January 8, 2014

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

Why Government Should Treat Software Development As A Planning Activity

Just a quick thought as more wailing and gnashing off teeth emenates from the UK government over Yet Another IT Fiasco (TM)

Alas for the software development community, the A-word ("Agile") has been dragged through the mud in this latest debacle. More fools the UK Agile community for getting involved, no doubt. But it's unfair, of course. Nobody in their right mind sets out to create a £2.4 billion IT system following any kind of approach, let alone one claiming to be "Agile".

If the government's team of "cutting-edge digital experts" (awww, bless!) really had applied Agile values to the Universal Credit programme, then the DWP wouldn't be facing this mess now.

Agile teaches us to fail early and fail cheaply. You don't go committing hundreds of millions of pounds to an idea that might not work. Nor do you wait years to discover that it doesn't work.

This is particularly pertinent to the formulation of government policy. Ministers and their departments devote years to developing bills that, if they get that far, are voted into law by parliament. They do all sorts of studies, hire armies of experts to advise, run public consultations and wotnot to beat the legislation into some kind of shape.

Given how high the stakes are, and how often in the last decade IT failures have severely compromised government policy (costing the taxpayer £billions in the process), surely it would make sense - as part of the process of developing legislation - to at the very least develop a basic working prototype of the software that will enable it?

Along with all the lawyers, economists, scientists and other experts, hire a couple of good software developers, hook them up with some tame users, and - in a low-impact, low-risk environment - get them to write some software that tests some of the key assumptions in your plan. Without those insights, so much of government policy - which increasingly relies on software - is little more than Magic Beans.

There's a heck of a lot - including people's lives - riding on some of these projects, and the time to ask "is the software actually do-able?" is before you commit the nation to The Big Plan.

Posted 6 years, 7 months ago on January 8, 2014