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Volume 29, Issue 3

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Monday, 30 September 2013 17:39

Sociocultural Aspects of Software Projects

The desire to be agile has long impacted human behavior. Consider the elite athlete, the army general, the opera singer, the belly dancer, the professional golfer, the heavyweight boxer, the high seas sailor, the commercial pilot, the top-end banker, and even the federal politician — they all love agility, and so do we. Why? Put simply, agility provides the basis for adaptability and change which, in turn, are integral to our survival and growth. The same agility that enables a springbok to outrun a lion or an ant to carry a load more than 20 times its size allows a small start-up in Southern California to prevail against the might of a large, well-established brick-and-mortar organization (based on my arguments in the preface to my book, The Art of Agile Practice: A Composite Approach for Projects and Organizations). No wonder mainstream business is increasingly fascinated by “Agile.”

In a special issue of Communications of the ACM commemorating the first 50 years of computing, virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier wrote: “The biggest surprise from the first 50 years of computers is that computation turns out to be a cultural object in its own right, with all its warts and semicolons.” This phenomenal importance of “human issues” in IT project management has also found its way in discussions by Cutter Fellows Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister in their book Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams; Gerald M. Weinberg’s The Psychology of Computer Programming, and Larry Constantine’s Constantine on Peopleware and Soft Issues and Other Hard Problems in Software Development. Indeed, Constantine claimed: “Good software does not come from CASE tools, visual programming, rapid prototyping, or object technology. Good software comes from people. So does bad software.” I have also discussed the importance of people in software projects and the destructive nature of “game playing” — together with suggested antidotes. These discussions led to an inescapable conclusion: the dire need to address the social and cultural factors in project management. Contemporary Agile emerged out of the exploration of such issues in software development projects. Agile helped the software development community climb out of its cellars of up-front planning, analysis paralysis, and siloed (primarily driven by the waterfall lifecycle) approaches to the users and business.