Why Project Focused Mentality is Killing Software Development

California by Damian Morys
California by Damian Morys

So, the other day I was listening to NPR in the car (like most people when they listen to talk radio). And the talk was about peace in the Middle East. One of the experts mentioned that, in his opinion, unless both sides owned the process, it was never going to come to fruition. This reminded me of Mark Fritz, international speaker on leadership in today’s organizations, and a compelling blog post he wrote about ownership. I thought this was interesting because there was an interwoven thought he drew upon throughout the post that I believe is applicable to Agile and software development:

“You never wash a rental car.”

I have used a similar phrase many times before when describing the project-centric mentality that pervades most large software development shops. I tell people that, in order to have good quality code, in order to do the right things by the code (BDD/TDD, continuous integration, etc), you must own the code. Therefore, we must move from project to product management, from renting our code to owning the code. So now you know why my brain went from the Middle East to Mark Fritz to rental cars, and now here we are!

Also, I distinctly remember a recent talk when I proposed that in order for better quality products we must eliminate the PMO and replace it with a PPMO (Product and Project Management Office). Interestingly enough, I remember this talk was given to a roomful of project managers who conveniently heard the first part of the phrase and not the second part.

The bottom line is that Agile is about creating high quality software quickly. This cannot be done long term without doing the things that come with owning the code. No project, which merely rents the code, is going to spend their budget making sure that the next group to rent the code has an easier and better time. There is no incentive in project focused organizations to do the right thing! The pressure is on chasing the next bright, shiny object as quickly as possible (e.g: feature chasing) with zero regard for the long term stability of the product.

Before you know it all you have is a big pile of mud that no one can safely enhance or refactor without high chance of regression defects. The time it takes to bring the new, shiny objects to market becomes longer and longer because no one bothered to create the necessary infrastructure. Why not? You might as well ask yourself why no one washes a rental car.

Larry Apke

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