Maybe not quite yet

November 25, 2008 Jack Repenning

In what appears to be an almost indecent haste to declare the end of fun-as-we-know-it, Jim Stogdill claims that web development used to be more productive, more responsive, more creative … more fun … than enterprise development. But, as Jefferson Airplane once told us, "that’s all over." Or soon will be anyway. (It doesn’t do to "view halloo" only when the events actually happen, you don’t get first-sighting credits.) Somewhere along the line, though, he appears to have missed at least one of the reasons web development has this "more fun" reputation, and it turns out to be the one that can be captured and reapplied to enterprise development, and to innersourcing.

The missing ingredient is modularity. Web development characteristically starts small and revs quickly. Modularity is a popular mantra in enterprise development, but it tends to float far off in the world of Platonic ideals, squeezed out by customer commitments, planning horizons, and design-by-over-specification. Web development, on the other hand, makes much of the "ready, shoot, aim" philosophy. Web development shares this predilection for small progress and frequent course corrections with Agile development, which is no surprise: much of the exemplar Agile work is also web work. But as the Agile community has frequently reminded us, this approach can be more successful than the moon-shot, PERT-chart planning reflex–for enterprise tasks, as well–and in addition to being more accurate, more timely, more responsive, and more cost-effective … it’s more fun!

The same philosophy is common as well to open-source development, and hence to inner-source development, but for slightly different reasons. In the open-source community, you can never count on having primary contributors around for a huge release cycle; you, the community leader, must find ways to structure the work into bite-size, or at least single-meal-sized, pieces.

Which is why we now find Martin Fowler, probably the leading luminary of the Agile community, preaching open-source techniques for enterprise-based web development. Fowler has always been a voice worth listening to, but the bliki page linked here is really remarkable for the wide assortment of topics it combines, and for the simplicity and compactness with which he puts them all together. You need these techniques, this philosophy, for your inner-sourcing work. Go take a read. And watch for his promised "more on that soon."

(Thanks to Matt Asay for the Fowler heads-up, and to Tim O’Reilly for the Stogdill link. Some days, the entire universe conspires for us!)

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