Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Economy: China to the rescue?

Just watched Panorama ( a BBC documentary), on Gordon Browns 'Economic Miracle'. Apparently what has sustained the longest period of economic growth in recent history has been consumer and public spending. Even with spending, inflation has remained low. Low inflation has been as a consequence of cheap imports form the far east and China. This as allowed us to avoid the boom and bust economic cycle of the past (high spending-> high inflation -> high interest rates -> economic slow down).

The growth of imports as been at the cost of local manufacturing. So we no longer build stuff, but stay afloat by selling things to each other built cheaply else where. And of course there's the growing 'service sector' what ever that is (retail parks, DIY super stores, etc).

I'm no economist, but I know that most people feel pretty insecure at work. Most people are working harder for less. Job stability is a thing of the past, and most people have come to accept short term contracts as part of life. The only thing that seems to produce 'a feel good factor' is house prices - and who knows when that will suddenly come to an end.

The scariest thing that came out of the programme for me, was that once UK manufacturers had moved their production to China, the benefits to the UK economy (lower retail prices) will be realised the once. Once things have settled down, low prices and consumer spending, can no longer be relied upon to sustain future growth. Worst still, without a manufacturing base of our own, we will become sensitive to price inflation in China. Should the Chinese decide to pay themselves more, then that will be reflected in higher prices in the UK.

So after years of protectionist EU trade policies on food. We will suddenly find ourselves dependent on others when it comes to manufactured goods.

What will become of the average man on the street? After all we all can't work in retail parks, and I don't think we're going to loose our appetite for consumer goods any time soon. Maybe the French have the right idea, and it is time to start putting up the barricades!

It really does look like unstable times ahead. Economic power in China, Military power in the US, the Europeans in the middle. Friction between China and the US seems inevitable to me. Some how I feel that the Americans with their vast resources and dynamism, will be able to meet the Chinese challenge. I fear that China's gains will be at the expense of the Europeans, including the UK.

I don't fancy learning Mandarin, so it looks like I need to get myself a Green Card quick!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Software Vision - Creating the Backlog

On the back of my last post. I've come up with an idea. My criteria for envisioning new systems:

  • Each release should be take no longer than 3 months and deliver usable value
  • The complete vision may take a number of releases to realise
  • The system/product definition (backlog) should be owned by customer/marketing
  • Customer/marketing should decide how much 'traction' is needed between releases
The last point may need some explaining. By traction, I mean the degree of organisational change required to support a release. In circumstances where organisational change is difficult, it may make sense to use a 'low gear' introducing small organisation changes between each release, providing more 'traction', and increasing the possibility that the organisational change will stick. Conversely if the going is good, then larger changes may be possible, allowing the end vision to be realised sooner.

The point here is that software vision is a skill, and the people responsible need training. So my bright idea is training for customers/marketing people on how to create a product backlog.

Agile development starts with the backlog. But what happens before that? Here is my suggestion:

  • A new product idea (instigated by anyone)
  • If idea meets some minimal criteria, it enters the project funnel
  • Organisation use some criteria to decide which projects to fund and in what order
  • Funded projects acquire a 'customer team'
  • Customer team go through some training on creating 'product backlog'
  • Customer team create first pass backlog
  • Development team work with customer team to refine and realise backlog
I'm going to give some thought to the training and assistance 'product' teams need to envision a good product backlog (product definition). I will use the term 'product team' instead of customer team as it is consitent with 'Product backlog' and SCRUM.

Hopefully I can come up with some good guidelines.

Anyway watch this space.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Software Vision

Alan Cooper and Kent Beck debate XP vs Interaction Design. Alan Coopers' book The Inmates are Running The Asylum describes Interaction design.

Not sure what 'interaction Design' is, but from the article it appears to be some type of business analysis that occurs prior to software development. The assumption is that users need 'help' in deciding what it is they want built. Rather than just automating what is, we should be designing something better. Sounds similar to the Business Process Re-engineering ideas of the late Nineties.

In my post on software as art, I point out that there isn't much guidance available on how best to envision new software systems. I'm not sure whether having a middle man between customers and developers is the right idea though.

It is all well and good, if your Interaction Designers are good at what they do and add value, but how do you test this? Also how do you keep the customer accountable for how he chooses to spends his money?

All sounds a bit naive to me.

Envisioning should be a customer/marketing responsibility, with developer input on feasibility and cost.

I'm with Kent Beck on this one.