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Don't Learn from Other People's Development Experience

Posted by Gigi Sayfan on Jan 27, 2016

It is a common advise to learn from other people successes and mistakes. Go through testimonies, post-mortem analyses, books and articles and they all say the same. But, in the dynamic environment of software development you have to be very careful. It is often easy to observe that, given all other things being equal, A is clearly better than B. The only problem is that all other things are never equal.

This applies on multiple levels. Maybe you want to choose a programming language, a web framework or a configuration management tool. Maybe you want to incorporate a new development process or performance review. Maybe you try to figure out how many people you need to hire and what skills and experience should you shoot for. All of these decisions will have to take into account the current state of affairs and your specific situation. Suppose you read that some startup started using the Rust programming language and within two weeks improved performance 20X. That means nothing. There are so many variables. How bad was their original code, was the performance issue isolated to a single spot, was a Rust wizard on the team? Or maybe you read about a company about your size that tried to switch from waterfall to an agile process and failed miserably. Does that mean your company will fail too? What's the culture of the other company, how was the new process introduced, was higher management committed?

What's the answer then? How can you decide what to do if you can't learn from other people? Very often, the outcome doesn't depend so much on the decision, but more about the commitment and hard work going into the execution. Gather a reasonable amount of information about the different options (don't start a three month study to decide which spell checker you should use). Consult with people you trust and know something both about the subject matter and about your situation, ideally from people inside your organization.



Make sure to involve all the relevant stakeholders and secure their support. But, form your own opinion don't just trust some supposed expert. Then just make a decision and run with it. The bigger the decision or the impact, you should consider more seriously the risk of making the wrong decision and what's the cost of pivoting later. If it turns out your decision was wrong, you're now an expert and should know exactly what went wrong and how to fix it.

TAGS:

Project management, enterprise development, software development methodology, Agile Software Development, software development team


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