Multi-Geography Development

Are you part of a large corporation? Does software and system development take place in multiple teams? Are they geographically displaced? (Recognising that for most software engineers 4 feet and 4,000 miles are the same!)

Most corporations tend to play to particular market segments, maybe several, but often multiple products within each segment. Business credibility makes this a natural alignment.

Those markets adopt certain standards, both of process, but also of technical interfaces. Even if you are making a different product to other teams, if you are serving the same market segment, likely as not you are duplicating efforts. In some cases the standards may be common across market segments, or the processes acceptable across multiples… so there is even more potential for sharing. The corporation sees duplication as wasted money… engineers see it as control of their own destiny!

Sharing takes effort, especially communication effort (which commercial software engineers seem to lack, even though they perform differently on social media!) and a huge dollop of ego-suppression, negotiation and compromise skills.

This topic has a lot of commonality with the Product Line theme previously, regards behavioural characteristics and organisational change, although technically the answers for re-use in these cases are somewhat more pragmatic and probably already available to you.

But let’s take a step back…

If I were in a small outfit, I’d have to focus on my expertise and the specifics of my product that were valuable intellectual property to me. I would look for commercial solutions or partners who had credibility to deliver bits I couldn’t afford to spend my time developing. I would have to make sure their products offered the flexibility I needed, or live with their restrictions (or go somewhere else). In other words I have to relinquish some of my wish to control, for economy of development.

…see a parallel here?

Why don’t big organisations who serve particular market segments (distinguished by both process and technical standards) organise themselves as commodity component developers and, separately, application developers/ system integrators?

Architecturally this would make sense: platform independent applications, sitting on commodity OS, sitting on (various) commodity device drivers, sitting on (several, possibly modular) electronic platforms, using commodity protocol stacks and standardised interfaces to sensor and actuation systems.

This would also play to individual skill strengths, improve reliability as one set of design, implementation and test sources and provide a clear technical ownership, a coherent technical community, authority and leadership. Of course the disposition of the groups could be virtual, with individual members of a co-ordinated commodity team being dispersed, but more realistically the development and test environments would require them to be co-located by virtue of their commodity group. You could even chose to serve the commodity internally or externally to meet business needs.

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Ah,… now I remember, it’s about those egos and control… it’s not technical, it’s people.

Nothing anybody else will develop will be good enough for me, they won’t accommodate what I need, there is no way of communicating it and they would never develop it in time. For example, how would I know what component I need, how would I access it and how would I raise change requests on it that I could track?…

… it will never meet my safety, security or reliability requirements, I will have to deal with failures as no-one will warrant its behaviour and as for test evidence….

… and I’ve never heard of Open Source, so I know there is no development model that could possibly work like that, even if I could reproduce it all inside the corporate network!

Damn, if only these Linux served Web-Host, Word Press Blog and AtMail applications weren’t so feature rich and reliable, I could write it all myself in a few years!

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