Big software projects – going against the grain

Big software projects – going against the grain
March 17 18:00 2011 Print This Article

Over the past 10 years, the winning strategy in software development has been to move projects to small teams.

As software development becomes more productive overall, small teams can handle bigger projects.  This is a winning strategy because, if you count feature points per day, those small teams are much more productive than the big teams they replace.

At Assembla we rely on this trend.  We build tools to make small teams more productive, and then expand them to handle bigger projects.  This productivity trend has a dramatic impact on startups, leading to a larger number of smaller software-based startups.  It reaches its limit with iPhone developers who are often solo developers that let the appstore handle marketing and sales.

And, I think it has reached its limit, for three reasons.

First, we have taken our eye off the ball.  Big projects are inherently expensive, and they still consume most of the money spent on software development.  Those big projects aren’t getting more productive at the same rate as smaller projects. Statistically, they often fail to reach completion.  I’m going to make an argument that Scrum and other popular agile project management processes are poorly designed for larger projects.

Second, how many of small software companies do we need? Technology is constantly opening up new niches, like mobile, for small companies to swarm into, but those niches get filled up and then consolidation begins.  There is still an opportunity to break up big IT projects, but many of those will probably get outsourced to cloud vendors … who need to think about the big-or-small team question.

Third, big platforms are important.  While the small teams battle it out for pennies, much of the profit in the industry goes to the big players that can manage big platforms.

Consider Apple and Microsoft and Google and Facebook and VMware. Their revenue per employee working on their big platform projects is far higher than the revenue per employee in smaller companies.

So, small is beautiful, but it’s time to turn our attention back to the issue of how to get results out of big software projects.


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Nataliia Vasylyna
Nataliia Vasylyna

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