Sunday, November 10, 2013

3. The Law of Raspberry Jam

«The Law of Raspberry Jam: The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets.» —Gerald M. Weinberg

As Gerald M. Weinberg said in his work The Secrets of Consulting about The Law of Raspberry Jam: «Another way of expressing the law is this: Influence or affluence; take your choice.» That is, the wider the audience, the more money you can make. Based on the observed effects so far, maybe we could know which has been the choice of the authors of ideas like the agile methods. I am glad they chose to spread their ideas; otherwise, maybe, I could not hear anything about such wonderful ones.

After some years studying about the philosophical problem of knowledge, I think that the choice of influence —as in The Law of Raspberry Jam, alternatively expressed— is exclusively a personal one. That is, I have received my part of jam, as thinner as it could be; now it is my choice to make it thick by means of self-influence: by personally researching the subject matter in order to get the more jam as I could possibly grasp.

For example, in my own research efforts, one of my null hypothesis is that the actual properties of the outcome of a non-trivial software development effort is an epistemic problem; that is, the actual properties of the outcome cannot be known until such outcome is actually experienced by its ultimate customers or end users; most previously conceived rationalizations must be doubted and put to rigorous empirical examination. Another null hypothesis is that the previous one will continually be true indefinitely because of the problem-solution coevolution model of design, where the sole presence of a solution to a complex problem —or a subset of the solution— redefines such a problem.

A trait of my provisional conclusions is that the very activity of software development for non-trivial projects is an activity of inquiry, of an experimental nature. This is true regardless past, current and future buzzwords because most of them, e.g., agile, are not intended to bring new knowledge but just new wrappings for already conceived and published ideas of the past. Part of the support for such conclusions can be traced in the works by early authors in our field, e.g., Gerald M. Weinberg, Frederick P. Brooks, Jr.

The practice of discussing these topics in communities of inquiry, and learning from the feedback, is another way to self-influence.

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