Software Development Screwtape Letter


stopped contributing in full. Because he could not be everywhere and build everything himself, the parts never came together correctly and many problems that were ‘between responsibilities' weren't addressed. Needless to say, the critical project was delivered late and was full of undiscovered errors that could have been tackled early if someone else was leading the team. Our true clients were very pleased as their competitor failed to get their product to market on time and then suffered from poor customer experiences.

You can also look to the type of person who will never keep quiet, and others who stew without ever saying what's on their mind. Both of these types of people will break down communication and handicap the team. They will impede learning and will each, in their own way, maximize the possibility of a team going in the wrong direction for an extended period of time.

One of my more challenging projects was one that had excellent leadership, experienced and friendly team members, and executive support. It was almost a no-win situation; they were made to succeed. My opportunity came when I was able to influence the addition of a team member whom I knew to be afraid of failure and was not the best of communicators. Eventually she took on a task that was too much for her, and instead of going to the team for help or admitting that she made a mistake, she covered it up and moved on. This, of course, happened more than once, and little mines were planted throughout the project. Luckily, one of those mines wasn't so little, and by the time it was uncovered an entire subsystem had to be rewritten and the project missed its deadline. There is always a way to undermine projects, no matter how good the team is. One individual and a little luck is all that it takes!

These attributes are the building blocks for failure in any team no matter how technically talented they are. My boy, don't underestimate the value of the individuals on the team. Getting at least one wrong person on a team will go a very long way towards the team's inevitable failure and our success. They will undermine communication, trust, and will reduce the chance of any software development practice - Agile or otherwise - has of success.

In my next letter I'll tell you more about what you can do to undermine a practice or two early in the team's cycle while at the same time seeming to ‘be Agile'.

Your proud mentor,


[1] The idea of a version of the Screwtape Letters for Software Development is that of Ashley Johnson of Gemba Systems. And, of course, the inspiration for Screwdisk, Virus, and the letters themselves come from C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters .

[2] During World War II a number of airbases were built on remote tropical islands inhabited by pre-industrial societies. During the war soldiers built airfields and control towers and engaged in various activities that resulted in large airplanes full of cargo landing and discharging their contents. The native inhabitants shared this cargo. After the war the soldiers departed and no more cargo was available to the natives. So they adopted, as best they could, the superficial form of airstrips, control towers, and ritual behaviors intended to induce the return of planes full of cargo. A cargo cult is any group that adopts form instead of substance and believes that doing so will bring about a desired result.

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