Re: SERIOUS: Formal vs. informal organizations

Subject: Re: SERIOUS: Formal vs. informal organizations
From: "Collins, Darren DA" <Collins -dot- Darren -dot- DA -at- BHP -dot- COM -dot- AU>
Date: Mon, 8 Mar 1999 11:58:48 +1100

There are cases where formal environments have an advantage. The NASA guys
who develop the software for the space shuttle spring to mind. I read an
article about them a while ago. If I recall correctly, they had only 1
defect in the last 3 revisions of their software (revisions are for
added/changed functionality, not bug fixing). And that defect was in a
piece of software for controlling a manipulator arm that has been designed
but never installed for any missions to date. They count something as tiny
as a letter on a monitor display being one character out of place as a
defect, so that's a pretty impressive record!

Such quality comes at a price, though. Like you say, they need huge amounts
of bureaucracy to control everything so closely. They don't have any code
cowboys there - the programmers are all conservative types (they don't look
like programmers at all!). No piece of code is ever added/deleted/changed
without filling out paperwork and being checked/tested/approved by several
people. The dollar cost of all the extra effort is enormous. But, at the
end of the day, the manager of the group must sign a piece of paper before
every launch that he personally certifies the code as defect-free and posing
no risk to human life.

I wouldn't like to sign anything like that for the software my group here at
work develops, but then our software isn't safety-critical.

I guess companies need to make a decision for themselves as to how important
it is that their software is defect-free and how tightly they need to
control design. It's a continuum, trading off control/quality/consistency
for time/dollars.

Darren Collins
Computer Engineer, Blast Furnaces
BHP Steel, Port Kembla, Australia

> -----Original Message-----
> I am curious about your thoughts on this "informal vs formal" concept.
> Mostly, can anyone think up solid, tangible benefits to a
> super-formal environment?
> Andrew Plato
> President / Principal Consultant
> Anitian Consulting, Inc.

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