When a good software idea goes bad

22 Septermber 2019 by Robert Louw


Too often ideas in software are misapplied, making people unnessecarily jaded towards them. From technological innovations like blockchain to management innovations like Agile project management.

Consider Agile project management, for example. I was shocked to learn this year that people are not happy with Agile. I thought it was a great idea. Over the last five years, I have heard more and more about firms spreading the Agile method. Agile has spread from software teams to hardware teams and from small startups to big firms. I've even met foreign experts who were flown in to make big banks Agile.

Despite the hype, few people are happy. A new study of comments on Glassdoor showed people spoke badly about Facebook's approach to agile. People also complain about the same thing after working at Microsoft, GE and Accenture. There is a million of reasons why people complain about Agile, but there is one recurring theme: agile is "not done right", when it should be or how it should be.

The Culture 500 study showed people talk negatively and frequently about agility when they leave software and other tech companies.

How hyped ideas lose their power

All hyped ideas lose their power with time. Ideas become buzzwords and buzzwords fade like fashion. Yet, like fashion, it makes sense at a certain time and place. It filled a gap in a story. Also just like fashion, the people who create the future will see the patterns in the past and build on them.

The decline of any idea in fashion starts when people copy it wrong. It becomes skeuomorphic: people copy it without seeing the link between form and function. People dilute the meaning of the symbols. Such mindless copying turns a trend into a fad.

The problems worsen when people start to use ideas that are not right for them. Some people take ideas that are neither fitting or useful to them. Then, after they try to make it work and in so doing deface the ideas, they dump them.

How people make good ideas great

In contrast, people make good ideas great when they implement them well. People implementing ideas can set trends by doing three things right:

  1. They connects with what is there at that point of the user's history to blend new ideas into their context;
  2. They check all stakeholders' views on each new idea; and,
  3. They test and validate ideas to see the impact on others, before they scale up.

The result is that what seems like a new trend, but what is really a blend of select new and old ideas. In the end, it is not about a single idea or word at all.

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