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Holger Frohloff

Power Laws

1 min read

My work as a consultant offers me the opportunity to accompany a team for a certain amount of time. I join them, we work together, and then I leave again. Our time together gets extended, sometimes. This model has the benefit that I get to know a lot of people and teams — and how they work.

Do you know the Pareto principle? It's also called the power law distribution or the 80/20 rule. A simple explanation would be that 20 percent of the people own 80 percent of the wealth of the whole world, which makes it relatable and understandable. Only that it's wrong. By now 10% hold 90% of the wealth already. And it's getting worse. I don't have any sources on this right now, and I won't go looking. Because it was only meant as an image of how this works.

Back to my clients…

There is a similar distribution of 80/20 to be found. 80% of software development teams do the same mistakes over and over again. It starts with a new green-field project. A year of development work passes. A lot of code was written. And after a year the team is frustrated with their software again and doesn't find a way out. This is bad practice.

If you find yourself in these situations, there are ways out of it. With a lot of intrinsic motivation and the ability to learn from mistakes and external sources, you could be able to drag the ship around and sail into the sunset, happily. But there are a lot of rocks under the water that might wreck your boat. An experienced navigator for these waters could prove beneficial.

In my opinion, a good start is to look to industry standards and follow those as well as common best-practices. Find and learn the rules on how other teams work. They might seem strange; you might not understand or like them. But let me tell you something: They way you worked up until here didn't work and brought you into this mess. Doing things as you've always done them won't help you a bit.

So, don't be smart. Find rules. Follow the rules. Stick to them and don't deviate. Re-evaluate in 6 months. It will hurt. It might not be fun. But it will get better.

If you need a pointer, let me know by replying.

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