Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Q: What is the first rule of software development?

A: Making software is expensive.

I learned this lesson from one of my former employers, Cap Gemini. Cap Gemini is a very, very big IT consulting company—worldwide, if not intergalactic. The rule at Cap was, “software is expensive; if the client cannot understand this, pass on the work”.

Very few places can pull off making software on the cheap. I’ve seen a few. Usually these places are staffed by about 4 developers that are very, very, very good. They’ve been there, done that and know that even the easy stuff is hard. These types of developers know what to build and what to buy. They don’t have to ask a lot of questions because they have most of the answers. And usually, they’ve learned by burning through a bunch of money on other projects that never saw the light of day.

But, as I’ve said, such situations are rare.

Everybody else just has to bite the bullet and accept that fact that making code is a high risk game that costs lots of bucks

In fact, a good case can be made that the less the product sells for, the more expensive it is to make.

Take Windows for example. You can buy a copy of Vista Home Basic for around $200, or get it for “free” when you buy a new machine. Do you have any idea how much it took to make Vista? $10 billion dollars is one estimate. In other words:

$1 of product price = $50,000,000 development cost

Or to put it more concretely:

A single iTunes download (purchase price) = three and a half F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft (development cost)

And this is a product that you pay for. Think of the cost for the stuff that’s given away for nothing…. like Internet Explorer, or Google’s Chrome.

In the case of Microsoft, the company has been making software for twenty years. Although their products may be of questionable quality, you have to think that they learned something along the way about cost control and development efficiency. Believe me, these guys know that you can’t make software on the cheap.

And still the streets are strewn with the carcasses of development projects and web sites that started with an attractive lowest bid or a sales pitch that sounded soooooo good. And then, once the really expensive talent is brought in to resuscitate the mess of dead code that the dream left behind, the truth sets in. Making software is expensive, always has been, always will be.

So the next time you hear of a project that has an operating budget that is not at least 50% more than the estimates, print off this page, and cut along the dotted line below.

Experience has shown time and time again:


Don't be fooled otherwise!


Blogger CALA said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:07 AM  
Blogger CALA said...

Hi, I liked your point of view. I worked in ParqueSoft (www.parquesoft.com) here in Cali, Colombia. We gather como than 200 entreprenours around the s-w indsutry. We are building an ecosystem. We are totally convinced of the small cells (No more than 5)to develop software under an agile methodology. The point is that productivity has been measured by SEI and it is said that in average a person works only 3 hours !!. Under this statement s-w is expensive !. Our advantages are the way we work out sqa (s-w quality assurance) and our lower wages. We are working a lot in finding creative ways to improve performance & quality. At the end is the driver of the total cost.

6:52 AM  
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