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NOT using gamification in DevOps can be harmful

cathedral bazaar.jpgBy:  Leroy Mason, Global Chief Technologist, Applications Innovation Services, Hewlett Packard Company


Gartner’s article on Hype Cycle for Application Services 2013 is rich with predictions about products, platforms and architectures woven into the mega trends we are familiar hearing about such as big data, mobile, social media, gamification. I like their work but sometimes the continued use – indeed overuse – of all these buzz words makes it hard to see what is really going on.


My long term career interest in IT has not been technology at all.  Rather it has been the application of human effort within IT, specifically application services. For reasons I will outline below, human effort in application services has resisted industrialisation. It is now just as risky to engage programmers in a software development project as it ever was. Sure the tools such as Visual Studio are now highly evolved, but the pitfalls of application software development are still with us.


So what is going on? Is programming really magic?


Part of the explanation can be found in Eric S. Raymond’s book The Cathedral and The Bazaar. The Cathedral describes the orthodox commercial style of software development which is strictly controlled (to avoid risk) whereas the Bazaar describes the typical open source model. A natural by-product of the Bazaar is an emphasis on features over architecture or programming elegance. During the DotCom boom, the Cathedral was widely abandoned for the Bazaar. The effects of this are still being felt today.


So part of the riskiness of applying human effort to application development should be easy to fix. Apply disciplines such as Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) to your application project and my experience has been that this  largely fixes the problem. ALM is less a static Cathedral than a portable Bible so the clumsiness previously associated with commercial software development teams is a faint memory.


However we still get runaway projects, even where ALM is employed.  This is because development team members are not aligned to outcomes. We pay them for hours worked, not for outcomes achieved.


As I’ve hinted in a previous post, gamification can fix this - potentially. Gartner says “a gamification program will be a key organizational enabler for 75% of enterprise-oriented DevOps initiatives by 2016.”  If gamification is integrated into ALM, development teams can strive for outcomes instead of inputs. For instance, developers could be compensated not on an input basis (i.e. hours spent) but on the quality of code checked in (number of defects). Likewise project managers could be compensated for efficiency of the end-to-end development to production process.


Here’s how this could work. On allocation of a task a budget is agreed to between the project manager and the developer, for example 20 hours to develop a new user interface widget. A gamification engine integrated into the project’s ALM tools can detect when the code is checked in and the number of defects detected during the various phases of testing. The programmer accrues rewards at each stage the checked in code progresses based on number of defects, time to rectify defects, speed and issues in deployment, and so on.


Sure this is a big change and would challenge many current application delivery organisations. However this won’t be a problem for long. The next generation of delivery organisations will do this and out-compete the old organisations – and they’ll be closed down.


About the author


Leroy Mason.jpgLeroy Mason, Global Chief Technologist, Applications Innovation Services, Hewlett Packard Company

Leroy Mason is global chief technologist of Microsoft Application Innovation Services for HP. He has 30 years of experience in large-scale enterprise application services including Wall Street banks, Microsoft, and HP. His professional interests include adapting the applications lifespan economics to cloud platforms. 

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