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How to Create a Culture of Trust in an Age of Opaque Software Development

Feb 16, 2021 10:39:31 AM

The lack of transparency in software development makes balancing Cultures of Trust and Control within a company difficult, but all the more valuable. 

Recent studies, such as the one recently featured in the Harvard Business Review, show that a culture of trust can be critical to increasing productivity by employees. In his over two decades of research, Harvard Professor Paul J. Zak found:

Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.

While most large companies know to value the productivity generated by a culture of trust, those with large software factories increasingly face the problem that the opacity of the software development process impedes establishing a culture of trust or control. How can you trust if you can't identify what's causing software projects to be delayed or have errors?

It is now clear to most stakeholders that new tools and methods must be developed to alleviate the greatest pain points in software production. It is about creating lasting efficiency and dependability in the industrial software production process.

On the way to becoming a software factory, it is particularly critical to scale agile organizational forms and workflows while maintaining transparency and control. Professor Christian Bär, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of Datev, explains what he finds important: "Software factories cannot be managed according to old familiar patterns with directive leadership, a strict organizational structure, or a hierarchical work climate. Especially in the VUCA world, it's true that only the adaptive organizations will survive." What is needed is a system that can evolve and is designed to do so from the outset.

More Success through Software Process Mining

Agile large-scale transformation requires that decision-makers delegate responsibility to employees. Software development teams can also be measured by the responsibility they have been given. Software analytics with a focus on software process mining and software product analytics supply the necessary tools for this.

Oliver Laitenberger, partner at the management consulting firm Horn & Company, recommends: "The boardroom should be able to objectively plan and control its software development with the help of data. This applies to classic processes as well as to the agile setting. Especially in the use of SCRUM or the agile SAFe framework, decision-makers often lack the necessary tools."

According to Laitenberger, CIOs often have little reliable and robust information at their disposal to manage their software development teams. Even improvements in software processes or substantive progress too often cannot be tracked properly. Because of this, decisions are frequently based on inadequate data, resulting in a great deal of uncertainty and high risk.

Wacker Chemie Opts for SAFe 5.0

"The desire for transparency and measurability is not in any way in conflict with agility nor does it imply the introduction of a hierarchical culture of control. On the contrary, both factors inseparable and must be carefully balanced. Dirk Ramhorst describes his efforts to combine agility with an analytical approach and organizational transparency as follows: "Three years ago, we established the Analytic Services Team, which includes a pool of data scientists and technical expertise in various AI and analytic platforms."

"This area of responsibility also includes the systematic analysis of our business processes based on process mining and the correction of identified process weaknesses in the area of our enterprise applications." At the same time, Wacker Chemie fosters the skills of its employees in software development and uses agile development frameworks such as SAFe 5.0.

Professor Jürgen Döllner of the Hasso Plattner Institute for Digital Engineering (HPI) in Potsdam is a committed advocate of analytical and introspective digital engineering. Döllner is studying how companies can analyze their software systems, which have grown over the years, as well as their software production processes, and make them comprehensible in an intuitive manner.

Overview through the Digital Boardroom

His vision of a digital boardroom for software engineering ultimately stems from an idea from the institute's founder Hasso Plattner. "Of course, we can't produce software the same way we produce cars," he said. "But we have to take the demand for transparency and rational control from the older engineering disciplines and apply it to agile software production using modern means and methods," says Döllner. The technical possibilities for this exist, but they are far from being exhausted.

Döllner's call for decisive digital engineering does not find many IT managers in a relaxed situation. They are currently being squeezed from two sides: On the one hand, the technical complexity in their area of responsibility is increasing exponentially. On the other hand, the pressure from the market is growing, as software is becoming a critical factor for company success. Media manager Xiaoqun Clever summarizes the situation as follows: "Software has gone from being a cost mandate to a profit-and-loss mandate. It's no longer just about improving profitability and becoming leaner, faster and more flexible. It's about much more!"

According to Clever, software has become a critical factor in differentiating from the competition "through unique product features, services and customer experiences." Software helps to implement new ways of working, to optimally manage partnerships in digital ecosystems and to be competitive in the emerging "platform economy".
IT management teams have no shortage of tools and techniques to make individual isolated areas of expertise within the production process transparent, but relying on this alone carries the risk of still allowing a general lack of clarity. To keep the reins in hand, transparency at all levels is vital. The general overview is central to this, but there must also be the possibility of delving deep into the details of specific sub-areas. It's only through this that the root cause of emerging warning signs can be identified in an environment where development teams are spread across the globe.

Among the pioneers in the field of digital boardrooms is Johannes Bohnet, founder of Seerene, the provider of such a platform. The spin-off of the Hasso Plattner Institute helps corporations set up their own personalized digital boardrooms, which are designed to enable the C-suite and team leaders to access comprehensive real-time data. For Bohnet, agility and control are not in conflict with each other in terms of culture: "On the contrary, direct access to all strategy-relevant information ensures that the contradiction between a culture of trust and a culture of control is eliminated. Individual developer teams can act agilely and autonomously, and at the same time, control, alignment, and optimization toward global corporate goals become possible at a superordinate level."

For Bohnet, it is a matter of collecting the existing data troves in software development in a controlled manner so as to make them useful for the entire organization. Due to the complexity of this, it requires automated analysis tools, especially concerning software development process mining. With the help of key indicators and milestones, it is then possible to align the company's digital efforts with the overarching strategy and objectives.
The analysis tools can be used to illustrate the company's performance. In response, the KPIs can be brought into a hierarchical order and consolidated into a digital boardroom. In this way, those responsible can monitor the health of their software factory from the required altitude and delve deeper if action is required. Problems or dangers can be tracked right down to the technical level of the source code and the changes can then more easily be made to it.

The most important elements for a Software Factory are transparency, the identification of areas in need of corrective action, detailed analysis, and intervention options. "Today, software analytics technology is capable of extracting the data trails of all tools and repositories in the software development infrastructure, filtering them, and consolidating them into comprehensive strategy-relevant evaluations," explains Bohnet. "This allows both the technical and non-technical management to stay informed and empowered to act at all times."

If a digital board room is to be fully implemented, it must be done with great care. Because it will collect all of the data centrally, it may arouse suspicion in employees that the management intends to install a top-down hierarchical structure. Instead companies should make the most out of the opportunity to use this gained transparency to transform the agile software development quickly and decisively.

The above passage originally appeared in the German article "Die Ära der Software Factory" in both CIO Magazin and ComputerWoche. We would like to thank Professor Christian Bär, Professor Jürgen Döllner, Dirk Ramhorst, Xiaoqun Clever, Dr. Johannes Bohnet, Dr. Oliver Laitenberger, Professor Paul J. Zak, and Heinrich Vaske for their contributions. 


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