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Re: OT: The mythical man month - have we learned nothing?

by talexb (Canon)
on Feb 20, 2006 at 19:07 UTC ( #531495=note: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??


in reply to OT: The mythical man month - have we learned nothing?

This is always a difficult part of software development to pin down, and it's certainly not anything they taught in school when I was there. You might as well ask a team of a dozen writers to write a novel. Yeah -- think of the odd looks you'd get -- but it's true, a piece of software is a lot like a novel, with characters, plots, background, themes, and so forth.

As you've pointed out, managers seem to think software projects are just like plowing a field -- more people means the job gets done faster. But writing software is not like that at all -- it's creative work, and certain architecture rules need to be followed.

Rather than an inverse curve, the people/throughput curve is probably U-shaped, with a sweet spot at 6-12 developers. Any more than that, and a project should be split into sub-projects. Formal meetings should be held only when absolutely necessary, and ideally they'd be stand up affairs. No speeches. Discuss, deliberate, decide, then move on. To quote Boone Pickens, ".. Don't fall victim to what I call the ready-aim-aim-aim-aim syndrome. You must be willing to fire."

I believe the key to success in a software development project is communication -- with good communication, the project moves forward on the right track, with development and testing working in paralell. Without it, there are endless meetings, long memos, stagnant development, and eventually, angry customers. The best developers in the world cannot overcome poor communications.

Alex / talexb / Toronto

"Groklaw is the open-source mentality applied to legal research" ~ Linus Torvalds


Comment on Re: OT: The mythical man month - have we learned nothing?
Re^2: OT: The mythical man month - have we learned nothing?
by Aristotle (Chancellor) on Feb 21, 2006 at 03:46 UTC

    You might as well ask a team of a dozen writers to write a novel.

    Thatís one to file away; excellent metaphor.

    Makeshifts last the longest.

Re^2: OT: The mythical man month - have we learned nothing?
by rhesa (Vicar) on Feb 21, 2006 at 04:12 UTC
    You might as well ask a team of a dozen writers to write a novel. Yeah -- think of the odd looks you'd get -- but it's true, a piece of software is a lot like a novel, with characters, plots, background, themes, and so forth.
    The problem with this analogy is that, for example, many sitcoms (Friends comes to mind) do have teams of writers. They do churn out more episodes faster. I feel that many software projects are much more like sitcoms than Paul Auster novels, not least in terms of artisticity1.

    1My english is obviously not at its best today. I'll let another writer on our team fix that though.

      But do they write each episode with 10 people working on every script, or do they write 5 scripts in parallel with 2 people working on each of them?

      Nine pregnant women do make 9 babies in 9 months, after all. They just canít make any one of the babies in any less than 9 months.

      Makeshifts last the longest.

        The problem with this analogy is that, for example, many sitcoms (Friends comes to mind) do have teams of writers.

      True -- but a sitcom is about 22 pages, and consists mostly of dialogue with a few stage directions. Now imagine if you were transcribing that into purely written word; you'd have to describe each nuanced expression, passing glance, each character's thoughts, a description of the apartments, the time of day, time of year, the weather, possibly current events.

      I've acted in a few stage plays. What's in the script is maybe 20% of what finally apears on stage. Learning the words isn't enough -- you have to know the story and be able to communicate that to the audience. I was on stage once with another character -- she lost her place, but there was no panic on my part -- I just continued with the story, asking her a question that led her right back in where we left off (I would have stopped to mop my brow if I could have done it in character).

      It's like the difference between a Big Ball of Mud and a Big Ball of Mud that's been commented. It's still large, round, and awfully messy, but at least with comments you can peer into the thoughts of the characters that created this world, and from there understand the 'intent'. Without it, you're into the misty world of software forensic pathology.

      And that's like the difference between TV (a warm medium) and a book (a cold medium). With TV, you just sit there like a blob; a book forces you to engage, to think, to wonder. And that's why I believe Management don't get it -- they think software developers are writing for TV, when in fact they're trying to write a really good book.

      Alex / talexb / Toronto

      "Groklaw is the open-source mentality applied to legal research" ~ Linus Torvalds

      Update: Fixed typo. Thanks Roy Johnson.

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