Effectiveness: How do you know when it’s working?

This is the first in a short series of articles, asking questions about how we measure effectiveness in software development.

One of the biggest problems in software development is knowing when something is working from a business perspective.

Do your users like your features? Are you gaining market share?

What’s the impact of what you’re delivering? Are you solving the right problems? Are you asking the right questions?

If it was obvious, why do you hear stories of new management destroying perfectly working systems that were performing well? Who’s right? The current employees, or the new managers? How can you tell?

And what is “Working” anyway?

This comes back to our conversations about the common goal of all organizations: increase throughput while reducing inventory and operational expenses.

Since “working” depends on where software sits in your organization, we can’t answer the question naively with respect to the whole business. It really depends on where the software is being used and for what to determine the ultimate impact of the software organization.

But what set of questions would we want to ask?

Are there any capabilities that all software organizations need? What is truly proper to a software development / delivery organization that is always (or almost always) true?

So these are the questions I am setting out to answer:

How do we know it’s working? What are the leading and trailing indicators? What model of a software organization helps us identify what needs improvement? How do we validate that model?

And finally – how do we take all of this, and create a system that helps us get better in a way that matters?

If we are able to formulate good questions, and some idea of how to find their answers in any given business, we will have a solid foundation for uncovering what works and what doesn’t work in any business.

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