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Chaos Theory and Butterflies for Better IT Management

 This post is sponsored by The Business Value Exchange and HP Enterprise Services 

Let’s get straight to the point — there are too many IT management theories out there.

There are too many software programme delivery methodologies, too many project delivery mechanisms and too many ideas to explain how technical management should oversee the production of everything from base level software code to higher level user interfaces in the face of customer requirements.

So this “problem” is fine in a sense because we like variety. Plus anyway, the analyst community and technical media like to investigate new breakthrough ideas and concepts as they come to the fore.

Plus of course, there are so many companies in the tech market, we find ourselves caught up in a constant desperate scramble for differentiation as vendors try to find USPs (unique selling points) to distinguish what are often essentially “me too” technologies also offered by competitors.

Differentiation through performance

This truism leads to the directly consequential development of application performance management (APM) as a discipline it its own right. Through performance management we can (supposedly) analyse which technology teams are working effectively, delivery on time, producing quality products and meeting targets.

Companies like HP will talk about monitoring applications across traditional, mobile, virtual and cloud environments as they look to provide insight into every transaction that occurs. This, in theory, allows us to get quick resolution of application issues with (ideally) one common tool to be able to view both pre-production and production of the software itself.

But we can go further than APM; even with its promises of application diagnostics and “real-time topology-based analytics” improve application quality, as powerful as these tools no doubt are.

The next tier could be the creation of the Software Development Performance Index (SDPI), a precept proposed by Rally Software. This metrics framework offers a set of outcome measures based upon analysis of dimensions including productivity, predictability, quality and responsiveness, which are all automatically calculated inside an ALM platform.

The SDPI framework also recommends additional dimensions for customer satisfaction, employee engagement and a so-called ‘build-the-right-thing’ measure. It then specifies how these disparate metrics should be aggregated to provide an overall indicator of performance. Users of the SDPI are able to get feedback on their own teams and organisation, but Rally is using the first four dimensions to extract the relationship between decisions and performance.

Human humanoid factors

So far so good — but is it enough? Do we have enough of theoretical engine power to encapsulate the intricacies, complexities and unpredictability of a) software development and, perhaps more crucially b) those human beings who will work to produce it in real world humanoid scenarios.

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Chaos theory: he behaviour of dynamic systems is highly sensitive to initial conditions

The answer is no, we need chaos theory too.

With chaos theory we accept the fact that the behaviour of dynamic systems is highly sensitive and impacted upon by individual initial conditions. If that sounds a bit like science class then try the butterfly effect, which is often used to help explain part of chaos theory. The butterfly effect states that a hurricane’s energy, direction and condition could have been impacted by the result of a butterfly flapping its wings in some distance place some weeks before. The world is that big and that complex and butterflies are that small, but that important.

These are the granular levels at which we need to focus our thoughts if we really want to be able to manage IT projects effectively. OK sure, this is not practical, practicable or possible in most cases, but it is a clue as to the levels of analysis and control that we actually need to go to in the real world.

So, next time you get invited into an Agile Scrum application performance management (APM) software development performance meeting, take a little butterfly chaos in with you as well please.

About Adrian Bridgwater

Adrian Bridgwater is a freelance journalist and corporate content creation specialist focusing on cross platform software application development as well as all related aspects software engineering, project management and technology as a whole. Adrian is a regular writer and blogger with Computer Weekly, Dr Dobbs Journal and others covering the application development landscape to detail the movers, shakers and start-ups that make the industry the vibrant place that it is. His journalistic creed is to bring forward-thinking, impartial, technology editorial to a professional (and hobbyist) software audience around the world. His mission is to objectively inform, educate and challenge - and through this champion better coding capabilities and ultimately better software engineering.

About Adrian Bridgwater

Adrian Bridgwater is a freelance journalist and corporate content creation specialist focusing on cross platform software application development as well as all related aspects software engineering, project management and technology as a whole. Adrian is a regular writer and blogger with Computer Weekly, Dr Dobbs Journal and others covering the application development landscape to detail the movers, shakers and start-ups that make the industry the vibrant place that it is. His journalistic creed is to bring forward-thinking, impartial, technology editorial to a professional (and hobbyist) software audience around the world. His mission is to objectively inform, educate and challenge - and through this champion better coding capabilities and ultimately better software engineering.

2 Responses to "Chaos Theory and Butterflies for Better IT Management"

  • Dave Duggal
    August 16, 2013 - 8:52 am Reply

    Hi Adrian – Good post, couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, I’d go farther and say these assessments are nice, but after the fact, and development response is handled offline, back in IT silos, etc. — same old change management problem.

    It’s 2013 and enterprise software is stuck in vertically integrated application stacks, with bloated VMs and stateful threads. In the meantime, the Web and Cloud are all about horizontal interoperability and scalability. We need to evolve the application model itself to leverage improvements in storage, compute, networking and processing.

    Please join our Hot Technologies session next week with Robin Bloor and Krish Krishnan – what we are doing lines up with the future you describe. http://bit.ly/14PEnIw

    Best,
    Dave

  • Matt Ross
    April 8, 2014 - 3:09 pm Reply

    I like your article and you are making some cool leaps as far as thought towards an interaction of “Chaos” and IT. I too am in IT and use Chaos in some of my toolsets I am building for data analysis. The concept behind Chaos theory though is to in fact continually define more and more of those initial condidtions at which point it will become a traditional dynamical system, which we can predict as there cannot be anything truly “chaotic”. If we knew what got the first rain to fall and wind to blow, as well as the inputs that have affected weather to date, we could in fact, with 100% accuracy; predict the weather for tommorow as well as 1000 years from now. The fact we only have a small subset of the data(lets say 200 years of the last 4.5 billion) means our prediction methods are more of an art than a science! I believe in Business Intelligence and true data analytics at a pure level we are looking for the same outcome: predictability. If I could tell you how much of a certain product you would need tommorow, or 10 months from now, down to the exact number based on as many inputs as possible we could in fact get closer to that end game.
    One other thing, the “butterfly effect” is actually based on the initial pattern that was noticed by Edward Lorenz when mapping weather patterns. He did in fact later write a paper entitled “does the wings of a butterfly affect a monsoon in Asia” or something along those lines so the two get smashed together and we get the common butterfly effect we hear today.
    Oh well, very cool and its neat to see someone else trying to apply Chaos to all of the “order”(HAHAHA) we have in IT. In fact we are still at the “art” stages of IT and have a way to go to get to the “science” of it. Once Chaos takes control and we have Development Truths rather than methodologies, we will all be able to move ahead even faster than we currently do today. Keep hammering away man, the answers are out there!

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