The Paradox of Control

Oct 23rd, 2002 by Tony in QSM3

In software development, things can happen at a slow rate and often need unsticking, as when one blocking fault stops progress on an entire project for a month. In software maintenance, things happen at a fast rate and often need something to get them moving again, as when a customer is screaming on the phone for a quick fix so the payroll can get out.

As we improve our ability to control the physical and intellectual parts of the software business, we encounter a paradox. More and more situations are handled routinely, even automatically, so our productivity increases. This means we can handle more work with the same resources, but more work means more situations in which the routine doesn’t work. So, as we develop routines to handle intellectual and physical problems, we find that our ability to manage well depends not on our ability to handle routine situations, but on our ability to handle exceptional situations.

— Jerry Weinberg, Quality Software Management Vol 3, Chapter 8

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