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European Software Development

Hi folks,

My company just got bought by an Italian company.  Now, we're a small company (6 people), with myself being the only software person at this point (go economy!) and while I'm not worried about my job, I am worried about my new parent company coming and basically making my life hell.

They've got a whole bunch of developers, but my honest opinion is that their productivity is relatively low.  They've got probably ten or more times the development resources as I, yet their software seems to have a poor UI (albeit it comes in multiple languages).  Their software guys appear to be locked into a "development process" tied to ISO9000 and driven by marketing.

So I wonder -- is this sort of organization more common in europe, or are these ineffecient development houses common worldwide.

Secondly, does anyone have any ideas on how to deal with these guys?  Luckily, I don't think they're about to micromanage me from a different continent, and my boss is fighting tooth and nail against the folks that want to impose this artificial order on things, but I'm curious what other people have to say.

Thanks!

Alex
Tuesday, July 15, 2003

My suspicion, gathered from this board, suggests that many, if not most, large companies (or companies with large IT/dev resources) suffer from this.

anon to protect the guilty
Tuesday, July 15, 2003

I agree with anon... large companies tend to be beurocratic, and their software reflects it. Not everyone can be a Microsoft or an Apple or even an Adobe, continually churning out products that become essential in their markets and define the genre.

www.marktaw.com
Tuesday, July 15, 2003

The slightly sad part is that this company that bought mine isn't actually that big -- they just adopted the processes!

Alex
Tuesday, July 15, 2003

From what I've read by Joel and heard from other areas, one of the reasons MS does so well is that they operate as a conglomerate of small companies - the Excel group is a company, the COM group is a company, the VBScript group is a company, etc.

They're not moribund by the processes that infect larger companies, where nobody at ground level is allowed to make a decision, and anyone in the stratosphere that can doesn't care to.

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Wrangle a trip to Italy to visit HQ.

Look at their cars.

Look at their women.

Eat their food.

Drink their wine.

Then tell us again you think this is a bad deal.

Commendatori
Tuesday, July 15, 2003

This ISO 9000/9001 stuff is a plague, it's like a Bureaucracy Tax imposed by the fact that large corporations in Europe like to require their vendors to be "certified" thinking that this has anything to do with actual "quality." Organizations get the certification by imposing many layers of stupid and meaningless bureaucracy that do not contribute to quality in any way, and by paying bogus ISO 9000 consultants a kings ransom to certify them.

Joel Spolsky
Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Cargo Cult.
Many organizations that produce good software can get ISO9000 certified without trying, because they have good processes in place.

Since correlation equals causation in many minds, then that means "if we get ISO 9000 certified, we'll turn out good software too!" without recognizing the underlying *reasons* ISO 9000 certification indicates good quality. In addition, clients use ISO 9000 cert. for "whack a mole" filtering of contractors - it's a way to not have to read as many proposals.

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, July 15, 2003

In my experience, I've found that a lot of companies (including mine) follow ISO 9000 and SEI CMM guidelines in flesh rather than in spirit and that is the problem. The software development process then gets bogged down with unnecessary processes that actually do more harm than good.

Steve K
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Or worse. No unnecessary process, but process that has the right form, but not so useful content. Or no cohesion.
Enough to get them certified, but not of much practical use.

Practical Geezer
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

They were productive enough to be able to buy your employer.


Wednesday, July 16, 2003

"This ISO 9000/9001 stuff is a plague, it's like a Bureaucracy Tax imposed by the fact that large corporations in Europe like to require their vendors to be "certified" thinking that this has anything to do with actual "quality." "

Joel - you said it, it is a plague - I know schools, colleges, and even a Dry Cleaner that has ISO 9000....

ISO 9000 in a nutshell says that you do what you say, so if you say you do twiddle your thumbs, and you do it you will be certified...

Prakash S
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

(warning: the content of this post is full of generalizations from experience. Non of it is applicable to any concrete company or team.)

I used to work a lot with small Italian dev. shops. Now I do not want to generalize, but all you observations are realy very, very much in line with my own.
- The almost universal presence of ISO9000 certificate, in complete contrast with the complete lack of true processess.
- The strong "verbal" support and insistence on procedure and methodologies, in complete contrast with the complete adhoc chaos workfloor.
- The general lack of productivity, and the universality of endless meetings rehashing the most trivial points centered around who should follow which methodology and be responsible for what part of the work.
- The complete politization of everything.
- The complete absence of any punctuality

OTOH, if you can get yourself to accept the style and work within the framework, you will also often find a vey warm and pleasant collegialityand a great preparedness of individuals to produce a decent result in the end (although mostly late).

