The next big thing…

… probably won’t save your project.

If you have seen the Gartner hype cycle model you are probably familiar with the terms “Peak of Inflated Expectation” and “Trough of Disillusionment”

Hype Cycle
Gartner Hype Cycle Model

While the hype cycle model itself is heavily debated and criticized, I for one see that a lot of “new things” follow this kind of adoption curve.

But why is that? And why is it so common around things as diverse as programming languages (e.g. Java), Infrastructure (e.g. Build Servers), Methods (e.g. eXtreme Programming) and techniques (e.g. test driven development, TDD) to name a few?

What works for Early Adopters doesn’t have to work for everybody

One reason I have seen for this is the simple fact that tools in the hands of experts can become menaces in the hands of laymen. This is not only true for things like the beautiful Katana (a Japanese sword) a friend of mine inadvertently used to cut an artery in his arm. No worries: he got treated real soon and has no lasting injuries. And the tatami (floor mats) got cleaned as well by now.
But back to the question at hand – other tools are also often quite dangerous in the hands of the “non-expert.” While it is hard to injure yourself on the sharp edge of the Java programming language, it still is quite possible to use it in a harmful way – for example by over-using mechanisms like reflection, a powerful feature that makes it possible to change the program from within while it is running or change the accessibility of parts of the software.

In my experience this is what happens when the tool reaches the “Trough of disillusionment” – badly trained people start cutting themselves too often and the effectiveness of this tool for the masses becomes a subject of discussion.

In Iado (an art of moving the Japanese sword) there are several ways to avoid the self-injury of the novice swordsmen. They either use a Bokken – a wooden sword look-alike – or a Katana-like thing with a blunt edge, the so called Iaito.

This, to me, seems to be what happens, when these tools reach the “plateau of productivity” – they get blunted down to make it harder to injure oneself.

And of course it works. In a way. With their blunted down instruments, it is much easier to let more people with less training do jobs similar to the ones that the early adopters did. Those early adopters whose efficiency with these tools made the tools so compelling.

But there is a drawback – with a Katana you can easily slice through a steel plate (for example). You just can not do that with a Iaito.

So please – if you use the blunted down version of a tool – don’t expect it to still work like the real thing.

Adjust your expectations and always take into account who is wielding the tool.

till next time
  Michael Mahlberg

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