In "The Myth of Discovery" Ted Neward complains that the software industry is unwilling to look beyond its bounds for new ideas and innovation. What surprises me is how little evidence he offers. In column against the software industry he cites only: Jeff Palermo's essay on "The Myth of Self-Organizing Teams" (an item I mostly agree with).
Oddly Ted offers evidence from the Agile community suggesting we do borrow ideas – citing Mary and Tom Poppendieck and their refinement of Lean ideas for software development. In this case his problem is that development managers/project leads aren't yet given the opportunity to say a product won't ship because the quality isn't there. Well I understand where he's coming from, but it seems like a mis-understanding of Lean/Agile principals which focus on building the quality in – not refusing to ship because the quality isn't there.
In any case I think that more people than Ted acknowledges, do their research outside of the software industry. Some examples:
- My current work related reading: James Zull The Art of Changing the Brain, John Medina Brain Rules, Eric Jensen Enriching the Brain: How to Maximize Every Learner's Potential and Torkel Klingberg The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory. Caveat Emptor I've not even got my copies of the last two yet, so I can hardly recommend them.
- In the past I've read: Katzenbach and Smith: The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization (where many ideas around self organizing teams are described), Edgar Schien's The Corporate Culture Survival Guide and many more.
- Linda Rising has done far more social research than I, see her presentations on InfoQ: Prejudices Can Alter Team Work and Agile Bonobos; and the article: "Who Do You Trust?"
- Alistair Cockburn's "Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game" has several chapters that discuss non software projects and what they can tell Agile.
- Agile 2009 has a number of stages that reach out beyond software. In particular Manifesting Agility (where I happen to be a reviewer) is looking for material from many domains including:
- Cognition and Psychology: Techniques and tools that develop awareness and cognition of real Agile thinking at the individual and group levels. Sessions that identify cognitive obstacles to Agile and offer real solutions are of particular interest. We are also looking for sessions on group dynamics and group psychology. This includes material on behavioral topics such as belief change, cognitive psychology, and group-level dynamics and behavior.
- Learning and Education: Effective classroom and experiential learning techniques that manifest a real embrace of Agile’s core and essential concepts. Experience reports are of particular interest here. We are looking for sessions and workshops on best practices in Agile education and learning.
- Applying Agile to non-IT Domains: Agile, empirical techniques are effective in many non-IT situations. We are actively seeking experience reports and sessions on how and where real Agile techniques are being applied effectively OUTSIDE of IT. We are looking for hard-hitting material on the use of Agile techniques in the domains of business, academia, non-profit organizations, the military, and all the other places in the world, outside of IT, where people organize to do work.
I could cite many more examples but I think the point is proven. At least in the Agile world I think there is a lot of evidence that we're willing to look beyond the ends of our noses for new ideas. I'm no longer a day to day participant in the Java/.NET worlds, but if I was I'm sure I could cite some good examples there too.
So to Ted I say interesting idea but I think your glass is half full. As to the MBA, the last time I looked they emphasized command and control, not self organizing teams – not my cup of tea.