This Software Method Doesn’t Work Here

I’ve never heard a good cook say, “this recipe doesn’t work here.”

What if a cook follows a recipe to the letter, and it turns out that the result is not what the cook expected? Can he say that the recipe failed to “work”?

A recipe is just piece of text, nothing more. You cannot say “The recipe doesn’t work,” because the recipe doesn’t do any labor. The cook is the one who does all the work.

If the cook doesn’t get what he expected, my guess is that he’s just an inexperienced cook. Maybe he didn’t compensate for the bigger-than-average eggs that he used, or the hotter-than-average oven, or the low temperature in the kitchen, or the bland taste of the cheap spices he got from the supermarket.

“The recipe doesn’t work here” is probably just an excuse for “I didn’t work to understand how to adapt to local circumstances and make the recipe work.”


What if someone says “this software method doesn’t work here”?

Jurgen is an experienced author, trainer, and speaker. Why don’t you hire him to add some spice to your company event or seminar?

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  • Verneri Åberg

    Good point and i do see what you’re thinking, but what about simply bad recipes. Like the ones used to make “food” in Fear Factor.
    Of course if the cooks tries to use those for a fine dinner there is problem with the cook too, but still you could argue that the recipe isn’t too good for most occasions.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Good point. I’m sure there are bad recipes. But I’m also sure there are many more bad cooks than bad recipes. 😉

  • Alexandru Bolboacă

    What about the kitchen and the tools? Don’t they matter?
    I cook also, so I know they do.
    And a counter argument: we should all use CMMI, Six Sigma or waterfall with this reasoning 😀

  • Eric Laramee

    Great analogy! And as with all analogies, they have their limits. I just tend to shy away from the word “recipe” when working with teams.

  • 78mgb

    I also like that you point out needing to occasionally adapt the recipe, and that that too takes talent and thoughtfulness.
    Usually adapting doesn’t mean leaving out…usually. It may sometimes mean substitution, but you would never simply leave the eggs out of an omelet recipe because “we don’t use eggs here” or “we’ve never used eggs here before”.
    Buy the eggs, try the recipe, did it work? Could it be better? What could we change to make it work here? Maybe substitute egg-beaters, extra-large, organic, or whatever is going to increase your value or recipe quality.
    Great analogy 🙂 Of course now I’m hungry…

  • Bonniea

    In the realm of cookbook publishing, there is a concept of recipe testing – if a reasonable person follows this recipe as written, does the end result come out as the author expected?
    I agree about the bad cooks analogy – as soon as you buy the cookbook, the recipe is a guide.

  • Arne Åhlander

    Interesting analogy. You should also take a look at the inspiring writing by Ron Jeffries:

  • Jurgen Appelo

    There _are_ some potentially good recipes that are badly presented. 🙂

  • Edwin van Dijk

    Hmmm, indeed food for thought. I do believe that recipes have contextual restraints that even good cooks can’t ignore. See what happens when you start serving a nice fat t-bone steak in a vegetarian restaurant. Good recipe + good cook = angry customers.

  • Dave225

    I had a similar reaction – you can follow a recipe to the letter, but if you have a recipe for cake and you think you’re going to end up with fish, it won’t come out as expected.
    Interesting analogy, but I think I have a reflex when I hear the word “Recipe”. Maybe because culture doesn’t fit into a measuring cup!

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  • MarkWSchumann

    If by “here” you mean this team with this mission, it’s certainly possible for a given software method to not work “here.”
    E.g., the method is RUP but I have three very sharp C++ developers. Overkill.
    E.g., the method is TDD but the environment simply doesn’t support testing hooks.
    E.g., the method is any kind of Agile but the management is not willing to yield any degree of control.
    The contrary assertion to “this method won’t work here” must be “this method will work here,” and your claim is global. I don’t think you can support “this method will work everywhere” though.

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