I realy like working with European "multicultural" teams. Getting results out of teams that have extremely different cultures but have to work together is to me an extermely rewarding and pleasant part of the work. 

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

"Their development process is driven by marketing"

WTF are you complaining about? If your development process is driven by marketing then (if the marketing people are any good) you can be fairly sure that your employers are making products that people want to buy. This is why what may at first sight appear to be a disorganized and process bound organisation is making enough money to buy your company.

You see, what you have to do is concentrate on what is important. If your marketing people tell you what products people want to buy, and what is important to them (e.g. ISO 9000 / 9001 certification). If you do that then you will make money.

Also, as a previous poster has pointed out, you should be aware of the cultural differences. Europeans and Americans have many more cultural differences than you might imagine. You see them as disorganised, unproductive, and process bound. They probably see you (generally, not personally) as willing to work unreasonable hours rather than have a decent lifestyle, lacking in any formal methodology, and willing to start coding too soon. It's all a question of perspective :-)

regards,

treefrog
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Well put TreeFrog.

Us Europeans can tend to be a bit process obsessed and we do tend to love our paperwork but things are (slowly) changing.

However, we do work less hours and still get lots done - perhaps Americans need to work longer hours because of theirpoor productvity?

Anyway, I'm lucky enough to work for an American Bank in the UK - I try and make sure I have the best of both worlds ;-}

Yanwoo
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

ISO 9000 isn't about quality, it's about repeatability. It's great if you're making kettles and you need to build them exactly the same every time. It's not going to help you build better kettles though, just ones of consistent quality. I just don't think it helps improve software quality...

John C
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

I think Joel's comments are pretty much spot on.

I've worked for a lot of big uk-based companies, and loads of smaller ones too, and many of them are drowning in paper which is "blamed on" the ISO9000 processes.

While I agree in principle with the need to accountability (which is what it's all about really), the cost is often too high, in terms of productivity, competitiveness and moral.

I heard a rumour a long time ago that ISO9000 was based upon BS5750, which in turn was originally a set of guidelines for factories producing munitions (bombs, bullets, etc) in WWII. Not sure if this is just a myth, but it wouldn't be totally suprising if it turned out to be true.

Steve Jones (UK)
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Its not that much of a myth, 5750 was subsumed (I love that word), into ISO 9000.  9000 though isn't at all suited to software development, 9002 is more likely but still largely fatuous.

9000 and its family are meant to make it easy to track when quality fails and have some known set of procedures to document the failure (and if you're lucky how it was solved though that is optional). 

In the UK I've not come across the process of development itself so much wrapped up in 9000, 9002 as the delivery process, perhaps order processing. 

In any event you can have a very simple and not onerous 900x quality management system.  You just create a Procedures Manual, ie, Bug  reported, validate bug see reproduce, report bug, give bug number to original reporter.

You don't have to document fixing them or notifying the users or anything and that short Procedures Manual, together with some bug tracking software would be 900x compliant.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

I appreciate all the comments.

Thankfully, I seem to have escaped the American "ideal" of working long hours.  I think I'm one of the few software guys in existence that works normal hours.  <g>

As for the "driven by marketing", yeah, of course that's not a definitely bad thing.  However, I don't know enough about their marketing department to see whether or not they just copy the feature list of all their competitors and tell their software guys to implement that or if they actually have ideas.

We'll see !

Alex
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

ISO 9000 is typical top-down management from the moutain top.


My wife was a manager in a hospital and they had thier own beast: JCHO. 

Basically, they had to document that they had procedures for doing things.  Not that the procedures had to be particularly bright. The only thing they graded was "do you have a big f*cking binder the explains where the handicapped bathroom is?"

Is was an incredibly huge productivity loss.  It sucked time away from things like actually PLANNING for DISASTERS. Instead, they spent all thier time showing they had documentation. But, naturally, in a disaster, no on e has time to LOOK in the book, which is probably buried in the earthquake.

Sigh...

Entrepreneur
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

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