Quality Is Anti-Fragile

As the adoption of Scrum continues to grow,  non-technical people begin to fill the role of Scrum Master or Product Owner. This is a great thing, as it helps the business align with Information Technology. The organization’s IT unit isn’t seen as a service any longer; instead, they become business partners. Conversations break through company silos as Developers learn the business lexicon and Line of Business personnel learn how to build better software. Processes form to create quality. Quality software is beautiful.

Quality Systems Are Anti-Fragile

So what’s quality? It’s one of those things we know we need. But, what are we talking about when we say, “bake in the quality?” There’s so many definitions that exist today, but I like to think of quality as “anti-fragile.”

What do I mean by “anti-fragile.” It’s a concept developed by Professor Nissim Nicholas Taleb in his book called Antifragile. He describes “systems,” whether those systems are processes, organizations, software, or even cultures, that can withstand the stresses of the environment which act upon them. Anti-fragile is much more than “resilient,” meaning it stays the same despite what the environment throws at it. In software development, we strive to produce more with less effort. We strive for business agility. We pivot and adjust our processes as the environment throws things at us and we are anti-fragile. We use feedback loops, like retrospectives, Six Sigma, and Continual Integration.

We give developers freedom and autonomy by giving them “what” needs to be done, they tell us the “how.” Antifragile means being adaptive. Selection of the right tools and technology for the right job — versus prescriptive.

Anti-Fragile As An Analogy

Professor Taleb uses a great analogy in his book. He asks you to picture something in your home that you’d consider “anti-fragile.” This might be something like the remote control for your television or even your sofa. Of course they can break, right? But, they’re designed to take a bit of punishment. They’re designed to conform and adapt as they are used — they are serving a function and withstanding inputs from the environment. In fact, your sofa tends to feel more comfortable over time as it conforms to your body.

Now picture something in your home that you’d consider “fragile.” This might be something like your grandmother’s china or an ancient grandfather clock. They’re usually tucked away in the safest part of the house and are rarely touched. Why? Because we’re afraid we’ll break them. They’re designed to be aesthetically pleasing — serving a function and withstanding stresses from the environment were not considered in their design. These objects are fragile and saved for “the special occasion.”

Beauty In The Anti-Fragile

So what approach should we take to software development? Should we design something that’s large and complex but liable to break whenever a code commit is pushed? When there’s a tight schedule, should we spend our effort designing something beautiful to the eye but doesn’t serve our purposes? No, we shouldn’t.

I contend that there’s beauty in software when it just works. There’s beauty in software when it serves our users and solves their problems. There’s beauty in software when it gets better over time — not when it falls apart.

Thanks for taking the time to read. I’d love to hear your thoughts on quality or anti-fragile. If you’d like to have a discussion, leave a comment below or contact me. I’d love to connect on social media as well!

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Jeremy is an IT Professional with the State of Nevada. Previously, he was a mental health counselor and a Navy Veteran. He holds a bachelors degree in Psychology and Information Systems and is currently working on his Masters in Information Systems at the University of Nevada - Reno. Follow him on Twitter.

3 thoughts on “Quality Is Anti-Fragile

  1. I can honestly say that this makes an obscene amount of sense to me: “designed to take a bit of punishment.”
    We should be making things to last over time, whether it’s the sofa or a software, everything needs to have purpose beyond the here-and-now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kim! I didn’t want to get too technical, but leveraging things micro-services and re-usable components really helps our software grow and get better. Not only is it less susceptible to breaking, but allows for additional product features to be grown organically and iteratively. I think there’s beauty in simple, effective, re-usable code.

      Liked by 1 person

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