Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Reality Gap

A widely acknowledged truism in the development of complex systems is that, for any given project, we observe a huge dynamic range in individual developer ability. (Largely determined by level-of-obsession with the problem).

A less frequently noted corollary of this is that a huge dynamic range in team ability is also observed.

Team performance is, of course, driven to a large extent by the ability and combination of constituent members; however, we can also identify tools, techniques, methodologies and modes of organization that can help to optimise a team's performance within these constraints.

As a technologist, and a border line obsessive-compulsive, I am particularly interested in the intersection between tooling and team organization, and how the tools that we use can help us to impose order and discipline on our approach to problem solving.

I am also a realist, and acknowledge that we cannot all be 10X-ers all of the time. In fact, by definition, most of us will not be 10X-ers most of the time. There is a reality gap between our technical aspirations and the reality of high-probability mediocrity.

So, having taken our medicinal dose of humility; here is an interesting question:

What is the simplest tool (or set of tools) that one could use to reduce the risk of poor performance in a development team?



This question is motivated in part by the too-seldom-made observation that success is more often achieved by getting the management and engineering basics right than by resting all hopes on a single piece of sophisticated key IP.

On the other hand, it can be argued ( that the opposite sentiment applies; that a lot of risk is not controllable, and that the only variable that can be optimized is the potential payoff.

The key parameter here is the degree to which risk may be controlled.