On Friday, June 5th at 9 EDT (sign-up: https://bit.ly/3gH0Uy5) I am presenting as part of IFPUG’s Knowledge Cafe Webinar Series. The presentation is titled Software Development: Preparing For Life After COVID-19. Putting aside the impact of the current pandemic on healthcare, the environment, or office design, there will be pressure on the bottom line that managers will react to. Being effective and efficient is table stakes for survival, let’s raise the ante and know how effective and efficient we are to protect our jobs and those of our colleagues.  The first half of what will be synthesized into a script follows below.  

I think we are all convinced that COVID-19 will radically impact our lives for years to come. For example, my 4-year-old granddaughter will remember the time when her mother made masks and she could not go on swings. Swings are a big deal to her. For many of us, our memories of this time will be more complex with the impact of suddenly working remotely which means spending more time with your loved ones or possibly losing a job. Even if the pandemic fades into the background we will continue to ride the ripples that have been set in motion for quite a period of time. 

Part of the reason we feel this so acutely has been the speed the virus spread and the scope of COVID19 is breathtaking. While the impact is and is going to be enormous, this is not humankind’s first interaction with pandemics or epidemics. For example, last weekend my eldest daughter mentioned that this was the fourth epidemic/pandemic she had been affected by or done work on during her lifetime (polio in East Africa, cholera in Haiti, HIV/AIDS, and now COVID-19). The differences between COVID-19 in 2020 compare to the Plague of Justinian in 541 – 542 AD (worst pandemic on record, 100M deaths) are many but I think we can count our medical advances, interconnected world, and technology as being important — at least to us in the early 21st Century. 

Our technology has softened the impact of social distancing and lockdowns by allowing individuals to work remotely. Being sent home from work did not mean you lost your job or all commerce stopped. Distributed teams have become the norm nearly overnight somewhat against the headwinds of the principles in the Agile Manifesto. There is every indication that in-person teams will not be as dominant as they once were. Earlier this week I talked with several people that indicated their firms did not have plans to “go back to the office” until next year. All is not perfect however, while practitioners and leaders are learning to be productive, executives are focused on guiding their firms through these troubled waters. Most of the large management consulting firms are publishing articles with advice for executives. As an example, I recently read, COVID-19: Impacts to business from PwC https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/issues/crisis-solutions/covid-19.html. I recommend the article but it is not very different except in nuance from other articles that I have read. Three of the recommendations that stuck out in this article were the need to:

  • Assess workforce costs
  • Identify alternative supply chain scenarios
  • Assess the impact on cash position

These are all code words for a focus on expense management and the bottom line. Outsourcing is a common and oft-used tool. Please note, I am neutral on whether outsourcing is good or bad, but I am not neutral on outsourcing core capabilities or outsourcing the work being done by high performing teams. There is a lot of evidence that outsourcing and recessions are linked.  For example, The Insiders Guide To  Outsourcing Success newsletter pointed out to their members that outsourcing increases during and right after economic downturns (https://www.iaop.org/Download/Download.aspx?ID=980&AID=&SSID=&TKN=cadc6baf4a5c46db81ec). While most of the research and articles online are reflections of the Great Recession of 2008 – 2009 there is no reason to think that the situation will be any different in 2020.  This is because executives are focused on the value chain and the bottom line.  

The value chain is the big picture of how raw inputs are turned into a product or products.  Models such as Porter’s Value Chain break the organization down into approximately ten components that represent all of the processes within the company. Departments or activities that are not on the value chain, or are not directly part of transforming raw inputs into a product, are often targets for outsourcing.  Why is outsourcing a tool?  Executives are focused on improving either the top line (revenue) and/or the bottom line (often meant as expense reduction). In the end, without a profit, commercial organizations will fail. Companies that are out of business employ no one and can’t contribute to the greater social good. If an organization focuses on expense control management’s mantra changes tone from product to control focus.

I am old enough to remember posters on office walls exhorting developers of all stripes to work “better, faster, cheaper” or to “do more with less.” These bumper sticker mantras still make my skin crawl. Despite all of the motivation (pseudo motivation), in many instances, executives felt that outsourcing was required to manage their bottom line. Sometimes it worked and sometimes not.  Those that resisted the siren call of outsourcing often found a different path which is benchmarking and continuous improvement.

Next: Benchmarking and Continuous Improvement