Dateline: Sept. 6, 2014
Dr. Richard Turner, School of Systems and Enterprises, Stevens Institute of Technology, has over 30 years of experience in systems, software and acquisition engineering. Currently, he is a Distinguished Service Professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, and a Principle Investigator with the Systems Engineering Research Center.
Dr. Turner is a member of the Executive Committee of the NDIA/AFEI Agile for Defense Adoption Proponent Team, the INCOSE Agile SE Working Group, and co-author of the new IEEE Computer Society/PMI Software Extension for the Guide to the PMBOK that spans the gap between traditional and agile approaches. In addition to all that, he is also a fellow of the Lean Systems Society, a Golden Core awardee of the IEEE Computer Society, and co-author of three books.
Dr. Turner recently answered some questions about industry trends, what got him into agile, and what attendees of PNSQC will get out of his keynote presentation on October 20th.
Question: What got you into systems and software engineering, and how did that lead you to your current agile focus?
Dr. Turner: I was a math and computer science major in college, and had always been interested in computing. We had an Explorer Scout organization at the local IBM office while I was in high school and a local college provided timeshare service through GE. One thing led to another and I ended up in Washington working for beltway bandits, as a govvie at the FAA, and then as a researcher and an academic.
I got involved in capability models early and was an author of the original CMMI, something I am proud of, yet often still feel disappointed in the result. We had a huge number of stakeholders to satisfy with a diverse and largely volunteer workforce, and generally succeeded in providing a useful, if not perfect product. One of my concerns was the lack of flexibility (agility) within the model-based process improvement paradigm.
Although we tried to create it in the model, the stakeholders were much more interested in a command and control approach to managing development than a collaborative one. That cognitive dissonance was the main reason I began to look at agile. I really feel that a continuous set of small experimental improvements, for example Kaizen’s continuous improvement approach, are more likely to succeed than the institutional model+SEPG approach. Not to say that hasn t been successful, but it seems to work in spite of itself in some cases. The expense of the process also made it very difficult for smaller companies to compete.
And, of course, there was the internal focus on the process and developers as opposed to the external focus on the outcomes and the customer.
Q: What trends are you excited about?
T: I am most excited about the concept of value brought to play in software and systems via the lean and agile movements. Too often software has been viewed as simply an expense, without the acknowledgement of the value it provides. Expenses are usually targets for cutting, whereas an increase in value is almost always desired.
I’m also fascinated by the idea of genetic and nano-engineering. I see this as the software of the very near future. However, it is a bit frightening that we have such a hard time with our current software systems and yet we are on the brink of programming at the genetic and even molecular level. Safety and security should be a primary focus of every developer.
Q: What’s been the best industry advice you’ve gotten and given over the years?
T: Know your customer and play nicely with others. I’ve been a collaborative type since early on in my career, so having good relationships with coworkers, customers, and other stakeholders seems like a no brainer. I think from both the government and commercial side, we have to begin to spend more time on developing trust and less time trying to contract away fraud. I think the adversarial nature of contracting is probably the largest hurdle to broader adoption of agile and lean practices.
Q: What do you want people to take away from your upcoming keynote address Balancing Agility and Discipline: Bridging the Gaps Between Software and Systems Engineering?
T: That there is far more to software engineering than coding and that finding the right balance between agility and discipline is key to success. Just applying agile and lean concepts and principles in software development is not enough. We must have visionaries, concept creators and architects, as well as systems and software engineers, that not only understand software and hardware, but also the physical, social, and ethical limits that provide for our common welfare. We are all in this together, and we have to balance the needs of the many with the desires of the few.