Thursday, February 25, 2010

“We’ll paint it red and call it a Ferrari”

We have all seen them. Aspiring boy racers who have taken an old banger and put on the trimmings of a sports car - spoilers, big noisy exhausts etc. But it doesn’t change what is under the disguise - an old vehicle, nearing the end of its useful life, but can still limp along and get the owner from A to B. Eventually. If you have an old, rusty, Ford Fiesta, you can’t just get away with painting it red and calling it a Ferrari. It is still a Fiesta.

Yet it still appears that some parts of the software industry genuinely believe that they can get away with this mentality. Let me say this one more time (with feeling) - you cannot simply take a broken software development process, put some agile tools and ceremonies around it and expect it to perform like the real thing. Or to put it another way, no matter how many spoilers and exhausts you bolt on, they can never have a significant impact on the performance of something that already has the aerodynamics of a brick and the power of an asthmatic hamster....

To change a Fiesta into a Ferrari you need to change what is at the very heart - the engine. And you need to upgrade what that engine is attached to - the chassis, brakes, bodywork, oil. It’s the same with software. To turn your clapped out system into a high performance delivery-focussed process you need to change the people by educating, empowering and inspiring them - they’re your development engine, and many of them will already be up to the new, high performance job if given the chance. Then change anything that stops them performing - existing processes, bureaucracy, corporate inertia. Make nothing sacred - if it’s in the way, remove it. Now add some performance oil - make the resistance to further change as low as possible.

Any vehicle needs a skilled, motivated, passionate driver at the wheel who knows where he wants to go. This is your Product Owner. Put someone like this at the wheel and you just might have your race winning formula.

One final thought to consider. At least with software development you stand a chance of changing your old banger to a Ferrari.

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