Software Development is Like 30 Rock – A New Software Development Metaphor Part 2

Back in January I stressed the need to come up with some new metaphors regarding software development because our old metaphors were causing some problems. I still believe this to be true more than ever. Developers are not just cogs, but are individuals. Research has shown that the most productive developers are up to 10 times more productive than others (see Peopleware for more). You cannot just plug any developer into a product team and expect them to perform at the average level for that team. Domain knowledge counts as well.

However, one thing that I did not do a great job of was suggesting a replacement metaphor. The one I used was the film industry. While I was correct that development is a creative art, it has recently been pointed out to me that making motion pictures usually takes a great deal of upfront planning and design – not a good analogy for an Agile advocate. This misstatement showed that I knew less about the film industry than I do software development.

After a bit of consideration, and a chance to watch old 30 Rock episodes on Netflix, I have come to a better metaphor – writing software in Agile is very much like writing scripts for a show like the one portrayed on 30 Rock. Why? For one, both are creative. Two, each person is part of a team with individual talents that must be harnessed for team goals. Three, the iterations (shows) are time-boxed – you do a new show every week regardless. Four, your target is ever-moving. Live weekly shows like Saturday Night Live have to be topical so very little can be written upfront – agility is everything to stay relevant.

There may be many more reasons why this metaphor is appropriate, but the main thing is that we begin to start using new metaphors so that we can steer the conversations (and, more importantly, decisions made as part of these conversations) more appropriately.

What do you think? Do it make sense? Can you come with a better metaphor? Or can you give more examples of why this metaphor is better? I would love to hear what others have to say.

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