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Transforming Software Developers into Solution Providers

Traditional approaches to software development have been greatly influenced by the Agile Manifesto, a fundamental guide for those involved in this field.

At its core, the manifesto prioritises customer satisfaction through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. However, the question arises, is software always the answer?

Despite being skilled at crafting software solutions, software developers should focus on providing cost-efficient solutions to customers’ problems, rather than always resorting to software development. In other words, we need to shift our mindset from ‘building software’ to ‘solving problems.’

Software development is not always the most cost-efficient solution due to a range of factors, including opportunity costs. In other words, we must always consider what else could be achieved instead of developing software.

Applying a Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) approach can help us decide among alternatives, considering speed, cost, benefit, and risk. A common mistake is to be biased towards software solutions. However, alternatives such as employee education, utilising consultants, hardcoding, and even purchasing existing solutions might provide a more cost-efficient result.

In a traditional model, Product Owners give tasks to developers. However, this approach neglects the question of cost-efficiency. Instead, we should reorient our workflow around problems, exploring options, performing a CBA, and then deciding on solutions.

Shielding developers from the business side results in low trust, low motivation, and mediocre software solutions. Software is an implementation of business. Therefore, developers need to understand the business to create impactful solutions. Without business understanding, developers find meaning in technology, not the problem they are solving.

A good practice is to involve business people and developers together throughout the project. This facilitates a whole-team approach, promoting a deep understanding of the underlying problem and transforming engineers into business partners. For example, in a healthcare setting, developers should engage with clinicians to understand their problems better.

Technical Product Owners can play a critical role in promoting this shift. They connect the business side with the developers, ensuring the team owns the product and understands it thoroughly. This requires a source of truth, where developers can ask questions about the business and its needs.

The goal is to make impacts, not software. This approach requires understanding how a solution is used and perceived by customers, often referred to as “Go to gemba” in lean manufacturing. This promotes a greater sense of care and understanding among developers.

To transform software developers into problem solvers and providers of cost-efficient solutions, we need to take several steps. These include encouraging developers to engage with customers, hiring problem solvers rather than merely hackers, promoting a collective mindset (‘we’ instead of ‘they’), fostering closer relations between engineers and business teams, granting everyone access to analytics data for data-driven decisions, and inspiring developers to learn and apply Domain-Driven Design.

In essence, we need to rethink our approach to software development, focusing on delivering solutions that truly meet customers’ needs rather than always resorting to software development.

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