Tuesday, March 11, 2008

March 17, 2008


This is an important question which is ultimately at the heart of a lot of the problems in systems and software development. There is one camp that believes development to be an art form requiring free-spirited creative types of people, and another camp believing it to be a science requiring people that are more disciplined and organized.

The difference between an art and a science is subtle but significant. An art form is based on the intuitiveness of the person performing the work, something that is difficult, if not impossible, to pass on to another human being. For example, apprentices serving under an artist may try for years to emulate the master, but may never attain his level of skill and creativity. In contrast, a science is based on a governing body of concepts and principles and, as such, can be easily taught to others. From this perspective, programming can certainly be viewed as a science as it has certainly been taught and passed on to others for many years; further, it involves certain governing principles in terms of language syntax, approaches to defining program logic and construction. Some might argue the physical design of a report or screen requires creativity, and there is a certain element of truth to this as some look better than others. But even the design of reports and screens can be governed by certain principles in terms of layout, navigation, color schemes, etc.

On the systems side, there are governing principles as well which can easily be taught to others. It too requires a certain element of creativity for such things as analyzing and solving business problems and designing work flows. I guess what I'm driving at is that science is certainly not devoid of creativity. For example, consider the sciences of architecture and engineering, all of which are based on governing principles, yet offers channels of creativity in design. Music is another excellent example of a science involving creativity. In other words, art does not hold a monopoly on creativity.

In any form of development you can either build things one at a time or in volume. Artists are excellent for building unique works of art, but it is hardly an effective approach for corporations to take who tend to build things with many people. Consequently, they are more inclined to adopt a development approach based on science as opposed to an art form. Further, maintaining a product derived from a science is easier than one based on art as you can more readily reproduce the object according to specifications.

Not long ago I wrote an article on why it is necessary to record your time during the day, specifically as it applies for project management purposes. During the article, I mentioned there is often resistance to reporting time by those people who perceive themselves as free-spirited creative types who do not like to be encumbered by such discipline. Pursuant to the article, I received some interesting responses who felt it wasn't necessary to impose too many management controls and discipline on such creative spirits, particularly programmers, that it would be viewed as a bureaucracy and nuisance as opposed to helping with their assignments. They also commented on their disdain for micromanagement; that they would prefer more freedom as it pertains to their work. Personally, I do not have a problem with this as I have always advocated worker empowerment (managing from the bottom-up). In other words, they want more decision making authority in the planning process of their assignments. This means they should also be participating in the preparation of estimates for their assignments and should be able to report back to management on the progress of their assignments. To do so, there should be something more substantial than vague generalities as to where they stand on an assignment, e.g.; "I'm 50% complete." Because of the many people participating in today's development projects, management can ill-afford to operate with vague generalities and instead needs to know early on if the worker is in trouble or will be delivering his work product early or late. This can be simply performed by recording time spent and estimating the amount of effort remaining on an assignment. This is particularly needed, if their assignment affects the schedules of others. If the worker is going to be given more freedom to layout and estimate his work, it seems perfectly reasonable to apply a little discipline and accountability regardless of the creative spirits involved, especially if other people are involved.

So, is systems and software development a science or an art? I contend that it is a science for the reasons already mentioned. As such, it can be taught and implemented in essentially the same manner as other sciences, such as architecture and engineering, who are basically in the same business as systems and software personnel except designing other types of products. True, we still have issues of creativity and managing complexity, but this is no different than the other disciplines as well. It also means imposing the same types of discipline, organization and accountability as found in the other disciplines. The problem though is this conflicts with today's relaxed office mores. One has to question if we have become perhaps too lax in our corporate cultures to the point it is having an adverse effect on productivity; that maybe some discipline and accountability might produce positive results.

Younger developers might contend that I am out of touch with how systems and software is developed these days, that they need free reign to do what they want. I contend there will always be a place for management, otherwise we will end up with the "1000 Monkey Phenomenon" whereby people are permitted to do whatever they so desire and maybe, just maybe, something worthwhile will be produced. Companies can certainly not afford to operate in this manner and, because of this, we will always need management to orchestrate development efforts in a concerted manner.

One last note, an area that greatly concerns me is the lack of standards in this industry, particularly in the area of systems. Sure we have plenty of theories of what systems are, but no definitive body of knowledge that can be applied uniformly. This is one obstacle prohibiting us from becoming a legitimate science. As long as there are multiple interpretations of the same thing, we will never realize any consistency and management will continue to perceive developers as free spirited artists as opposed to disciplined professionals.

If you would like to discuss this with me in more depth, please do not hesitate to send me an e-mail.

Keep the faith!


Friends, we have just published a new book entitled, "MORPHING INTO THE REAL WORLD - A Handbook for Entering the Work Force" which is a survival guide for young people as they transition into adult life.

Bonnie Wooding, the President of the Toronto Chapter of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) said, "Many of our members are just starting their careers and I will be recommending that they read this book, especially Chapter 3, Professional Development - a primer for business skills and filled with basic common sense advice that is simple, easy to follow and extraordinarily practical; and Chapter 5, Do’s and Don’ts of the Workplace, an excellent resource for those questions you are too embarrassed to ask for fear of looking foolish."

