Track Talk

Software Quality and Human Factors – our next challenge

Andrew Brown

10:30-11:00 CEST Wednesday 29th September

We have achieved huge advances in how we build software. Agile and DevOps, plus new tools and programming languages allow us to deliver products and systems in ways not previously possible.

Yet in many important ways, we have failed to make any significant advances. Projects deliver just as late and over budget as they ever have. Much software fails to do what the user needs. The proportion of failed projects is largely unchanged from fifty years ago. And levels of technical debt are higher than ever.

Why have we made huge advances in some areas, but not others?

The answer is that all software development problems contain both technical factors and human factors. We are an industry that attracts individuals interested in technology, so we excel at solving the technical parts of every problem, whilst neglecting the human aspects. Consequently, the largest outstanding challenges that we face today are not technical, but residual human factors. Unless we begin to address the human factors underlying these problems, we will continue to suffer them.

How can we address these human factors?

In this session, Dr Andrew Brown shares key findings from his five-year research project into human factors in software development, the subject of his forthcoming book. He shows that the largest unaddressed challenges in software development, such as overrunning projects, unwarranted risk-taking, and technical debt, are not technical challenges and so cannot be addressed by any technical means.

Instead, he shows that these challenges are driven by human factors, notably a series of cognitive biases that drive sub-optimal decisions and behaviour. He then traces these cognitive biases to our evolutionary past, showing that our sub-optimal behaviour on projects today is caused by thought processes developed to solve survival and other problems in our evolutionary past.

Dr Brown shows how you can develop a programme to reduce your organisation’s vulnerability to these problems, using a combination of awareness training, debiasing techniques, plus changes to your decision process and culture.