Thursday, February 16, 2006

February 20, 2006


Back in the early 1980's, Japan's Ministry of International Trade & Industry (MITI) coordinated a handful of Japanese computer manufacturers in establishing a special environment for producing system software, such as operating systems and compilers. This effort came to be known as Japanese "Software Factories" which captured the imagination of the industry. Although the experiment ended with mixed results, they discovered organization and discipline could dramatically improve productivity.

Why the experiment? Primarily because the Japanese recognized there are fundamentally two approaches to manufacturing anything: "one at a time" or mass production. Both are consistent approaches that can produce a high quality product. The difference resides in the fact mass production offers increased volume at lower costs. In addition, workers can be easily trained and put into production. On the other hand, the "one at a time" approach is slower and usually has higher costs. It requires workers to be intimate with all aspects of the product. Which is the most appropriate approach for a development organization to take? That depends on the organization's perspective of systems development.


There are those who believe systems development to be some sort of art-form requiring peculiar knowledge and skills to perform. There are significant differences between an "art" and a "science." An "art" depends on an individual's intuitive instincts about a particular subject. Such intuition is difficult to teach and apply in a consistent manner. An art-form, by definition, implies nonconformity and represents an expression of personal style and taste. In contrast, a "science" is based on proven principles and, as such, can be taught and applied in a uniform manner by many people.

In order for systems development to move from an art to a science, a body of knowledge has to be defined in terms of proven concepts and standard terminology. Unfortunately, this is where the industry has been wallowing for the last 40 years. The Japanese example reveals it is not necessary to invent any new theories of management, but rather to reuse existing management principles that have already been proven over time. By doing so, they are attempting to move the industry from an art to a science.


Assuming we want to establish an environment of mass production to develop our information resources, it is necessary to understand its fundamental nature. As any introductory text book on manufacturing can explain, there are five basic elements of mass production:

1. Division of Labor - to break the production process into separate tasks performed by specialists or craftsmen. Such division specifies the type of skills required to perform the work.

2. Assembly Line - describing the units of work along with the dependencies between the steps thereby defining the progression and synchronization of product development.

3. Precision Tooling - for mechanical leverage in developing products.

4. Standardization of Parts - for interchangeability of parts between products, thereby lowering costs and shortening development time, and allowing assembly by unskilled and semiskilled workers.

5. Mass Demand - this represents the impetus for mass production; customers demanding standardized and reliable products at lower costs. In the IRM world this is represented by end-users who require standard and reliable systems at lower costs to support their information needs.

The rationale behind mass production is improved productivity; producing more quality products at less cost. Most people fallaciously equate productivity with efficiency, which simply gauges how fast we can perform a given task. Effectiveness, on the other hand, validates the necessity of the task itself. There is nothing more unproductive than to do something efficiently that should not have been done at all. An industrial robot, for example, can efficiently perform tasks such as welding. However, if it welds the wrong thing or at the wrong time, then it is counterproductive. It therefore becomes important in the production of any product to define WHO is to perform WHAT work, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW (we refer to this as "5W+H").

We therefore have long touted the following formula:

Productivity = Effectiveness X Efficiency

It is our belief improved productivity can be instituted by implementing the five elements of mass production and devising a manufacturing facility whereby are found:

Assembly Lines - increments of work sequenced in such a way to develop products. Along the assembly line, a series of tools and techniques will be deployed, some implemented by the human being, others through automated assistance, such as robots.

Materials Management - the business function concerned with standardizing parts so they may be shared and reused in various product assemblies. Further, it is concerned with collecting, storing and retrieving parts (inventorying) in the most efficient means possible (e.g., JIT - "Just In Time").

Production Control - oversees the assembly lines and materials management, looking for unanticipated delays or accelerations of production schedules. Consequently, corrective action can be taken as required to resolve problems.

These three components establish a "checks and balances" in manufacturing and can also be utilized to develop an "Information Factory" to develop an organization's information resources, whereby are found:

Methodologies (Assembly Lines) - defines the work environment (5W), thereby synchronizing the flow of work. Within the phases of the methodology, a variety of tools and techniques may be deployed defining HOW the work is to be performed.

Resource Management (Materials Management) - identifies and classifies information resources, thereby promoting the sharing and reusing of resources. It also ensures they are collected, stored and retrieved in a timely manner.

Project Management (Production Control) - used to plan, estimate, schedule, report, and control project work.

Why an "Information Factory" as opposed to a "Software Factory"? One of the key failures in the Japanese "Software Factories" experiment was its limited scope. It failed to address all of the information resources of an enterprise, especially business processes, administrative procedures, manual files, printed reports, human and machine resources, business functions, etc. all of which are essential to a total systems solution. The term "Information Factory," therefore, is an admission there is more to information resources than just software.


The mechanics and infrastructure of an "Information Factory" are fairly easy to grasp, but it requires a special kind of person to implement: an Industrial Engineer.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Third Edition) defines Industrial Engineering as: "The branch of engineering that is concerned with the efficient production of industrial goods as affected by elements such as plant and procedural design, the management of materials and energy, and the integration of workers within the overall system."

An Industrial Engineer considers the products to be build and employs work study techniques in order to improve productivity. Such a group of people is critical to the implementation of any mass production facility, including an "Information Factory." The Industrial Engineer has to be one part engineer and one part social scientist, studying the behavior of people (e.g., why they work in the manner they do). This is another element missed by the Japanese "Software Factories."

In an "Information Factory" the Industrial Engineer is responsible for:

1. Defining the infrastructure of the factory (methodologies to be used, resource management, and project management). This includes the progression and synchronization of work, along with the tools and techniques to be used (5W+H).

2. Establishing the types of people needed to perform the work, along with the required skill sets (and how to evaluate performance). This also includes specifying the types of training required to do the job.