The Miami Hurricane recently reviewed it (10/22/2007) and said,

"the abundance of information the book provides is a good start for anyone about to take the first step into the real world. Though the concept of adulthood may seem intimidating, it's comforting to know that someone has at least written a guidebook for it."

Reviewer Bill Petrey praised it by saying, "Every young person entering the workplace for the first time should be given a copy of this book."

The book includes chapters to describe how a young person should organize themselves, how to adapt to the corporate culture, develop their career, and improve themselves professionally and socially. Basically, its 208 pages of good sound advice to jump start the young person into the work force. Corporate Human Resource departments will also find this book useful for setting new hires on the right track in their career. It not only reinforces the many formal rules as contained in corporate policy manuals, but also includes the subtle unwritten rules we must all observe while working with others. The book lists for $25 and can be ordered online through MBA or your local book store. Complementing the book is a one day seminar of the same name which can be purchased separately for $4,000.00 (U.S.) plus instructor travel expenses. For more information on both the book and the seminar, visit our corporate web site at:
ISBN: 978-0-9786182-5-4


I have a problem with gossip in the office but I think we are all guilty of some infraction of it at some time or another. Petty gossip is one thing, viscous slander is something else altogether. Not surprising, there is a lot of misinformation floating around in an office regarding people and corporate direction. We often hear of rumors of people bucking for a certain job, looking to leave and join a competitor or customer, to sabotage a key project, or that the company is going to down size or outsource the operations to Timbuktu. Naturally, such rumors can put a damper on employee morale, making it harder to concentrate and see assignments through to completion. Managers should be sensitive to rumors and squelch them as soon as possible. If not, productivity will suffer. To do so, the manager should always keep in ear open as to what is being said around the water cooler or lunch table. Meeting with key members of the staff periodically for a drink after hours can also be useful for detecting what is being said as well as to build camaraderie and trust with the staff.

Perhaps the best way to overcome gossip in the office is for the manager to keep an open line of communications with his workers. This means the manager must be viewed as approachable and trustworthy by the staff. In addition to an open door policy, managers should hold routine meetings and issue memos on what is going on. This can be done through such things as bulletins, e-mail or a private departmental discussion group. But if the manager maintains a closed-door policy, rumors will inevitably circulate.

If rumor control is left unchecked, it can turn particularly nasty. No doubt we have all met people who are past masters at spreading rumors for political maneuvering. Some people thrive on political back stabbing which, unfortunately, I believe is a part of the fabric of our society. If it were not so, we wouldn't have the tabloid media which thrives on drama, intrigue, and innuendo.

Like it or not, office rumors affects the corporate culture. We can either have peace and tranquillity through open communications, or a lot of backbiting and finger-pointing. Interestingly, I have met managers who prefer the latter and use it as a means to set one employee against another in order to determine who is the stronger of the two. Kind of sounds like a new version of "American Gladiator" to me, and something I do not believe any of us signed up for when we were hired. As far as I'm concerned, there is no room in the office for malicious smear campaigns or character assassinations. Any manager promoting such an environment is simply an idiot and should be removed from power. But I have to be careful, it find of sounds like I'm starting a rumor of my own doesn't it?

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.


Folks, a couple of years ago I started to include my "Pet Peeve of the Week" in these "Management Visions" podcasts. They have become so popular that I now syndicate them through the Internet and they are available for republication in other media. To this end, I have created a separate web page for my writings which you can find at Look for the section, "The Bryce is Right!" Hope you enjoy them.


I received the following e-mails from my "Pet Peeve" entitled, "Celebrities & Charities":

An S.M. in South Africa wrote...

"Aren't there rules about feeding poor people, like in Zoo's where you have signs that say 'don't feed the animals'? I'm sorry, I have blonde moments at times. Charity Organizations say that they can't help the poor if they're one of them. That's why they are so rich. George Clooney is an actor, he can ACT like he cares sincerely for the plight of suffering Africans. Where's the suprise?"

I received the following e-mails regarding my "Pet Peeve" on "Office Noise":

A P.D. in DeKalb, IL wrote...

"I agree that noise is a problem, but like the temperature problem, I have no expectation of change. I recently worked in an office that was so noisy that I could not hear the people on the phone. It is not possible to hold a phone in one hand, cover the other ear with the other hand, and write down or type the information from the phone call. Rather than deal with the noise issue, the manager of the group suggested the tech guys look into gettting everyone head sets."

An I.L. in New York wrote...

"The only office noise I dislike is my IT mangers voice!"

Again, thanks for your comments. For these and other comments, please visit my "Bryce is Right!" web site.

Keep those cards and letters coming.

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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Management Visions is a presentation of M. Bryce & Associates, a division of M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. The program is produced on a weekly basis and updated on Sundays. It is available in versions for RealPlayer, Microsoft Media Player, and MP3 suitable for Podcasting. See our web site for details. You'll find our broadcast listed in several Podcast and Internet Search engines, as well as Apples' iTunes.

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This is Tim Bryce reporting.

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




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