Butterflies and Development

Quick Summary: Detailed requirements and their management are critical factors for development success.


Chaos theory describes how small initial variations can cause significant long-term variations.  The same situation can occur with inadequate or poorly managed new product development requirements.  The lack of attention to up front detail can have significant long-term negative impacts.

The use of the term butterfly in the context of new product development is two-fold.  First, in many instances, the seemingly random development progress can be likened to the flight of a butterfly.  Second, in chaos theory, which could be related to both butterflies and product development, uses the example of the flapping of a butterfly’s wings having a significant long-term impact on future events.

For new product development, both butterfly analogies share the same root cause:  poor requirements documents and ongoing management.  These issues commonly manifest themselves with missed or incorrect features or functions and meeting release schedule commitments.  There are more articles on scheduling in this chapter than any other subject.

Aside from missed schedule dates, the failure of outsourced product development is probably the next most common problem encountered.  Quite often, and superficially, blame for problems is placed on the outsourced developers.  Realistically, most reputable outsourcing firms have the same level of competence.  Many of these companies produce highly successful products while the same companies can also greatly disappoint their customers.  The same resources, but different results can be directly attributed to the requirements documents that they were given and the ongoing involvement of a competent company outsourcing manager.

Outsourcing exacerbates the situation because the outsourced group does not necessarily have familiarity or insight into the customer’s business.  Their only guidance comes from the documents they are given and the feedback, if any, during the development process.  Even with internal development, the problem can exist due to the same lack of requirements and management.  In that case, the internal customer is likely to blame the development team for their constant delays when, in fact, they were not provided with the adequate information.

Inadequate requirements and/or their external review and management are not done intentionally.  Either there is a false assumption that there is no time for the requirement phase and the development needs to start immediately.  Or, it is assumed that the “bright engineers” will be able to figure out what do to on their own.  When expressed in these terms, the fallacy of both assumptions is obvious.  However, both situations occur all too frequently.  The time and effort to document and manage the process is always worth it in the long run. 

The average life expectancy of a butterfly is one month.  Unfortunately, the impact of inadequate or poorly managed requirements can last for years.


Article Number : 6.020201   

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