Is Software Management Obsolete?

08/21/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Committees don't make great software. It takes a single person, an author. Maybe he gets some help. Teams don't do it. Nobody sees the whole elephant.

I'm pretty sure I heard that basic sentiment first in about 1986, from Dave Winer, who was then the author of a Macintosh outlining program named More (now he's better known as the de-facto father of blogging).

What reminded me over the weekend was my son emailing me about Jeff Atwood's Software Engineering: Dead post on Coding Horror. He's looking at this article by Tom DeMarco, author of Controlling Software Projects, a software management classic.

What DeMarco seems to be saying -- and, at least, what I am definitely saying -- is that control is ultimately illusory on software development projects. If you want to move your project forward, the only reliable way to do that is to cultivate a deep sense of software craftsmanship and professionalism around it.

The guys and gals who show up every day eager to hone their craft, who are passionate about building stuff that matters to them, and perhaps in some small way, to the rest of the world -- those are the people and projects that will ultimately succeed.

That sounds to me a lot like Dave Winer was getting at about 25 years ago. And if it takes a single user, someone writing code and working the application because he or she wants to use it, then that's hard to manage.

And if you're interested in software quality, creativity, and management, you might want to look at an exchange between user interface designer Dustin Curtis and an interface designer at American Airlines. It starts here with Justin's rant about the hostile interface on the AA website; and gets more interesting here with an AA interface designer's answer.

The group running consists of at least 200 people spread out amongst many different groups, including, for example, QA, product planning, business analysis, code development, site operations, project planning, and user experience. We have a lot of people touching the site, and a lot more with their own vested interests in how the site presents its content and functionality.

It seems that frustration was had by all.
And it certainly won't make you wish you had a creative or design oriented position in a large company.