IS Cultural Change

Craft-Based Development Much IS activity is still conducted in the cultural equivalent of a preindustrial craft. Methods are personal and unstandardized, private knowledge confers power, and success or failure is not readily determined. At worst, code is written in idiosyncratic ways by employees who must be retained to update their personal handiwork, trapping other developers because nobody else supposedly understands that system. Finally, a member of the guild can only be understood and therefore judged by another craftsperson, who is hesitant to criticize co-members. For example, even though formal peer review is proven as the most cost-effective method for preventing and eliminating coding errors, few IS developers inspect each other's work.

A growing body of evidence highlights the severity of this problem. Recent experiments involving personal software production found that some programmers with at least five years of experience injected hundreds of defects per thousand lines of code, with a worst case of more than 1,100.

Fundamental lessons from the quality movement imply that the cost of finding and reworking all these defects must be enormous. Most IS professionals do not recognize the scale of the problem, and most IS organizations lack the metrics to quantify it. Even more startling is the improvement that results after three months of using personal metrics: the same programmers who injected hundreds of defects per thousand lines of code improved their delivered quality by a factor of from five to ten.

Moving to the Age of Engineering Much of legacy management requires IS organizations to move software maintenance and development from craft work into the age of engineering. Mary Shaw of the Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute has developed a useful model of this transition for several other professional engineering disciplines (Exhibit 3). In an engineered approach, standards of performance are shared and transferred, patterns of work are made more methodical, and components are interchanged and reused.

Exhibit 3. Development of an Engineering-Based Discipline (From M. Shaw, "Software's Current Crisis," Scientific American, September, 1994.)

Because this mode of thinking represents a dramatic change in the mind-set of the IS organization, opposition to the software engineering perspective can be widespread. IS managers are challenged to foster recognition by the IS organization of the need for change and to reinvent methods and priorities in accordance with the engineering culture.

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Project Management Made Easy

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