Monday, January 22, 2007

Increasing Gains

I'm just finishing up The Tipping Point:How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell. Great book and I highly recommend it. Malcolm discusses, at some length, how contextual settings have a major impact on how people respond. A good example of this is the theory of Fixing Broken Windows that was used in the mid 1980's to address the critical issues facing the NYC Transit system. article titled Broken Windows by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, which appeared in the March 1982 edition of The Atlantic Monthly. The title comes from the following example:
"Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.
Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars."

(the above is copied from Wikipedia article:
The simple association of this theory with how quality affects software development was to easy for me to trip over and want to write about. This same theory could explain why quality, if focused on during software development, really focused on such as via Test Driven Development (TDD) - results in the entire quality of the product being exponentially improved, far beyond the quality improvement measure taken. It also explains why the opposite occurs, where quality is removed or reduced to ensure additional time for development or to get the product to market sooner, that a small reduction has a major negative impact on the entire product and typically does not provide the additional functionality or time to market advantage desired. Since the real improvement to product quality, which in turn has productivity improvements through reduced coding corrections, etc., is based on how people react to a contextual feedback - I would imagine that it would be near impossible to measure what the potential change is outside of performing a series of live tests - creating a couple of dummy companies that are tasked to produce the same software product with various levels of quality processes included. This is something like the novel from Tom DeMarco - Deadline. Anyway, my take away from the book is fix those windows and keep on eye on other signs of disarray that WILL impact quality and productivity.

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