Let’s value the process, not the product

March 23, 2003

Photo by Janaya Dasiuk on Unsplash

Software development is a discipline of artifacts; for a bunch of folks who like to do things, we seem surprisingly wedded to nouns, not verbs. Just look at the vocabulary of methodologies: requirements, designs, quality, communication, tests, deliverables—all good solid things. And yet increasingly I’m realizing that these things, these nouns, are not really all that useful. Let’s look at just two of them (for now), requirements and quality.

The value of spending three months doing a requirements analysis is not the 150 page document that is produced. It certainly doesn’t capture the full nuance of the system, and it’s just about certain that it will gradually become outdated as the project butts up against reality and the implementation adapts accordingly. No, the value of requirements is not the deliverable document, the artifact. Instead the value is the process that everyone goes through in order to produce the document: the understanding gained, the relationships forged, the negotiations, the compromises, and all the other little interactions which share information.

Quality is another terribly important word. We plan it, measure it, hire folks to manage it, and put big posters about it on our walls. But again, quality should not be a noun: you can’t measure it, or draw it, or describe it. Quality is a part of the process; it’s in the doing. Quality isn’t a set of rules, or a set of metrics. Quality is in the spirit of the smallest of our daily activities.

Once I started thinking about this as a pattern, it started to change the way I look at many of the other artifacts we produce (including the delivered programs themselves). Often the true value of a thing isn’t the thing itself, but instead is the activity that created it.

So, a challenge. Think of some of the common nouns we deal with on a daily basis (testUML diagram, and architecture might be interesting starting places). Then try to recast them (somehow) as verbs. Where do you find the value? Should we be emphasising the doing of things more, and the artifacts less? How?