, because the system pushes them in bad habits and make them believe that this is the only way to go.
This explains why it’s so hard to create good software. It’s not only about technical practices and principles, this is also a lot about the system in which this software is produced.
PS: Thanks to Anthony Cassaigne, and on the recommendation of Woody Zuill, I finally read the paper “Nobody Ever Gets Credit for Fixing Problems that Never Happened”. I highly recommand it, many echoes with this article !