Quality Software Management

Recently I finally finished the fourth volume of Jerry Weinberg‘s Quality Software Management series. As a wrap-up I decided to write a summary of what I learned and why you should read it yourself, too, if you haven’t already.

Introduction

In summary, the first book introduces into the cultural patterns that Jerry has found during his work with software companies. These cultural patterns include the Oblivious (Pattern 0), the Variable (Pattern 1), the Routine (Pattern 2), the Steering (Pattern 3), the Anticipating (Pattern 4) and finally the Congruent (Pattern 5) culture. He then digs deeper in the first three volumes on how to create a Steering culture. In the fourth volume he goes into the details to reach an anticipating culture.

Jerry provides a compelling view on the act of creating software, testing it and delivering it. Interestingly his view is right up-to-date, although he wrote the four books more than a decade ago. Next, I’m going to get into detail on each of the key lessons I took with me while reading through them.

Quality Software Management Volume 1 – Systems Thinking

In the first volume Jerry provides the cultural pattern model and relates it to the CMM levels and other approaches taken. Interestingly his view includes the culture around the people actually producing the software in first place, while other models focus on anything else but the people. First and foremost, Jerry defines quality as “value to some person”. Based on this definition, the question we have to ask in software development – which I define as programming, testing and delivering – is whose values counts most to us.

Additionally Jerry introduces the reader to systems thinking. That is a model to think through difficult and maybe complex situations in software projects. He shows many graphs applying systems thinking, thereby creating deep insights into each of the cultural models, as well as the dynamics around the creation and maintenance of software.

Using systems thinking Jerry introduces the non-linearity of aspects in software development. He revisits Brook’s Law and generalizes it to hold not only for late project, but for any project, when adding people, you’re making it more complicated, and maybe even later.

Jerry provides a compelling view on software error, distinguishes between faults and failures, and thereby provides a model for measuring, which is the topic of the second volume.

Quality Software Management Volume 2 – First-order measurement

In the second volume of the series, Jerry continues to dig deeper into the cultural model of software development organizations. Jerry presents a thorough discussion of the Satir Interaction Model. The Satir Interaction Model splits up communication into four major steps: intake, that is how I take in information; meaning, which is derived by making interpretations from the received message; significance, that is whether I start to bother or not; and finally the response on the initial message. All these steps happen in a fraction of a second in human communication.

The Satir Interaction Model is useful in situation where you start to make meaning too soon based on fractions of the data that you got. Often, this leads to mis-interpretations about the intentions of your communication counter-part and therefore not only to a poor dialogue, but also to a big misunderstanding. That’s why Jerry raises the Rule of Three:

If I can’t think of at least three different interpretations of what I received, I haven’t though enough about what it might mean.

In parallel to the discussion of the Satir Interaction Model, Weinberg continues to show the relevance for first-order measurements in management. Using systems thinking as introduced in the first volume of this series, he explains management actions and their results. He continues to dig into metrics that are useful for managing. Finally, he discusses zeroth-order measurements, that each management should be aware of. These measurements tell you on which things to keep an eye in order to manage your software project.

How to act upon these data is the topic of the third volume in this series.

Quality Software Management Volume 3 – Congruent action

In Congruent action Jerry introduces congruent communication. For any effective communication one has to respect the self position, the other position and the context about the communication. When leaving one or all out, you’re going to find yourself in an incongruent communication style. Leaving out the self-position leads to placating behavior, missing the other-position leads to blaming, leaving self and other out is a super-reasonable response, finally leaving all of them out is just an irrelevant coping style.

Additionally Jerry discusses the Myers-Briggs type indicator system. He introduces the four dimensions in that model. The first of the four letters says something on how I refresh my energy – introverts (I) for seeking self-reflection or extrovert (E) for interacting with people. The second letter describes how I take in information – either by facts from the sensation type (S) or by grasping the abstract concepts via intuition (N). The third letter says something how I make meaning – by pure logic in the thinking preference (T) or by grasping the feelings of the humans around me (F). The fourth and last letter states how I prefer to take actions – the judging (J) style prefers to settle decisions, while the perceiving (P) style prefers to leave options open. So, as I’m an INTJ, I prefer to take energy from being alone, intuitively grasp the abstract concepts, making meaning of them through logical thinking, and prefer to have things settled.

So, a congruent manager should consider their preferences and see the preferences from others using the Myers-Briggs type indicator model. Whenever I am aware that my message was not receipt correctly at my communication partner, I can take the choice to reflect and maybe present the information in a different format for my audience.

In addition Weinberg concludes in this third volume in the series how to reach a Steering culture built upon systems thinking, first-order measurements and congruent responses while leaving the transition to an anticipating culture for the fourth and last volume.

Quality Software Management Volume 4 – Anticipating change

In the fourth and last volume Jerry introduces the Satir Change Model. Since an anticipating culture relies heavily on change artists, this model comes in handy in forming such an organizational culture. Weinberg explains in great detail how people react upon foreign elements in the organization, and that too many threating external influences may result in people hiding in their basement. In addition he walks the reader along the change model and explains how to get from an old status quo to a new status quo and actually make and foster the necessary change.

Weinberg continues further how an anticipating organizations works through the overall software development process. Starting from meta-planning, tactical change planning, over to planning as an software engineer, this volume conducts how to make change stick in the organization. In addition he writes about process and process improvements. He lists processes commonly in practice by the time he wrote the book (1997), and discusses why it is important to know several process models as a change artist. Weinberg describes the differences between a process vision, the process model, and the process.

Finally, he gives a compelling view on things that are still relevant nowadays. Taking a closer look on how to terminate projects, and how to know that you should terminate or re-plan them, he gives a thorough overview of do’s and don’t’s in software development for the project manager. He discusses that requirements documents and design documents should be placed in a version control system alongside with the code. Considering that he wrote this book more than ten years ago, it struck me when I encounter multiple teams which are still not using any version control mechanism at all. Finally, Weinberg takes a look on tools, and how and when to introduce them.

The biggest gift in this volume are the lists of do’s and don’t’s in software projects alongside with the eleven commandments of Technology Transfer. His comparison of the waterfall model to other software development models may be seen as a bit outdated, but most of it is still relevant. Weinberg even touches the spiral model in this discussion, so portions of it also apply for modern Agile methodologies. Of course, the principle to know about many models and to know when they apply and should be used, is the key lesson to take away here.

Summary

Overall, Jerry provides many techniques and models, which come in handy at understanding the dynamics at play during a software project. Systems thinking helps you to analyze complex social systems in your project. The cultural model provides you with a useful view on how quality is seen in a particular organization, and which steps you might take for improvements. The Satir Interaction Model is useful in critical project situations, where your own measurement system is likely to be collapsed under the pressure of the situation.

Last, but not least, I’m glad that I got my copy from QSM Vol. 1 signed by Elisabeth Hendrickson. It was a coincident during last October, but she told me she felt honored to sign it for me.

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