Hero based software engineering

I have seen two extremes in organizing software engineering. On the one extreme there is the hero based software engineering, where one or a very small group of good engineers develops software and is responsible for all aspects of that software including the operational environment. The other end is organised construction that has a focus on processes and documentation.

Model one, which I call hero based engineering has certainly its advantages. You only have a few people to deal with and they are responsible for everything. Productivity (defined as functionality divided by the amount of hours) is high and you get quick turn around times. It also comes with one major disadvantage: reliability. Releases tend to be not so well tested, but hey if something breaks it is fixed quickly, More importantly you are dependent on individuals. They can leave or worse things can and do happen and that does not feel very comfortable.

Model two I am not going to explain, there are a wide range of choices: Waterfall, UML, Agile, XP, and a lot of experienced people featuring this on their resume. Organisations demand control, particularly in these times when compliance officers run companies. So I understand the tendency of organisations to favor model two. They tend to abstract away the individual programmer.

I have been a so called software development hero myself, developing, taking over and maintaining software myself with one other developer. We delivered value, delivered it fast and our clients were happy. But it was very hard for other people to develop in. Not because it was badly written, badly documented or bad software, in fact it was not. It just happened that for other engineers it is hard to get up to the same speed.

In my opinion the hero-based software organisation is a viable way to organize software construction. Not always and certainly not for every solution. But if you are lucky enough to have some hero’s in your team and can manage and take the risk, take it, go for it and enjoy the benefits.

If your requirements or organisation are ready for heros, there is plenty of methods and people to choose from.

I will talk more later about combining method based engineering with heros.

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