Analogy between software development and manufacturing

Neil Davidson emailed me this interesting comment about my SPA talk.   I fully agree with him that we’re always going to need craftsmen to produce software, and that the tools they use will change.  As with all analogies, the analogy between maturity in the software industry and other industries is flawed: but that’s one of the things that makes it interesting!




As much as I find the technical side interesting, the thing which really fascinates me is how the way people write software will change in the future.

I’ve been thinking about it a bit, and I think that although the analogy with the changes in industrial manufacturing (from craftsman to mass production to mass customization) is interesting, I’m not sure it really holds true.


I think one of the key things you mentioned was the analogy to the supply chain, and how this chain will lengthen. The way I see it, software will always need a craftsman at one end. Software is intrinsically hard to do, and requires people, or teams of people, to think very carefully and deeply about what they’re doing. The tools, processes and components they use will have to change though – it is at this point in the supply chain that I can see mass production happening. I think the analogy is that you’re always going to need craftsmen like carpenters and bricklayers to build a house, but the tools, techniques and materials they use will be mass produced. At the moment we’re at the stage where the bricklayer makes his own bricks, and the carpenter cuts his own trees down. I don’t think the craftsman will be replaced, but the tools he uses will be provided by companies who provide (or are) software factories. That’s the point I was trying to make about a few companies dominating the market – somebody will discover that they can produce an e-commerce software factory and sell hundreds of thousands of the things at $1,000 a piece rather than two or three a year at $100,000 a go (because it’s no longer a problem constrained by people’s time). Presumably Microsoft believes it will be them and that’s possibly part of the reason why they’re entering the CRM, accounting and business markets.

Comments (2)

  1. I think it was Alistair Cockburn who made the insightful observation that writing software is more like building a factory than akin to the manufacturing that will go on within it. Seemed spot-on to me.