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Tuning People?

By Dave Convery,

Database people are used to changing the hardware of the server on which a problem database  resides, or making changes to indexes and database settings. This video reminded me that it is far easier to change hardware, or even the software, rather than the organisation that is responsible for the problem in the first place. Humans, and their organisations are far more difficult to tune and optimise than databases. The technology has improved radically over the past decade, but our ability to exploit those improvements hasn’t. Perhaps the next great breakthroughs in technology will be  in developing new ways for teams to rapidly design, build and ship  applications that exploit the hardware we already have.

We are, at last, acknowledging that many of the logjams in the development process have more to do with people than technology. Deployment, for example, is increasingly seen in terms of the clash of cultures and assumptions between teams during the handover, rather than purely in the technical problems of getting reliable deployments in place.

It is apparent that the most spectacular gains that a technology company can make are in getting the best from the people in the organisation. The only question is how. Managers have a difficult task in making a team work more effectively, and inspiring them to give of their best. Manuals and training can sometimes help, but not by much. An IT manager with a technical background isn’t always naturally well-equipped by their technical experience to deal effectively with complex interplay of human emotions and conflicts that can get in the way of functioning. There is no books-online, or StackOverflow for the dynamics of teams of people, and the psychological science of group working is still at the Phlogiston stage. One can’t even do to a team what you do to hardware:  A good manager knows that, like a gambler, one has to make the best of the hand one has.

Although the technology is new, perhaps the organisational difficulties which we confront when managing effective software development have been solved many times in the past when handling immensely complex projects. After all, humanity hasn’t changed so much.

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