LinkLog: The Critical Thing About Design

I, like a lot of others in the software industry, belong to the Fred Brooks fan club. I first read The Mythical Man Month in 80s but since I was just doing my first startup,  did not fully comprehend some of the problems Brooks was talking about. After 25 years in 4 startups and a couple of dozen products, I feel that many insights Fred  Brooks provided in that book are still very valuable.

In this interview Brooks talks about design. A few nuggets:

Brooks: The critical thing about the design process is to identify your scarcest resource. Despite what you may think, that very often is not money. For example, in a NASA moon shot, money is abundant but lightness is scarce; every ounce of weight requires tons of material below. On the design of a beach vacation home, the limitation may be your ocean-front footage. You have to make sure your whole team understands what scarce resource you’re optimizing.

Great design does not come from great processes; it comes from great designers.

When I first wrote The Mythical Man-Month in 1975, I counseled programmers to “throw the first version away,” then build a second one. By the 20th-anniversary edition, I realized that constant incremental iteration is a far sounder approach. You build a quick prototype and get it in front of users to see what they do with it. You will always be surprised.

Brooks refuses to predict the future of software into the next 50 years  saying that:

All of my past predictions have been, shall we say, short-sighted.

This interview is a nice read and I am sure the book The Design of Design will be a great one. It is nice to see that some of the classics like The Mythical Man Month still sell a lot.

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2 thoughts on “LinkLog: The Critical Thing About Design

  1. Hi Dorai – Totally agree – in fact I think The Mythical Man Month should be required reading for all software developers – as well as their managers (and everyone in between) !
    It is amazing that the classic problems of software development haven’t changed significantly since the book was first written – in spite of huge advances in technology. Another classic nugget of wisdom from the book is the description of the Second system syndrome (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-system_effect) which talks about how successive versions of software can go from “a relatively small, elegant, and successful system, to….an elephantine, feature-laden monstrosity.” Microsoft Vista may have been a prime example of this syndrome.

  2. Arun,
    Thanks. It is a timeless classic. I liked the quote about the requirement for each design as well. I think I want to go back and read a few books again. The Mythical man month, the death march and Programmers at Work to start with.

    I wonder whether the patterns wiki has a discussion on the mythical man month. I wonder whether any one has abstracted the book into a set of patterns.

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