I have spent the last two days with Mary and Tom Poppendieck at one of their Practitioners Courses, and I find myself inspired. Among the interesting moments for me was a point at which I reached an unsettling notion: are we “too Western” to design software well?
I came to this question while watching course attendees talk about the problems in their organization. As they explored the flow of value through their IT organizations, I kept hearing about managers interrupting the flow and of centralized decision-makers as bottlenecks, when it occurred to me: I’ve heard about these problems in code before.
Specifically, I heard the word “manager” and my mind wandered towards thinking of
Manager classes in a code base, rather than flesh-and-blood managers. In that wandering instant I saw a connection between the two kinds of managers: human managers have mostly commonly been trained over the last century to micro-manage, make important decisions and direct their people; and
Manager classes do essentially the same thing in code. Now, while our ideas of management have changed in the past 50 years, mostly due to the work coming out of Toyota, we are still over-run by micro-managers whose effectiveness is limited.
It’s quite similar with code. In spite of the object-oriented design movement and the advance of test-driven development with its emphasis on simple design, procedural thinking dominates, even in code bases that use object-oriented languages. Most programmers approach code with Procedural Mind, even when they believe they want to design with objects. Even when I teach people how their can arrive at excellent designs by following four simple rules, Procedural Mind dominates.
So I wonder: given the parallels between tactical, command-and-control management and highly procedural code where important decisions are centralized in these
Manager classes, and given that our most common human management style is a relic of western military thinking, and given that it perpetuates in part due to culturally-entrenched ideas about managing people, are Western programmers conditioned against excellent design? Are we mostly doomed to gather our code in
Manager classes, rather than distribute responsibilities evenly and focus on object interaction?
Are those notions simply too Eastern for us?