Saturday, February 23, 2013

Joined-up Engineering

There are many well known differences between American and British English, but it can be the less well known that make me stop and think.
Where Americans will refer to 'print(ed)' and 'cursive' handwriting, the British are much more likely to use the word 'joined-up' instead of 'cursive' 1
In the late 90's the phrase Joined-up Government was used by the Blair administration to promote the idea that government departments should work together. How well this can work for government departments is a matter of debate, but I feel that the idea has serious applicability to software engineering.

The Analogy

If we consider the different tasks, or types of task, in a software project to be the letters, are we 'printing' and performing the tasks in isolation, or performing 'joined-up engineering' and allowing the tasks to naturally flow into and influence their neighbors?
Non-trivial projects have more than one engineer, different tasks and roles are filled by different people with different abilities and specializations — large projects have more than one team.
To me, joined-up engineering emphasizes the importance of that everyone is working on the same project, that there is a line of work or responsibility that flows cleanly through each task/engineer/role/team, rather than the hard boundaries that produce problems like: fiefdoms; impedance mismatch; feature and code ownership arguments; &c.

Stretching the Analogy

  • While the general principal of joined-up writing is that the pen never leaves the page, there are well known exceptions, we "dot the i's and cross the t's" (hopefully not forgetting j's (or accents)), x is usually written by lifting the pen &emdash; knowing when not to apply a principal is important.
  • Speaking for myself, I can probably print faster than I can write joined-up, but my joined up writing is (or has the potential to be) far more attractive, and with practice probably faster.
  • Bureaucracies prefer print — as anyone who has filled in official paperwork knows — in the most exaggerated cases each letter must be within its own box, this is purely for the benefit of the bureaucracy.

1 The British politician Jonathan Aitken, while serving a prison sentence for perjury, was given the nickname "Joino" by fellow inmates for his ability(!) to use joined-up handwriting.

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