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Ivory Towers

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If you've seen the news today then you probably know about the ridiculous spending on the NHS IT programme. The estimated cost runs to GBP20bn and it hasn't even been delivered yet! Doctors also have criticised the system for not doing what it needs to.

I have to wonder how they've managed to spend so much money on this system, it's unbelievable but I can see how the budget has spiralled out of control. It's actually reminiscent of the out-sourcing era when big companies would ship their development to countries such as India. Most of them have now realised that the costs get out of control as they have to make constant revisions of the software because it follows the spec too tightly.

Developers get out of your Ivory Towers, you need to be Business Aligned. No that's not fancy business speak, it simply means you have to work with the people who make the business. In the NHS that would be the Doctors, Nurses, Clerks and so on.

I'm fortunate to work very close to the Business and a lot of feedback goes both ways. This means that very little time is wasted developing useless solutions. Yes I have thousands of lines of code that I'd love to review and re-engineer in to a super solution but I don't because we have something that does the job. It's not such a mess that you can't extend it sensibly but it's not perfect. Evolution has shown us that there's no such thing as perfection, if you grew to live perfectly at 20 degrees celsius then your species wouldn't last 10,000 years due to global warming/cooling.

Sorry bit of a rant!
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It would be a mistake to blame this issue solely on the developers -- from what I've seen and heard from people involved with the issue this is a monumental management cockup. Missed schedules, improper budgets, office politics and empire building, and plain bad requirements gathering are all at work here. In a conventional business this would hopefully never be tolerated.

Management is supposed to be a facilitating layer between the ivory tower world where the code gets built and the business world where it gets used. It's always helpful to have overlap between those two worlds, but management needs to coordinate it.

From what I've seen of the NHS, management isn't their forte. Neither is making people un-sick, so I don't know exactly where their talents lie.

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Indeed you're right however I do think that a good proportion of developers could learn from this (from experience greater than 50%)

I was talking with an employee of the company I consult at today and she was telling me about a similar situation at a company she worked at before. Before a certain manager came in the developers could talk to the business and the business to the developers. Suddenly there was new rules that all communication had to go through specific channels and eventually they got binned because of that. This is actually pretty big news but I'd prefer not to mention the companies involved.

What it boiled down to here is:

End User -> Non-Technical Manager -> Manager not familiar with System -> Developer

End User: My car doesn't have 4 wheels, what's going on?
Non-Technical Manager: The end-user is having a problem with the wheels of the car (doesn't understand the detail... e.g. needing 4)
Manager not familiar with system: There's a problem with some wheels.
Developer: Develop a new wheel.

End-Result: Car with 3 better wheels but still useless.

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