Digital craftsmanship

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During the restoration of the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, the expert teams are learning every day about the craftsmanship of its builders. All over the world, magnificent buildings demonstrate the work of large groups of craftsmen and craftswomen. Each of them has learned, grown their skills and practiced until they were capable of delivering these masterpieces. Today as well, we need digital craftsmanship.

We rely on relatively small teams to build solutions that will serve and impact large groups of people. Some of these solutions are highly impacting our lives and we have grown to depend on them. These solutions can make or break organizations.

But in our world with continuous and fast-pace change, who has still time to grow craftsmanship? The majority of our digital builders is working with technology that is very recent. And tomorrow they’ll need to be ready to work with again new solutions and technologies. Malcolm Gladwell stated in his book Outliers that to become an expert, requires 10000 hours of practice. Who has this time available?

Does that mean that digital craftsmanship is impossible? Obviously not. All over the world, people are building the digital equivalents of cathedrals, magnificent digital solutions that bring great value to our society (although I don’t expect many of them to be still around after centuries).

To start with, we don’t rely on individual craftsmanship. Agile and DevOps have rightfully advocated the value of multi-disciplinary teams. We don’t need individuals who master every aspect. What we need is team members who bring their specific expertise into the team and who can easily connect with the expertise of the others in the team. This does not come naturally. We need to think about the combined craftsmanship that we require to build the solution. If needed, this can be injected in the team by engaging external experts. At organization level we do the same. We grow partnerships to obtain the combined digital craftsmanship that we need.

Craftsmanship is not only about knowledge and expertise. It’s also a mindset. It’s not about just building something that works. It’s about aspiring to deliver high quality solutions. Solutions that amaze, solutions that survive complex conditions, solutions that are valuable.

This requires discipline. As digitals craftsmen and women, we need to have a critical mindset about both what we are building and how we build them. We should know the difference between a good solution and a bad solution. Without a profound knowledge about this difference, it is impossible to know which of both we have delivered. We should critically examine technologies and architectures to understand how to properly apply them. Before jumping in and start building, we need to reflect about what we will build, what high-quality will look like and how we can assess that we have delivered. This requires some restraint at the start. After all, we want to see progress fast, right? But spending this time and energy at the start will easily repay itself later on.

Building craftsmanship does require time. In our fast-going economy we get rushed to deliver. Let’s however continue to spend time to learn, experiment and discuss. It’s not a marathon, not a sprint. So as digital craftsmen and women, it’s important that we take time to get inspired as well as to grow our expertise. Connecting with fellow craftsmen and women is one of the best ways to achieve this.

And let’s not forget. Craftsmanship is also about being proud of the solutions that we have built. That’s a noble intent to start each day of digital craftsmanship!

Bart Vanparys

About

Bart has carried many titles in his 20 year career. He’s been an analyst, tester, quality assurance consultant, test manager, project manager, BI developer, quality manager, change manager, CoE lead, program quality lead… A constant has been his search for ways to deliver value through IT solutions in a controlled and safe manner.

More on Bart Vanparys.

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