Wednesday, August 15, 2001


Posted at August 10, 2001 01:01 PM PST Pacific

WRITING SOFTWARE is very, very hard and I hate to disappoint everyone, but in
my opinion, there is little hope that software development practices will take
us much farther in the next 10 years than they have in the past 10. Each year
since 1994, the Standish Group has released its Chaos Study, a sort of
"state of the union" of corporate software development practices. In
1994, the first results indicated an industry in disarray: Only 16 percent of
software development projects finished on time, within budget, and with the full
functionality initially planned at the project’s outset. The most recent results
of the study for 2000 showed significant improvement for this metric — all the
way up to 28 percent.

I can only imagine how my parents would have reacted if after scoring a 16
percent on an exam early in the school year, I had run home beaming with an
improvement to 28 percent. About the only profession where 28 percent is
passable is baseball, and it’s not necessarily a ticket to the all-star team.
(OK, Mark McGwire’s lifetime batting average is .265.)

Regardless, in the final analysis, instead of 84 percent of software projects
failing, we’re down to 72 percent. This is nothing to be proud of for anyone
involved in the business of software development. What’s the solution to this
generally unmitigated failure? There is certainly no shortage of methodologies
to choose from, including relatively new "light" ones such as Extreme
Programming (XP), SCRIUM, and Adaptive Software Development (often grouped under
the term "Agile Methodologies"), along with the old standbys — OPP
(Object-Oriented Programming), top-down design, and good ol’ procedural

My frequent strolls through the programming section at the local bookstore
suggest that another primary methodology these days might be MLBW (May the
Largest Book Win), followed closely by 21D or "21 days," methodology,
where you can learn systems administration, any enterprise database, or a
complex programming language in just 21 days. (Imagine how you would feel if
your dentist had a "Learn How to Drill Patients’ Teeth in 21 Days"
book prominently displayed in the waiting room. Ouch.)

Personally, I lean in the direction of the thinking set forth by the Agile
Alliance, an umbrella group consisting of proponents/inventors of a number of
the "light" methodologies I mentioned above. In its manifesto (see, Agile states that it values "individuals and
interactions over process and tools, working software over comprehensive
documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, [and]
responding to change over following a plan."

In this era of constant change and ever-changing requirements, that mode of
thinking makes a lot of sense. The only problem I have with the general precepts
of these methodologies is the implicit notion that businesspeople and
technologists are necessarily separate entities forced to mingle for software
projects. One of the principles of the Agile Alliance is, "Businesspeople
and developers must work together daily throughout the project." If you’ve
read this column before, you know that I’ve written that a CTO’s primary role is
making sure that technology serves the needs of the business. In that spirit, I
think businesspeople and developers should strive to work together daily — even
when there is no particular project to tackle. Every developer in your company
should have a sense of what makes your company successful, whether that means
widgets sold, services provided, or code written. As business increasingly
becomes technology and technology dissolves into business, the distinction
between the two becomes increasingly irrelevant. Bridging this gap is the only
hope for building better software.

Chad Dickerson is InfoWorld’s CTO. Contact him at

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –


"Vendors are vowing to make their wares more secure through more
sophisticated development processes. This is a pledge that enterprise users
should hold them to." –Martin LaMonica, InfoWorld’s Executive News Editor,
argues that application design needs to be improved to stay ahead of virus
writers and hackers.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –


To subscribe to any of InfoWorld’s e-mail newsletters, tell your friends and
colleagues to go to:

Copyright 2001 InfoWorld Media Group Inc.