3. Reviewing work products (work sampling) in order to evaluate product quality and production problems, thereby triggering the need for improvement.

4. Constantly looking for new tools and techniques to improve the process. It is generally agreed techniques and tools will come and go, and will evolve over time. As such, the Industrial Engineer is a student of the industry.


The mechanics of the "Information Factory" are easy to assimilate and implement. The real problem lies in changing the behavior and attitudes of people, specifically, the corporate culture. The goal of an "Information Factory," as it is with any mass production facility, is to create a homogeneous development environment (as opposed to a heterogeneous environment where everyone is allowed to develop products as they see fit).

To counter the "Tower of Babel" effect found in most development organizations, the "Information Factory" seeks consistency and quality through uniformity and standardization. It is not uncommon for the concept of a factory-like environment to strike fear in the hearts of software developers as they may see it as a threat to their free-spirited individuality. Such an environment need not sacrifice freedom of expression or creativity. It is simply a means to channel such creative energies in a uniform manner.

The biggest problem though rests in reorienting people to believe they are in the business of building products, not just writing code. Acceptance of the "Information Factory" environment can be achieved if people understand the overall process, where they fit in it, what is expected of them, and how their work affects others. We have found most people prefer organization and discipline as opposed to chaos. Further, they can achieve superior results when standards are imposed; such discipline results in uniform and predictable work products,


It is possible to employ the same concepts and techniques as used in mass production towards the development of information resources. But creating a "factory"-like development environment takes more than simply calling yourself one. It is a significant reorientation effort. Fortunately, it is not without precedent and the concepts have already been introduced to devise an "Information Factory" based on other engineering/manufacturing disciplines.

The benefits of an "Information Factory" are no different than any other mass production environment: standardization, improved productivity, reduced costs, better change control, faster employee startup and more effective use of human resources. However, the impact of implementing such an environment should definitely not be underestimated. It affects people's perceptions regarding development and ultimately affects the corporate culture.

In order to move from an art to a science, it is necessary to define and standardize our terminology and concepts for developing information resources. Only when this happens can we teach it to others in a uniform manner and gain the legitimacy as a profession that has long eluded developers.

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is...
"Q: How many interpretations of systems development are there?
A: How many analysts and programmers have you got?"


On March 6th-8th, the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit 2006 will be held at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago, IL. For info, contact Gartner at 203/316-6757

The 17th International Conference of the Information Resource Management Association will be held May 21st-24th at the Wyndham Hotel in Washington D.C. For information, call IRMA headquarters in PA at 717/533-8879

The World Conference on Quality and Improvement will be held May 1st-3rd at the Midwest Airlines Center in Milwaukee, WI. For information, contact the American Society for Quality at 800-248-1946 or 414/272-8575.

The Quality Assurance Institute will be holding its 26th Annual Quality Conference at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando, FL on April 24th - 28th. For information, contact the Institute in Orlando at 407/363-1111.

If you have got an upcoming IRM related event you want mentioned, please e-mail the date, time and location of the event to


In the January 30th issue of INFOWORLD magazine, there was an interesting story about "Infamous IT Meltdowns" which described colossal system development failures in the Government sector. In it, they listed the following failures:

The FBI "Virtual Case File" which attempted to replace the Fed's antiquated case management system. Ultimately, the project died due to the failure of defining an adequate project scope. Consequently, the project grew out of control. Last year, the government scrapped the entire program and went with something else. Cost to the taxpayer: $170 million.

The FAA's "Advanced Automation System" was an attempt to modernize the nation's air traffic control system which crashed before it even took over with a cost to the taxpayer of $2.6 billion.

The IRS's "Business Systems Modernization" which began in 1997 experienced problems due to personnel changes and scathing GAO reports. The project is still running with a cost to taxpayers at $8 billion and counting.

The Department of Defense's "Business Systems Modernization" has been called the "project from hell." A GAO report found the project to be "fundamentally flawed...and vulnerable to fraud, waste, and abuse." Cost to the taxpayer: $19 billion as of fiscal year 2004.

Were these projects doomed because they used the wrong tools? Probably not. They simply took a tool-oriented approach to systems development as opposed to a management-oriented approach. All of these systems can be conquered, but to do so requires no magical panacea, but a little good old-fashioned management and upfront systems work. I will wager you that all of these projects had plenty of programmers but very few systems people.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.


I received an e-mail from a Bernie DeMarco in Chicago who wrote me regarding last week's technology conference in Cincinnati.
Bernie writes:

"I enjoyed meeting you at last week's conference and appreciated your analogy between systems development and engineering/manufacturing. Are you available for on-site presentations?"

Thanks Bernie for your note,
First, I don't think there is anything magical in performing systems development, be it on a small or grand scale. A system is a product that can be engineered and manufactured like any other product. It just requires a little common sense and if I have learned anything in this business, if there is anything uncommon in this industry, it is common sense.

Second, Yes, I am available for both on-site and off-site presentations. This is exactly what we are trying to establish in Cincinnati, a new school for total systems development, not just the software portions.

Again, Thanks for your e-mail. Keep those cards and letters coming.

Folks, don't forget to check out our BRYCE'S CRASH COURSE IN MANAGEMENT which is a free on-line multimedia presentation offering pragmatic advice on how to discharge the duties of a manager, whether it be for a commercial or non-profit enterprise. Frankly, for someone aspiring to be a manager or for a new manager, it will be the best 45 minutes you can invest in yourself. Check it out on the cover of our corporate web page at:

For a complete listing of my essays, see the "PRIDE" Special Subject Bulletins section of our corporate web site.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567.

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Copyright © 2006 by M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. All rights reserved. "PRIDE" is the registered trademark of M&JB Investment Company.

This is Tim Bryce reporting.

Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."



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