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Lifecycle of a buzzword: A cynical perspective

In my tenure in IT industry spanning more than two decades by now, I have seen rise and fall of many buzzwords. Some of them are: Artificial Intelligence and Knowledge Base Computer Systems in 1980s, Rapid Application Development and Object Orientation in 1990s, Use cases and Stories in 2000s, … and the list goes on… debate goes on ‘object oriented or structured?’, ‘agile or CMMI?’, ‘agile or UP?’, ‘use cases or stories?’

I am not disputing the value of these but rather questioning the hype that comes around these as they emerge. These hype help business of promoters but adversely affect their proper interpretation and implementation. It is equivalent to percolating modern innovations and approaches in healthcare through marketing machinery, skilled in marketing than healthcare.

Hardly any scientific analysis can happen without demystifying buzzwords first, and that requires going to its very origin. I do this regularly, try to see through these hype, just as I am sure many others like me in the industry also do. In the process, I have also noticed a pattern to meteoric rise and fall these buzzwords, going through different phases as below. Quite often, this is carefully orchestrated for obvious reasons.

Discovery: Each of these emerge out of experiments in a relatively small group; some one or a team taking extra care to pull out key factors those helped and those worked against. Those helped soon are packaged into best practices, spiced up with adequate marketing masala .

Evangelization: At this point, it takes a curious turn that marketing machinery is now active looking for ‘nails’ for this new found ‘hammer’ . That is, inventing problems for new found ‘silver bullet’ is a business imperative to justify cost put into packaging the solution!

Adoption: This effort, in general, is richly rewarded, finding fertile ground in the minds of ‘managers’ looking for ‘quick-fix silver bullets’.

In most of the cases that I have come across, problems are project specific though might have some resemblance to problems elsewhere. Solutions from outside, based on experiences in solving similar problems elsewhere, can help providing objective assessment and guidance but cannot simply solve these problems, by themselves. It is so because problems, in their very nature, are unique, intrinsic and integral to the project. External agencies (consultant, contractor, methodology, tool, ..) can help to identify but uprooting must necessarily be internal act.

At Mount Everest: What follows is a war of buzzwords; at times, one winning over another at times in terms of mind share to become ‘de facto’ standard…. Curiously, this is beginning of decay and rotting starts within, largely unnoticed… Each buzzword acquire new meanings far away from its original form….Originators are now caught between dilemma of what they created or dumping it…They go about issuing clarifications and revisions, further adding to noise…

Big Bang: What follows is disillusion and decline. Horror stories of failure emerge out of cupboard and world is on the look out for a new buzzword … and the life starts all over again.

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August 1, 2011 - Posted by | Agile, Business, lessons learned, Management, software engineering, Unified Process, Value Based Software Engineering

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