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Software Development

(July 29, 2003) -  Decidedly not a sexy subject, software development is at the root of much of our daily anguish. From browser and operating system crashes to functionality that seems illogically absent from our key enterprise tools, we brush against the software designer's work in many aspects of our lives. Like many innovations that have come before, software design, as usually practiced, is outmoded. The next generation of tools has yet to be invented.

Before you nod right into your cup of coffee, rest assured that this topic is important to the daily work of making a Recruiting Operation run. Most Recruiting Software available today offers all the creature comforts of one-size-fits-all clothing. The flaw has every bit as much to do with the way that software design is practiced as anything else a vendor does. It's simply not possible to produce the level of customization desired by customers while making a profit.

Traditional software design uses a detailed "Requirements Development/Analysis Process". In other words, a variety of means (from user interviews and workflow analysis to behavioral observation) are used to generate a list of the stuff the software 'should' do (requirements). The list of stuff is then prioritized, reviewed and approved. The highest priority things get done first. What can be specified can be automated.

(The fundamental difference between vendors is the underlying principle behind their prioritization process. Of course, the following list is a caricature but you might think of the players in terms of the following prioritizing principles: Search (Resumix), Resume Management (Brass Ring), Cross-customer Standards (Recruitsoft), Recruiting (Hire), Low Cost To Customer (RecruitMax), Low Cost To Provider (Peoplesoft).)

This Requirements Development Process has worked wonders for process automation firms for over 30 years. It worked great for putting a man on the moon. It was a helluva way to automate Financial functions. It turned purchasing and inventory management into sources of company strength. It transformed the manufacturing process, removing kinks that were as old as the assembly line. It changed retailing, banking, transportation, financial management, agriculture and other industries into lean operations.

The essence of Software development is its inherent reliance on a finite, carefully crafted specification built from requirements.

In the 'real world', things are not so simple. Knowledge work (Recruiting, marketing, sales, service, consulting, architecture, design, R&D, content development, entertainment and so on) is not always easy to specify and quantify. In the other disciplines, the things that are done most frequently are the ones with the highest value. In Knowledge work, it is often the case that the most important thing is an exception. Often, the thing that should be automated is not.

In Recruiting, one thing is clear. The way it gets done varies from culture to culture. It varies from task to task.

The routine processes in knowledge work are often low value but easy to automate. Because these transactions happen frequently, the contemporary software design process overemphasizes their importance. We call it "Knowledge Work" because the critical aspect of what gets done involves judgment, not repetition. The most important things are the exceptions rather than the norm.

There is not, to our knowledge, an analysis process that observes work being done in order to identify the highest value components of the job. Current Software Design practice takes a snapshot and automates the things that happen frequently. In the long run this leads to automated processes that reinforce mediocrity and make a bad system hard to change.

Very few people are even exploring the idea that the Requirements Development Process is the culprit behind broad dissatisfaction with software products. In manufacturing, the idea of mass-customization is the replacement for pure assembly line thinking. We used the assembly line idea until it wore out in the early 80s.

The next generation of Software Design will be more like mass-customization. But, it will simultaneously use probability theory to predict which Requirements might be the most important and then have a mechanism to verify the value of things that are automated.

Until there is a new way of thinking about software, vendors are stuck with the old one. If you are investing in a Recruiting platform, be sure to understand clearly how the vendor develops its requirements. We don't think that any solution will be deeply satisfying but some will be far superior to the others.

John Sumser

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Materials written by John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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