The reason that outsourcing software is so difficult

14 Jul2011

I just watched another fantastic TED talk video that Will Franco (a.k.a FlyWheel) over at Jive Systems linked me to a couple of weeks ago.

The video focuses primarily on changing from the "carrot and stick" model of management and incentives and into a "ROWE" (Results Only Work Environment) model for creative, 21st century tasks.

He frames the problem as being one of tasks that involve creativity vs. those that only require "mechanical" skills using a series of experiments done with the Candle Problem.

More specifically, that when 2 different versions of the same problem - one requiring the participant to overcome the problem of "functional fixedness" creatively and the other not - traditional extrinsic motivators either do not work or do work respectively.

About halfway through the talk, however, Pink states that software development is one of the things that can be pretty easily outsourced, and that's where I would disagree.

This reminds me of the famous section of the Mythical Man Month by Frederick P. Brooks, Jr.:

Men and months are interchangeable commodities only when a task can be partitioned among many workers with no communication between them. This is true of reaping wheat or picking cotton; it is not even approximately true of systems programming

This ties in closely with what Dan Pink is saying, but in quite a subtle way. What both Brooks and Pink are describing is a "purely mechanical" task vs. one which requires thought, creativity and communication.

The challenge in building software is that it takes a software engineer to know the difference.

Whilst it's simple for anyone to change the Candle Problem from one that requires creative output to one that doesn't, the process of "removing creativity" from the requirements of developing software is a software engineering task, and one that requires immense amounts of creativity.

In fact, the task of partitioning tasks on a project, particularly for a very early stage prototype, is often so much work that whoever might be doing the work would have been able to do the task faster themselves (and been more motivated to do it a better job of it!)

So think next time you are, or someone you know is, wanting to outsource software development: who's doing the creative tasks?

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 14th, 2011 at 11:48 am author iain dooley, development, developments, philosophy, philosophies, project management, outsourcing, software

blog comments powered by Disqus


Subscribe via RSS

Building software in the real world - the Working Software blog

We write about our experiences, ideas and interests in business, software and the business of software. We also sometimes write about our own products (in order to promote them).