Lessons from “Better” by Atul Gawande
I just finished reading Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. This is a very interesting book about the medical system. However, there are a couple of items which apply to software development professionals.
The first section of the book deals with diligence. Many of the examples in the book deal with the need to be vigilant in some of the most mundane aspects – washing hands, inoculations and wearing body armor in Iraq. Often, in software development, we fall down when we are not diligent. We take shortcuts, we don’t create unit tests, we don’t review requirements, design or code. All things we know we should do but often skip. In short – we are not diligent.
In another section, Gawande shows how measurements impacts the quality of care. The Apgar score (the simple measurement used to judge the health of newborns) spurred doctors to improve care of newborns who originally were not considered viable. While the medical profession keeps many different statistics, it is often difficult to compare one doctor’s performance to another. The introduction of the Apgar store allowed for a simple measurement to be applied universally. Doctor’s, patient’s and hospital’s had a way to compare performance and improvement in this aspect of care. Unfortunately for software, there is no simple measurement that can be applied to a software product and there is definitely no universal measurement that can be used to judge our performance compared to our peers.
I think these two items are worth each of us considering. How can we be more diligent in our daily activities? And while a universal measurement is not achievable, can we develop a measurement to compare our (or our team’s) performance from project to project?