Circular Reasoning

Aug 27th, 2002 by Tony in * commentary, QSM1

The principle device for closing a culture to information is the circular argument.

Some years ago, I helped a client make the transition from Pattern 2 to Pattern 3. The transition was necessary because they were producing telephone equipment that had to have down time of no more than one hour in forty years! They were so successful in achieving their goal that their development anager published an account of the process.

The very first time I showed the article to another manager he asserted, “That would never work here.”.

“Why not?” I asked. “It should be straightforward. After all, their problems were much harder than yours. You don’t even have on-line systems, let alone systems that have to respond in real time.”

“Even so, their problems couldn’t have been as hard as ours because we could never get that kind of performance on our problems”

— Jerry Weinberg, Quality Software Management Vol 1, Chapter 3

I experienced this in action first hand a few months ago. We’d arranged for Damian Conway, one of the best Perl trainers in the world, to come to Belfast to do some training courses. We’d never put on training before, so we talked to a few of the local training companies, to see if they’d be interested in doing something with us. They all said the same thing: “There’s really not that much interest in Perl training in Belfast. We only really get about 5 or 6 people on our Perl courses, so we don’t think it would be worth it.”

Of course, these companies couldn’t see that the reason they didn’t get people coming on their Perl courses wasn’t that there was no interest, but that their courses weren’t very good. Whilst we were at BlackStar, we’d tried to find training courses for our developers to go on, and asked all the local training courses what Perl courses they had. We wouldn’t send our staff on any of them. (We talked of creating our own, in-house, training courses, but of course that never happened…)

So, despite everyone’s seeming lack of interest, we went ahead and arranged the courses ourselves, and had around 50 attendees over two days. We even lent Damian to Momentum, the Northern Ireland ICT Federation, for a morning to do a Breakfast Briefing on “10 Myths About OO” – one of their best attended breakfasts all year. (Of course Momentum then decided that they just wouldn’t bother paying Damian for this, but that’s NI for you.) The whole thing was so successful that Damian is coming back to Belfast in another few weeks to do even more courses.

How many more companies must fall into this “We did X (badly), and no-one wanted it, therefore no-one wants X” trap?

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