Interaction design and programming: “best to market beats first to market”

Here are some very interesting notes on a keynote by Alan Cooper (of “The Inmates Are Running The Asylum” fame) at the recent IxDA Interaction08 conference.

Quote dump:

I don’t think we ought to be emphasizing innovation; in our industry, it will happen. Innovation means invention, but in the minds of business people, I believe it has come to mean “success”. But innovation doesn’t mean success (holds up that original clunky MP3 player that failed–”this was innovative, but was never successful”).

Business people don’t often do best-to-market because they don’t know how–we need to show them. Many have industrial age skills. They view software as mass production. Best-to-market only happens through craftsmanship. It’s all about quality–it’s all about getting it right, not to get it fast. It’s measured by quality, not speed. It’s a pure measurement, and a delightful one. Craftsmen do it over and over again until they get it right. In their training, they building things over and over so they get the experience they need to get it right.

Programming is not an industrial activity. It is a unique activity that has a lot in common with pre-industrial craft, and yet has a lot of unique characteristics that I call “post-industrial craft”. Programs are made one at a time, and each piece is different. It’s not scalable and it’s not formulaic. There’s no magic bullet in pre-industrial craft. We can’t say we’re all going agile and everything will come up roses. It’s incredibly nuanced and takes years of study to get right.

Programmers are draftsmen. However, they are different than pre-industrial workers. They are self-directed and know better than managers what to do. They respect intelligence, not authority. You can’t tell them what to do, you can only coerce them. Their satisfaction comes from the quality of their work.

But there are no economies of scale is software production, all you can do is reduce the quality that emerges. There are simply no good management tools for software construction. There are no appropriate tools for accounting for the creation of software. There’s no way to track any given feature, functionality, or behavior to the amount of money coming.

… and it goes on from there to say (less clearly, alas) what interaction designers can bring to this conflicted situation. Food for thought.

eBay architecture notes

Quite interesting rough notes on eBay’s architecture – (horizontal) scalability is the watchword, with J2EE on Oracle being the central technologies. Interesting (but not entirely surprising) to see that most of the work is done application-level [raganwalk].

Rock on, young stunningly-good-looking Management Consultant!

Joel on management consultancy – golden. The crux: “

The whole fraud is only possible because performance metrics in knowledge organizations are completely trivial to game.

Follow-up 2006-11-29: We’re from Harvard and we cost too much for you – balanced, insightful.

How to make a corporate butt pucker

How to make a corporate butt pucker – sounding the death knell of “Enterprise Development” with a capital E and a capital D. Good. [raganwald]

The BigBook Technique

Engineering Management Hacks: The BigBook Technique – poetic. [raganwald]

The Waterfall model has always been evil

This is very interesting… Common wisdom has it that the waterfall model is the “old way” of doing things, a respected technique from times past, but that these days we’re (struggling to) move towards more agile, iterative methods of software development. Accoding to this, however (and the wikipedia article agrees), the paper that first described the waterfall model actually described it as a bad practice, and went on to advocate an iterative approach, attempting to formalise practice which had been around since the 1950s. Alas, subsequent papers largely missed the point that a purely sequential waterfall was a bad idea, and it got enshrined as “software best practice” of the 1970s. We’re still trying to recover.

What is success?

What is success?

Lessons from the Sony CD DRM Episode

Lessons from the Sony CD DRM Episode, (PDF, 154KB, 27 pages) [schneier].

Abstract: In the fall of 2005, problems discovered in two Sony-BMG compact disc copy protection systems, XCP and MediaMax, triggered a public uproar that ultimately led to class-action litigation and the recall of millions of discs. We present an in-depth analysis of these technologies, including their design, implementation, and deployment. The systems are surprisingly complex and suffer from a diverse array of flaws that weaken their content protection and expose users to serious security and privacy risks. Their complexity, and their failure, makes them an interesting case study of digital rights management that carries valuable lessons for content companies, DRM vendors, policymakers, end users, and the security community.

That’s “Sony” DRM technology actually brought to you by a company with offices near here, who came to the department and did a presentation at an event organised by IT Wales las year. They certainly did seem very impressive, and IIRC their CTO spoke highly of his programmers’ abilities. Only goes to show, I guess. (Some retrospectively amusing quotes in this article, I thought.)

Paul Graham: How to Do What You Love

Paul Graham on How to Do What You Love.