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March 26-29, 2012, Software Test Professionals Conference, New Orleans
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Monday, June 29, 2009

On Business Maturity

I just posted this to a private discussion list, and thought it was worth repeating here:

Chris McMahon wrote:
>For every company whose expensive Six Sigma project yields
>them no benefit at all, there is another company with no
>recognized quality process at all that succeeds wildly.

Have you ever studied Michael Porter's Competitive Strategy Model?

Porter - a Harvard Business Professor - wrote industries go through a transition from wild growth and no standards to maturity and eventual decline.

Companies competing in the growth phase compete by differentiation of /product/. (Think the personal computer market in 1984). In the middle, standardization and consolidation occur, which is happening in the personal computer market right now. At the end, toward the right, you are dealing with commodities like Gasoline or Electricity that have no differentiation at at. Companies living in maturity and decline compete through standardization of /process/ and economies of scale.

Once in a while a disruptive innovation comes along, which can push the entire industry to the left. Consider, for example, book sales in 1993. Borders and Barnes and Nobles were mature businesses. They had defined processes and metrics - and they aimed to turn the corner bookstore into a memory. If you looked at where people spent money, not what they said, nobody cared about the service at the corner bookstore - they wanted variety, comfy chairs, and decap frappechino mochas.

Then came with a disruptive business model and a disruptive model of scale - pushing the industry to the left.

That's what lots of software does - It pushes stuff to the left.

And when you are competing on the left - if you are Apple in 1984 or Linux Torvalds in 1991 or Napster in 1998 - you don't need great software development process. You need great ideas.

That's part of what bugs me about the discussion of software maturity. The real innovation and value isn't made in the land of maturity and standards. It's made in the untamed wilderness ... hmm.

I suppose you could call that 'Creative Chaos.'

Epilogue: So that's what I wrote to the discussion list, but this is my question to Creative Chaos readers:

Is what I wrote above the case? And if so, how should that impact the way we test software?

What do you think?


Laurent said...

I agree with you, that most innovations are made in the introduction and growth phases.

But, a maturity phase is needed before a new growth can start. It's in the maturity phase that things settles down, gets ironed out.

Then, it's either decline or a new beginning, with disruptive new innovations.

You can't get new innovations all the time, constantly.

Some people thrive in the innovation phase, in the creative chaos. But others prefer and perform better in the maturity phase.

Jeroen Rosink said...

Hello Matthew,
I think you might call it "Creative Chaos" what is needed. I'm sure organizations are often falsely using methods and standards to control “innovations” to move from the left to the right of Porters-model. Why should every product be successful? I believe chaos is leading to great ideas. If this is reduced then good ideas will vanish. As chaos needs immediately solutions with new approaches; it must be solved now no matter how you do it. It leaves space for unconventional solutions.

Instead controlling the process to manage product to move from introduction to decline state, we should focus on the value of products. If standards become the goal, then we might miss the real innovations, I think the discovery of penicillin ( is one good example.

Perhaps we should do the same with testing, if we have our process under control and no bug manage to appear in productive systems, then we should deliberately let the bugs loose. Not to prove we are able to fail, just to prove we have skills to solve it when needed.
There must be a balance between order and chaos. Standards might help you to create some order, we also should have a process to maintain chaos.
This might impact also the way we test. Lots of companies are buying certifications related to testing; claiming to use methods. It might help to create order. Only it will also help us to loose our vision and stop thinking about testing (innovations)


Jeremy Kriegel said...

This is an interesting post that will resonate positively with many. To add one bit of nuance, different customers will require different things. Some will need the dramatic value created by disruptive ideas, while others will need the dependability of mature products.

The interactions of these disruptive cycles is well analyzed in Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma. Worth the read.

Perhaps it is due to my background, user experience, but I'm a bit uncertain what impact this has on software testing specifically, as you asked us to respond to. For me, there are clear implications to the strategy and design elements of a product, and I'm hoping you can enlighten me as to how testing plays into this scenario.

Jeremy Kriegel

Geordie Keitt said...

My friend Ron writes a blog that discusses just this sort of thing. You might find this recent post on how businesses are bad at fostering innovation interesting.

Matthew said...

Thanks Geordie. I've got a follow-up to do after beautiful testing. :-)