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“Out of the Software Crisis”: Making Software

The following is an extension of my notes from Baldur’s book “Out of the Software Crisis” including quotes from the author.

More manpower !== more innovation.

design innovation isn’t generally a question of team size but more about having the resources and freedom to experiment towards a flexible goal

Quarterly planning, retreats, and other planning-related ceremony often work against flexible goals — “We spent all this time and money coming up with these plans, now we gotta stick to ‘em!”

[many companies] look at their goals first, decide what outcomes they want (or need), and then work out ways to change their systems to accomplish those outcomes.

“Freedom to experiment” and “flexibility” are the important parts of a goal, which means the notion of change should be baked into the plan because making software is a creative act.

Software development is a creative field. It has more in common with filmmaking than it does with bridge-building.

Sometimes you have to be willing to forgo deciding on an exact destination before you begin your journey.

Management also needs to live with not being able to set specific strategic goals. Instead of managing the organization like a ship, steering it one direction or another, they need to concentrate on managing its capabilities, nurture the system it has, and plan around the kinds of outcomes the company is capable of instead of specific ones.

I love that articulation. It’s less about where you’re going and more about how you’re capable of moving.

Are your capabilities two feet (walking), four wheels (car), an outboard motor (boat), jet engines (airplane), or rockets (spacecraft)? Each of those will take you to very different destinations, maybe down the street, across town, across the lake, across continents, or even in to space!

Focus on, foster, and grow your capabilities, then cede direction to where those can take you. Don’t set the destination regardless of capability but allow capability to lead towards destination.

Baldur draws an interesting parallel here to startups:

[startups] build their organization—their system—around specific capabilities and approaches. What matters is to find an outcome that the system can generate reliably and has a viable market.

Hence the idea of pivoting — and acquisitions. It’s about getting a team of people working in a system that can generate something of value, regardless of what the thing actually is. What is acquired (or acui-hired) is primarily the system of people working together and their capabilities, and only secondarily the (by)product of their work.

Every new organization begins with specific capabilities and emerging specializations based on the founders, first staff, local community, economy, environment, and initial resources. To have even a hope of success, they need to build on that proto-system, look for opportunities it can be applied to, and feed it into existence.