Software development belief systems

Rian van der Merwe’s software development belief systems in corporate environments does an excellent job of describing the different belief systems that executives have about software development.

To build successful products it is essential for product managers to understand what belief system their executive team subscribes to.

  • Belief system #1: We have to build these features and they have to be live by this date.
  • Belief system #2: We have to be live by this date — what features can you get done by then?
  • Belief system #3: We have to release these features next — how long will it take to get that done?

Belief system #1 is the most common, and it is poison. It usually goes along with a distorted Steve Jobs “reality distortion field” complex, and the only thing it produces is crappy software and burnt-out teams who feel distrusted and undervalued.

It would be easy to dismiss executive belief systems as just the way things are, or to gloss over the importance of understanding and working to change them. However their ripple effect is phenomenal; the damage they can do to the culture alone can destroy a company from the inside.

Belief system #1 is most certainly the one to which my executives currently subscribe. In our organisation the problems this belief system creates had been evident for some time and came to a head around six months ago when nearly half our development department left the business over a two month period.

Informal discussions with those that were leaving revealed the culture created by the executive belief system to be the most frequently cited reason for their departure.

One of the biggest mistakes a product manager can make is to try to change people’s belief systems from #1 to #3 without first taking them through the logic of #2.

Belief system #2 is where those who are leading change within our company are working incredibly hard to move the business towards right now. I found it oddly reassuring to know that this can be a common problem during the adoption of agile.

I believe that as a business our heart is in the right place and we are heading in the right direction. Of course culture change is slow and hard, but lately it has begun to feel like there is a clear path to a better way of working.

If you work in a large corporation, identify your executive team’s software development belief system, then guide them to #3. Your product, your business, and your team’s morale will be better for it.

Wayne Moir

User Experience Designer