Peter Drucker on Software Management

Well, Peter Drucker didn’t write about software management, but he did write about management. In his book Managing in a Time of Great Change he has a chapter called The Five Deadly Business Sins. Here is what Drucker has to say:

The third deadly sin is cost-driven pricing. The only thing that works is price-driven costing. Most American and practically all European companies arrive at their prices by adding up costs and then putting a profit margin on the top.

The only sound way to price is to start out with what the market is willing to pay—and thus, it must be assumed, what the competition will charge—and design to that price specification.

How does this apply to software development? Here is how I see the two scenarios in the world of software development:

Cost-Driven Pricing: A Tough Sell

In this scenario the Customer comes with the software product requirements (not quite complete, since they never are). Next the software team goes ahead and figures out how long it is going to take to build it, and tells the Customer what the expected end-date is, thus arriving at a “cost.” The Customer is almost always unhappy with the end-date that the team provides. The Customer is also unhappy with the delivered product, since the software team usually does not manage the scope at a fine-grained level. The team thinks that they know what they need to build, and proceed on building it.

Price-Driven Costing: Problem Solving with Constraints

In this scenario the Customer comes with the requirements (never complete), and a target end date in mind: an end-date that fits into the business scenario that they intend to play out. It is now up to the software team to:

  1. Figure out how the product can be built under the given constraints of date and cost, and
  2. Figure out how to “slice & dice” the requirements to meet the Customer’s goals.

The software team must deliver to and negotiate with the Customer regularly. To deiver the project the team have to bring their ingenuity to solve the problem.

The Bottom Line

Price-Driven Costing applies to the way software teams work. It means that we need to work back from the price (date) that the Customer is willing to take, and then we have to figure out how to deliver the project on that date. There may be times when we have to say, this cannot be done. And there will be others, many others, when we will successfully deliver the project to a happy Customer.