In the economic or business context, a widget is a generic word for a manufactured good or unit. Not surprisingly, the software industry has widely adopted the term in reference to small applications. If you Google the word you’ll find that Apple and Yahoo! use the term for their small desktop applications.
In fact, this isn’t the only concept that the software industry borrowed from manufacturing. This may astonish many of you, but the term Agile, relating to production, was actually first employed in the manufacturing industry in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Companies that used “agile manufacturing” were those willing to think outside the box and that had taken major steps in becoming more customer-focused (McClellan, 2002). Agile software development stems directly from this lean approach to production. What’s interesting is that the “agile methodology” has been widely accepted by this industry; if you search for the term in online book stores, you’ll find thousands of results, even just within the IT related categories.
However, the agile methodology is really part of the broader concepts of lean and total quality management (TQM) that W Edwards Deming and others have pioneered and that have lead to the quality revolution in Japan. In fact, the astounding success of the Japanese private industry (e.g.: Toyota) was largely attributed to the production process quality, rather than research and development, through process innovation (Peach et. al, 2005).
Within TQM you’ll find statistical process control (SPC), which consists in monitoring process performance and variability through the statistical analysis of sample production data (Chase, Jacobs, Aquilano, 2006). Since processes are subject to natural and external variations, some of the core objectives of SPC consist in recognizing, quantifying, controlling and reducing process variations (Does, Schippers, Trip, 1997). Although such control methods may bring substantial benefits to service organizations, including increased efficiency and higher customer satisfaction, SPC doesn’t appear to yet have effectively made its way in the service industry (Roes, Dorr, 1997).
From such lessons, software organizations should look at defining organizational goals that aim at providing total quality to customers by systematically reducing waste, as well as continuously improving the organization as a whole through skills improvement, efficiency, and quality. To achieve this, organizations should look at defining and implementing processes that are:
- Inline with organizational and customer goals
- Lean and efficient
- Measurable and Adaptable
Word of Caution
If you look at the automotive industry, where companies such as Toyota and Honda have largely dominated the market in terms of customer satisfaction, software organizations should be wary of what may come in the next years. Are Indian and Chinese based software companies the next Japanese quality revolution? In my opinion, absolutely! We’ve pumped billions of dollars in software outsourcing and with such an immense pool of skilled individuals I don’t see why or how the software industry won’t suffer from a similar blow.
I’ll be posting another article soon on this topic. Specifically on how to measure the software process.
Chase, R. B., Jacobs, F. R., & Aquilano, N. J. (2006). Operations management for competitive advantage (11th ed). New York: McGraw Hill/Irwin.
Does, R., Schippers, W., Trip, A. (1997). A framework for implementation of statistical process control, International Journal of Quality Science, 2(3), pp.181-198
McClellan, M. (2002). Collaborative Manufacturing: Using Real-Time Information to Support the Supply Chain (Hardcover), CRC Press
Roes, K., Dorr, D. (1997). Implementing statistical process control in service processes, International Journal of Quality Science, 2(3), p.149-166
Peach, H., Emeagwali, G., Wilson, F., Borisov, V., Dutta, D., Nakayama, S., Lins, R., Teixeira, M., Robbins, R. (2005). “technology in history” Science, Technology, and Society. Oxford University Press, Oxford Reference Online, Retrieved 21 October 2009 from http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t210.e110-s6