Nov 07, 2004

Some Environmental Antipatterns...

The October issue of ACM's Queue has an interesting piece by Phillip Laplante, which discusses some anti-patterns in our industry. These antipatterns and more are going to be published in the book Antipatterns for IT, co-authored by Colin Neill.

The first one discussed is called, “The Burning Bag of Dung” and relates to the prank of lighting up a bag of dog-doings on a neighbours porch, ringing the door bell, and fleeing. We have all have been left with some such bag at some point of our lives, as Phillip enumerates, such as poor software development practices, and usually addressing such problems is not easy. He does present an example and some ways to resolve the issue, but these are rather specific to the example.

The next antipattern described is Founderitis, which describes an organization where the founder has problems letting go when the organization gets bigger than the person can handle, since the talents required to startup an organization are different than those required to run a successful organization. The example he presents are a few organizations that have more than $100 million in revenues, and the founder is still an active developer and approves all changes to the code base. He states that most venture capitalists will recognize this, and will remove the founder from the organization, although Phillip does mention other solutions. This is similar to something I was told regarding an organization, where the new management inquired who were the people that the company could not survive without, and when they received this list, they proceeded to fire all those people. While it seemed as strange logic then, in retrospect, the company was able to succeed, partially because of this.

Another very interesting one was the one entitled the “Shoeless Children,” in which is based on the fable that the children of the shoemaker do not have shoes, since the shoemaker is too busy servicing his clients. The analogy is how some organizations are too busy creating new and better tools for their customers and use the latest technology for this, however, they do not create tools to help themselves and their own infrastructure is no where near their client's infrastructure. This is often based on penny-pinching, but its solution is not always as easy as expanding the budget, and Phillip provides a little more description in the article about the situations around it.

The final one is called “worshiping the Golden Calf,” and this is about hoping that a new technology or methodology will solve all the problems, but this new technology or methodology is poorly understood. This situation usually occurs where there is a poor shared vision or poor leadership. This “golden calf” could also be unknown, such as in the “hockey stick” revenue projection, where after a number of poor quarters, there are a few good quarters, and people start to believe that the ship is turning around and that it will continue in this pattern. Solving the pattern is not easy though.

I really enjoyed the article, and I look forward to seeing their book, as I am sure that it will open your eyes to situations which are around you. And knowing that there is a potential problem is the first step towards fixing it.

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