The RTR Virus
The first time I ever heard the phrase “The Rush To Reductionsim” (RTR) was while reading W. L. Livingston’s Have Fun At Work. That was many moons ago when I was a young, naïve, and idealistic engineer with a full head of hair. Livingston’s book is filled with all kinds of cute little dittys. He skillfully captures the essence of dysfunctional Product Development Processes (PDP) in creative and high impact phrases.
What Is The RTR Virus?
The RTR is a viral mindset that causes those who are infected to skimp on, or entirely skip over, crucial PDP tasks/steps. As a result of this unhealthy behavior, the infectees produce low quality and ambiguity filled work products. These tainted outputs reek with the stank of RTR virus excretions. Since the work products of one individual or group are the inputs to the next downstream group, the virus multiplies and propagates through the PDP pipeline.
The RTR virus is robust and highly scalable. It especially thrives in large PDP groups. The effects of the RTR virus may be invisible to those infected by it at first, but they always visibly emerge at some point, at some time. Even when the effects finally become visible, traceability back to the RTR viral source is non-trivial. The skill with which the virus covers its tracks is admirable.
The worst outcome occurs when the RTR virus multiplies and grows unchecked throughout the entire development process. The viral excretions get irrevocably fused with the healthy attributes of the intermediate and final work products. The symptoms of massive RTR infection then become painfully and dramatically visible in the hands of the customer when he/she starts using the product to solve his/her problem. This brings to mind the classic gut-busting scene from the first Alien movie. Eeeeee-yow, splat!
Infectors And Infectees
The RTR virus may infect some or all of the members of a development team at any time during the performance of a PDP. Those that are infected may or may not know that they have the RTR virus. The younger the team member, the less likely they are to know that they are infected. In some cultures, those who discover and enunciate that they and their teammates may be infected and need help, are told either explicitly (or implicitly) by their doctors that there is no such thing as the RTR virus. If the doctors do admit that there is a health problem, they poo poo it away as the common cold. In reality, because it’s so ubiquitous and they’ve seen it many times before, the doctors know it’s the RTR virus. However, since they know that they are powerless to stop it, they say nothing and watch the unfolding devastation from a safe distance away.
There are two types of members in the RTR club, RTR carriers and RTR sufferers. The RTR carriers are lucky because they don’t directly feel the effects of the virus from day to day. Like the tooth fairy and the boogie man, most RTR carriers usually don’t think the virus exists, let alone that they themselves are carriers. RTR sufferers on the other hand, directly feel the painful effects of the RTR malady every day, whether they know they have it or not. The uninfected get infected via an ingenious airborne-based mechanism. An RTR carrier, through his/her behavior and actions, infects a healthy team member. Depending on the role in the project played by the newly infected and his/her genetic makeup, he/she may become a carrier or sufferer.
RTR Tainted Product Development Processes
During the execution of a PDP, the RTR virus can embed itself at any time, into any team member, and into any phase of the development process. The earlier the insertion, the more devastating the impact on the end PDP product. The figure below shows the total infestation of a hypothetical, 6 phase, product development process. The bottom of the figure shows the symptoms that are manifested: sloppy, error-riddled, ambiguous and virtually unuseablework outputs.
As time ticks forward during the execution of an RTR-infected PDP, since there are no attempts to control or defeat the virus, the negative effects accumulate at an alarming, exponential rate. The figure below shows this progressive, cumulative deterioration in product quality along with the eventual real world consequences of failing to confront the beast. Bugs, bugs, bugs, and more bugs:
- Intermittent bugs,
- Hard to find bugs,
- Hard to reproduce bugs,
- Easy to find but hard to fix bugs,
- Creative bugs that disguise themselves as new features,
- New and never-seen-before bugs,
- Ingenious bugs that morph into one or more new bugs when squashed.
Fighting The RTR Virus
So now what? Is the RTR virus omnipotent and invincible? It surely is a clever, highly productive, relentless, and persistent little beast. In a Utopian world, we’d have a virus free environment that can be represented by the pristine situation shown in the graphic below. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Bummer! Whenever a group of imperfect human beings embark on a complex product development effort, the RTR virus naturally rears its ugly head. Like a tornado or hurricane, it is a force of nature.
The first step in fighting the virus is acknowledging its existence and paying due respect to the havoc it can wreak on the hearts, minds, and wallets of all stakeholders. The RTR virus feeds on neglect, apathy, and hubris. Removal of these energy sources is a powerful first line of defense against the growth of the virus. The next step in the battle is the continuous application of vaccine inoculations throughout, and also after, the initial PDP effort has finished. The figure below shows the results of continuous inoculation. Compared with the previous untreated PDP, one can see that the effects of the virus have been mitigated by the application of these anti-viral measures.
Note that all virus excretions have not been removed from the inoculated system and its work products, but the numbers have been decreased. Even though it’s not shown on the diagram, the size of each RTR viral excretion is also decreased. A concrete list of anti-virus vaccines are as follows:
- Specific enumeration of all required PDP work products.
- Specific enumeration of each work product owner and the receiver(s) who are dependent on each work product.
- Iterative and collaborative development of all work products.
- Continuous visibility and accessibility of all work products.
- Continuous peer review of all work products.
- Development of a comprehensive test infrastructure that supports easy detection, localization, and removal, of viral poops.
- Continuous unit, integration, and system build level testing of all work products.
- Low latency, and highly responsive change management processes.
Off With Its Head!
Even with the diligent application of the powerful anti-viral practices listed above, the RTR virus cannot be fully eradicated. Nor can a perfect product be delivered, because imperfect humans are involved. Ergo the saying: “Always strive for perfection, but understand that you’ll never get it”.
Do you believe that the RTR virus exists? If not, do you believe that its twin sister, the OWS virus exists? Ask me what OWS stands for and I’ll be glad to tell you………………………