I believe that the “Builder’s View” is the single most important concept you’ll come across this year. Bold statement? Sure, but I’ll stand by it.
I recently came across the term in Peopleware by Tom Demarco and Timothy Lister, great book and hugely informative! They bring up the term “builder’s view” and spend a couple of paragraphs discussing it. When I read their take on it the idea really grabbed ahold in my mind. Thinking of my devs as ‘builder teams’ rather than developer teams is a simple change that represents a major shift in thinking. Firstly, I don’t like to constrain my Agile thinking to the software world. Builder encompasses everyone who builds, regardless of what they build. Secondly its a unique enough term that it gets people’s attention; that’s always a good thing. And finally once you understand it like I do, I believe you’ll agree with me on how important it is.
Let’s be clear on one thing though… if you are a Scrum Master, Product Owner, Program Manager or other management type… sorry but you aren’t a builder. The builders are the people writing lines of code, laying bricks, and swinging hammers. This isn’t to say that our job as managers isn’t important, it is. But for these purposes I’m referring specifically to the ones creating.
A builder looks at their creation with the highest sense of pride and accomplishment. They know that at some point someone will look on their works and judge that work (and through it them!) with either a positive or negative eye. These builders know that they have a huge hand in which way those eyes see their works. They know that they can, and do, impact the final product more than almost anyone else involved. Between the major project variables of scope, cost and quality a builder will hold quality in a position that neither of the other variables will ever hold. They are willing to allow management and the market to dictate scope and they usually only pay minimal attention to cost. But quality? In the end the quality of the thing will reflect directly and personally on them and they take that very serious indeed.
I can already hear all the managers and executives reading this… “What the hell? Are you insinuating that we don’t care about quality?” Not quite, I’m saying you see it differently. Everyone involved in building everything understands and embraces quality. But let’s be honest, if quality REALLY was job #1 in our organizations then there should never be an argument about hiring the best coders available and then tasking them with spending at least a third of their work week learning new skills. Additionally R&D budgets should be almost limitless and we should be spending as much time and effort testing as we do building. But these things almost never happen.
Where the difference lies is in how each group views quality. In the management and exec worlds we understand quality but view it as just another variable, alongside cost and scope. We tweak these variables to get a product that can go to market and grab a consumer’s attention (and wallet) in the best way possible. And let’s face it… consumers around the globe speak with their wallets everyday on how important quality is to them. *cough*Bentonville,AR*cough*
Therein lies the essence of the “Builder’s View” concept. Builders, especially in the software world where every builder is part architect, most often view their work as a reflection of themselves. To them quality isn’t just job #1, it's also job #2, #3, #4 and #5. This is an awesome thing because this job pride is why we’re capable of having a Trusted Team. That trust depends on the pride our builders take, without it no amount of whip-cracking will produce an acceptable piece of work.
And therein lies the pitfall. When a company takes an action that indicates that quality isn’t as important as the builders see it, maybe an exec decides to ship with one or two bugs and patch later, the team will always, every time take it personally. The task of both exec and management teams is to make sure that this doesn’t blow up. Time and care needs to be taken to ensure that the builders know that quality is just as important to the entire company as to them, but so are cost and scope.
I’ll be revisiting the “Builder’s View” concept much more in my writings this summer, but this is a good intro. There are ideas here that impact almost every interaction with your builder teams and should help you in your day-to-day management of these great folks.