Effective Engineering e-Newsletter – 7/31/2003
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Development Methodology: Too Little, Too Much, or
Tom Dennis – President, Effective Engineering [email@example.com]
When Goldilocks sampled the three bears’ porridge, she found one too
hot, another too cold, and the third “just right”.
Similarly, when she tried out their beds, she found one too hard,
another too soft, and the third “just right”.
Development methodologies are similar.
They can be created with too little process, with too much process, or
with the “just right” amount of process.
The key is finding out what is “just right” for your organization.
You’ll find that what’s “just right” for your organization is
unique and different from other, even very similar, organizations.
In small organizations, the tendency is toward too little methodology –
often very little or none. In
large organizations, the tendency is toward too much methodology – a very
formal, highly detailed process with very little flexibility.
In medium-sized organizations, it is generally somewhere in between. Striking the proper balance is a difficult, but critical task
that will determine the success an organization finds in effectively
developing new products.
What are some characteristics of too little
Too little development methodology often leads to
bedlam, anarchy, and a free-for-all atmosphere.
There is no uniformity of direction; everyone is moving fast, but often
in different directions (Brownian motion) (see eN-030102
– Poor Company Vision Clouds Everyone’s View).
People all feel they know what’s really best, and do their own thing
independently of others. There is a “cowboy mentality”.
No one effectively leads (or everyone tries to lead), and few want to
follow. Milestones are not
effectively set, and schedules are for losers (see eN-030116
– Poor Product Vision Blinds Engineering, and eN-030130
– A Poor Product Roadmap Gets Everyone Lost).
This can actually seem exciting and even intoxicating initially, but
after a short time, people begin to get frustrated because the goals are not
clear and little meaningful work is really being accomplished.
When new people come on board, they have a tough time getting up to
speed because there is often very little, if any, documentation, and the new
people have to draw heavily on people already deeply involved in the
development, distracting them from their current work.
This has the true, but often counter-intuitive, effect that adding
people causes more delay rather than speeding things up (see eN-021219
- Too Many Cooks Spoils The Broth!).
The net result of too little development methodology is a disorganized effort
on an unclear goal, and usually leads to late project delivery, poor product
quality, and high development costs, some of the hallmarks of ineffective
engineering (see eN-021107 – Ineffective
Engineering Costs You Time, Money, and Customers!).
What are some characteristics of too much
Too much development methodology occurs when an
excessive amount of time and effort is spent defining the process everyone
should be following rather than working toward the goal of effectively
developing the product. Typically the process itself is highly documented, laying out
what should be done, by whom, and in what order. Books are written telling everyone exactly how to carry out
the process, and how to monitor and track adherence to the process.
Large efforts are devoted to monitoring and tracking every little
activity, creating and reporting metrics for everything.
These efforts concentrate on seeing to it that the right process is
being followed every step of the way, with little effort being made to see if
what is being developed is the right product (see eN-030619
– What Do Your Customers Really Want?).
Too much process stifles innovation, mires people down in unnecessary details,
and leads to process for process’ sake.
An inordinate amount of time is often spent in meetings to verify that
the process is being properly followed. If
people don’t follow the process precisely, they get penalized; if they
don’t develop the right product, that’s often of less concern.
Projects that succeed often do so in spite of the burdensome processes,
not because of them. This becomes
another source of ineffective engineering, although coming from the opposite
What are some of the characteristics of “just
“Just right” development methodologies
streamline the development process, adding the right amount of process to make
sure everyone is working toward the same goals and working closely together.
It applies a uniform, but not a burdensome, approach for people to
follow. (see eN-030227 – It’s Your
Responsibility to Know Your Role In Implementing the Vision and Roadmap).
Specific roles and responsibilities are assigned (see eN-030327
– Do Jobs Right – Assign the Right People!).
Unnecessary tasks are minimized (see eN-030313
– Move the Rocks and People Travel Faster).
Everyone moves in the same direction, playing from the same sheet of
music, concentrating on what needs to get done in the right way at the right
Clearly, we all need to aim for the “just right” development methodology.
But keep in mind that this is not static. It changes over time, and with the size, nature, and maturity
of the organization. As an
organization grows, the level of intercommunications required among the
development team grows, and the need for more formal elements of a development
methodology grows as well. You
want to have enough methodology to move everyone forward together with
excitement and commitment, but not too much such that it will stifle
creativity and impede the real work. What’s
“just right” today, won’t be “just right” tomorrow.
What’s “just right” for your organization won’t be “just
right” for another very similar organization.
What’s “just right” for one project won’t be “just right”
for another project. Diligence
and flexibility is key to finding the “just right” mix for you, and
constant attention and adjustment will allow the “just right” development
methodology to evolve as your organization evolves.
Keep your eye on the prize, and the “just right” amount of
development methodology will become apparent.
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