Friday, August 18, 2006

Keeping technology standing still


Recalling projects I’ve seen, I realized that there was a strong correlation between the technological landscape of the project and the actual number of developers leaving the project (and the company). The more the technology was fixed, the more it became boring and frustrating for developers. Software developers are not normal workers, but strange animals that actually
like coding, and they can do a hell of a job as long as they have some fun out of it. Tom deMarco’s Peopleware makes a perfect portrait of the software developer and of his peculiar needs.

Trading fun for productivity?
Still, it looked like sort of a bargain: one can choose to keep the technology fixed, to pay less in training and refactoring while increasing the risk of an early departure from the project. Unfortunately, as long as the project continues, the chances of this event steadily increase so you must carefully consider this option. What is somehow hidden is that developers are not at all the same, and the one who is more prone to get bored might be just the most curious one, the most brilliant or the most passionate. So if you’re assuming that one over five of your developers might be leaving, chances are high that you’re losing 30% of the workforce instead.

The other hidden part of the bargain is that if somebody leaves in the middle, you have to pay a productivity price in training time as well. If the base technology is outdated, or – worse – proprietary, learning cost for newcomers will increase over time.

Updating the landscape
Ok, not all projects are intended to be “eternally open” (so this thought can’t be applied everywhere), but if you have a long living project and you’re trying to save money by stopping the evolution you are actually creating a huge cost area in the future that will materialize in the form of “the big refactoring mayhem” or of “the application that can’t be changed”. Maybe it won’t be your personal problem as a PM but in both ways you end up wasting money in the long term.

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