Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Great Commandment

While I was writing a post the other day, I noticed that I had neglected a topic that I find very important in software development. Risk management.

There are only a few guarantees in life. One of them is risk. Companies profit by seizing the opportunities that risks afford. Of course, they suffer loss by incidents of unmitigated risks. All our government and social systems are devices of risk management. In business, risk management is (now, and ever shall be) the great commandment.

Many software engineers forget that risk management is not just for PM’s. In fact, software and its development is fundamentally a tool of business, and, by extension, risk management. The practice of risk management in software really extends in to every expression in every line of source code.

Don’t believe me? Think of it this way… If it wasn’t a risk, it would be implemented as hardware. I've often heard hardware engineers say that anything that can be done in software can be done in hardware, and it will run faster. Usually, if a solution is some of the following…
· mature,
· ubiquitous,
· standard,
· well-known,
· fundamentally integral to its working environment

…it is probably low risk, particularly for change. It can likely be cost-effectively cast in stone (or silicone). (And there are plenty of examples of that… It’s what ASIC’s are all about.)

Software, on the other hand, is not usually so much of any of those things. Typically, it involves solutions which are…
· proprietary,
· highly customized,
· integration points,
· inconsistently deployed,
· relatively complex / error-prone
· immature or still evolving

These are all risk indicators for change. I don’t care what IT guys say… software is much easier to change than logic gates on silicone.

I’ve dug in to this in the past, and will dig in more on this in future posts, but when I refer to the “great commandment”, this is what I mean.
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