Software Methodology Analogy

A Car Analogy for Business Imperatives 

Prolog: I switched groups in my company and my old boss said that if I want to tell him why I switched he would be happy to listen. Here is my reason.


DTS sees itself as “software developers, but …” Unfortunately, that “but” means that in practice good software methodology takes a backseat to schedule. For those people who care about how they do what they do this is extremely frustrating.

Fundamentally, to you, is your job mostly about your day-to-day activities or is it mostly about the goal?


Say you open up the hood of your brand new car; a car you just drove home at breakneck speeds and it performed beautifully! And what do you find? You find that the engine is built with duct tape, bailing wire, rubber bands, and gum. Even more surprising though is who should walk up but one of the lead engineers on the design and manufacture of your car and its engine! Now, you are quite happy at this lucky stroke because you are appalled at the engine in your shiny new car and are anxious to grill one of its designers.
So you begin: Are you kidding me?! What is this pile of junk!? You actually designed it this way?
Sure why? What’s wrong? he says.
Wrong?! Its crap! you reply.
You said that already. he answers.
Well, it sucks. That design can not offer any power. Or what about gas mileage? you say.
Hmm, ok, anything else? he asks.
Sure! Let’s see, um, how about maintenance? Or reliability? Or parts? Well, I guess parts are probably cheap and plentiful, but… you retort.
Fine, so let’s take each in turn. But, first I have to admit to having a question. Why did you buy this car in the first place?
Well, I heard good things. And I liked the look. But, I did not look under the hood until after I bought it. If I had, I would not have done so.
And did you test drive it? And how did it get here?
Sure I did! It drove great on the test. And I broke just about every traffic law driving home. It was fun!
Hmm … But, back to each of your points. How about power? Did it seem gutless?
How about gas mileage? What did the salesman say?
Something like 20 or low 20s in the city. Cannot remember highway mileage, but it was higher.
Does not seem too bad. What about maintenance and reliability?
Uh, I think I remember reading that the car lasts pretty well for 7-10 years which sounds fine to me. And it was basically middle of the road on reliability.

So, what is your problem!?
But its junk! Just look at it –- the engine that is. I can not believe any self-respecting engineer would design such a thing.
My turn. Look, you have admitted it pretty much does what you want and does it well enough right?
Yes, but ...
Hold on. My turn remember? Enough to buy it, and guess what? This car sells pretty well. In fact, it is now our company’s top selling automobile!
And actually our company needed this to stay among the top manufacturers.
But, did you really design it this way? Is this really how you think cars ought to be built?
Well, not at first. I mean my original design was of cast titanium, but we ended up settling on balsawood. Duct tape was in the original plans – I mean, who does not love duct tape? – but the gum was admittedly a late design decision. I mean there was the 2008 car market we had to think about. And we had manufacture and testing schedule to meet so we had some design choices of course.
Yea, b-b-but ...
Come on. It was good business. From that perspective it was the right choice yes?
Yes, though I still ...
No! It was the right decision. You are just being idealistic. A purist. There is a real world; with constraints and deadlines. Just admit it.
All right! All right. You’re right. But you did admit that this was not your original design. How do you feel about that?
Does it matter? The car is selling. The company is making money. People, like you, are happy with it. Isn’t that the goal?
Yes, I see. So you do not mind that you had to change your plans -– for the worse I assume you agree?
Yes, I do agree that the final design is not as good as my original, but again, so what? We’re making money, people are happy -- those are the goals.
So you are not unhappy?
No. We met our goals.
So you enjoyed yourself?
Well ... no. But, again, that is not the point.
You ask: Ok. I understand what you are saying. Thanks for explaining. Say, what is next? What are you doing now?
He answers: Well, I have left the company. I work for a small specialty shop. We build custom cars in house. I’m having fun!