Silicon Valley is a different world

I spent the last couple days at Flowcon 2014, a conference that is bringing people together to talk about growing their organizations with continuous delivery and design, and lean product development.

It does some of that, but it wasn’t what I expected. The attendees for the most part were people that already believe in continuous delivery, in lean principles for their organization, and in flow. If you don’t know what flow is, read the Phoenix Project, Martin Fowler, and other lean, agile methodology books. It’s a concept from labor and manufacturing, with the idea that we can increase the rate at which we get work done.

I believe in it, it’s a tenet of DevOps, and I think it works well. The conference features people from Netflix, Nordstrom, Etsy, Thoughtworks, and other companies that are already using these ideas. They believe, and they are looking for ways to better smooth out their own groups.

However they also have ideas about rapidly changing and adaptive groups and organizations, which isn’t where most of us work. Far, far too many people are still stuck performing waterfall work, or even waterfall-like work.

It’s also a world where people are looking for startup ideas, looking to move quickly and build something new. It’s a world that’s quite unlike my own. While there’s a buzz and energy from many people, it also feels somewhat shallow and hollow from some that are searching for riches. It’s also a bubble of thought that is so far away from most of my experiences, that it feels sheltered and idealistic.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s exciting, and there is a passion some of these people have for their craft that’s inspiring. I’m just not sure it’s a place I’d want to be every week.

However I do wish more and more people would look to better develop software. If we are to improve as an industry, I think many of the ideas and techniques that are invading the software development world related to flow need to be adopted.

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4 Responses to Silicon Valley is a different world

  1. Dave Wentzel says:

    “Far, far too many people are still stuck performing waterfall work, or even waterfall-like work.”

    Is this always such a bad thing? I see far too many people who believe their software development method is a panacea and everything else is crap. I agree that, in toto, DevOps is better than waterfall, given the same resources, but otherwise I’d rather pick a method that works for my team’s make-up, then adjust it over time. I’d much rather do waterfall if it meant I worked on a fun project with inspiring people.

    I have NEVER experienced a situation in my career where we’ve shifted from one method to another and it fixed ANYTHING. But I have seen high-priced consultants (nee Thoughtworks) juke the productivity stats to show management that it was a good investment. But if you asked a customer if their experience was better with our software they would say no. Fred Brooks taught us in 1975 that nothing will fix a broken software process except better people (Mythical Man Month).

    “However I do wish more and more people would look to better develop software. If we are to improve as an industry, I think many of the ideas and techniques that are invading the software development world related to flow need to be adopted.”

    I’ve worked in kanban shops where flow can NEVER be improved because people game the wip limits system to benefit their team at the expense of the whole system (there are examples in the Phoenix Project). But that’s no different than agile/scrum…where people make “points” an excuse to say, “I didn’t release any good working software this sprint, but I claimed all of my points.” Points were invented (you can google it) so that dysfunctional teams could avoid deadline commitment.

    All of this is a sales pitch to get management to spend $$$ to fix a people problem with process. It never works. Good people don’t need to be told that flow is important, they just do it. Same with unit tests and CI loops.

    My point is that people and culture are always better than whatever is today’s hot new software development method. (Yes, there will be something new and better than DevOps in a couple of years.) Really good developers find all of these methods too dogmatic. Try googling “the netflix culture” for a slidedeck from Reed Hastings. It’s just amazing how netflix avoids all of this and has totally re-invented itself, at least twice, to remain profitable.

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    • way0utwest says:

      Fair points and a new system definitely does not make development better by itself. It needs some changes from the people to make it work, and certainly takes some good people to implement it well.

      However I’d take issue with the idea that Kanban/agile/anything doesn’t improve the speed at which you can develop good software. It can if the people buy in and don’t try to game the system. That takes a lot of trust from management that people will work hard and from workers that management won’t punish them for working in a different way. I have definitely seen some people implement new systems that sped up the rate at which changes were moved through development to production.

      Dysfunctional teams (and managers) are dysfunctional. Nothing will fix that. However good people will do better with a system that encourages faster flow. Good people will likely move slower if a waterfall method is used that attempts to design all parts of the system before building. Not because they aren’t good, but because most clients don’t have good ideas of what they really need, and most of the fairly simple problems, like automating accounting and sales, are mostly solved.

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    • Dave Wentzel says:

      Spot on.

      Keep up the good work.

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  2. way0utwest says:

    LOL, thanks. I think we agree for the most part. You need good ppl and mgmt. If you don’t have that, nothing else helps.

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