Monday, 12 May 2008

Fred Brookes on Online Collaboration

DL Weinreb, one of the co-creators of Common Lisp, took some notes at the OOPSLA 2007 conference. One of the talks was by given by Fred Brooks:
Fredrick Brooks Jr., author of the classic book “The Mythical Man-Month”, talked about telecollaboration. Most of the talk was about collaboration itself, and under what circumstances it’s a good thing: not always! His main point is that collaboration is great for determining system requirements and brainstorming about possible approaches, but that you really need a single system architect in order to achive conceptual integrity. The system architect can delegate parts of the architecture to others (e.g. the user interface czar), but he distinguishes sharply between delegating design (OK) and sharing design (not OK).
Readers of The MMM, will not be surprised by Brooks's reiteration of the need for a single designer to ensure a unified vision, but it's nice to have strong position brought to light in a new context.

For me, Brooks's pronouncement raises a couple of questions:
  • To what extent does his advice apply to non-software enterprises?
  • To what extent should collaborative software endeavour to encourage "good practice" through constraining its users?

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