Thursday, March 15, 2012

A software engineer and a surgeon walked into a bar

My fellow soccer referee Dick Williams sent along this note:  "I ran across this and thought of you. You might find it scary that health care is looked up to by a profession for its process improvement."

The "this" to which Dick referred was a keynote address by Edward Kit, founder and CEO of Software Development Technologies (SDT), entitled "What's surgery got to do with improving software practices?" at the ALM Expo 2011 conference.

I wasn't the least bit skeptical about the need for process improvement in the software world.  You just have to consider the experience of many hospitals and doctors with the computer programs that drive clinical and administrative systems to know that there are rampant flaws in many of these products.  (Aside for another day: Should electronic health record (EHR) software be subject to FDA approval?  Isn't that software as much of a medical device as the implements used in an operating room?)

Anyway, I was curious as to what Mr. Kit might have to say, and I found myself watching the whole presentation.  He started with a comparison of surgeon and software engineer personality types.  Showing this chart, he dared the audience to state which profession it described:

He then attributed the following self-description to software engineers:  "We're artists.  We're cowboys. Don't bring anything in that's going to restrict our creative freedom."  Some of us have heard the same thing said about doctors.

After explaining how germ theory was developed by Joseph Lister in the late 1800's.  He first noted how resistant the industry was to his ideas:

 He explained the things Lister did to gain acceptance:

But there was incredibly slow adoption of germ control in operating rooms in the United States.  It was only after the US medical community was embarrassed by their tortuous treatment of President Garfield after he was shot did they adopt the theories that had been around for some time (minute 35 of the video).

Referring to the software industry, he says at minute 36, "We haven't had this moment yet."

It is after this that we start to see additional parallels with process improvement in health care. The slogan for SDT is "real world testing done right." Kit describes going into companies as a consultant to help improve their software process, and he makes clear at minute 43 that doing so requires a commitment of senior leadership.  "If you don't get the senior leaders on board, you're not going to make these kind of changes."

Shortly thereafter, we see his menu for successful improvement in the process of writing software.  My regular readers will see remarkable similarities to the PDCA cycle inherent in Lean process improvement.

And in the parallel needs for both the health care and software industries:

If you cannot see the video, click here.

1 comment:

Allison said...

I used to be in software development. We referred to the quality initiatives, documenting the as-is and the to-be, vision missions goals and objectives, PDCA cycles, ad infinitum, ad nauseum and etc. as "shelf ware." Management would send us off to do these things, it would go in a 3 ring binder and collect dust. It's interesting to read a positive post on the SW industry seeking improvement.