Software Development versus Software Engineering

One of the most useful things that I have gotten from studying things that I call "Demingesque " is the idea of Kanban. Kanban means "sign board" and is a way for projects to display information about themselves.

In its simplest form the Kanban idea is simply to keep track of things I need to do, things that I am doing, and things that I have done. In addition, because the board is placed in a location that is easy for management to see it can't help but communicate the status of the project or work area associated with the Kanban.

This idea is so simple it hardly seems like it is worth the effort of naming it. It is so engrained in the idea of a productive work team that I can't fathom needing to have a "methodology" associated with it. Yet I see amazingly complex ideas built up around this very simple tool.

Ironically, developers tend to like over complicated things in place of simple things. I suspect that it is because we are smart people and we don't like things that are too "simple" challenge us. Instead we want something hard that forces us to really stretch. So, I'd like to challenge people who think like that: don't think like that.

Instead, we should relish the idea of doing amazingly complex things with the simplest tools possible. In the places I've worked, the Kanban is most frequently implemented using a simple white sheet and a simple "sticky note" approach. I've seen many variations but ultimately you are just capturing the following information:

1. What do you need to do?
2. What are you doing?
3. What have you done?

Anything beyond this is probably a waste of time. This information recorded regularly can give you an idea of how long a project will take (based on the velocity of movement of items from "need to do" over to "have done") and how many "are doing" things are happening at the same time. The manager's job now becomes tracking this information and predicting that if fewer "are doing" things are happening then the "have done" pile grows more slowly.

You can formalize this as much as you feel like, put pretty math on it, or give it buzzword names, but really this is the basis for all software development project management... also sometimes known as "software engineering."