Klaus Breyer Tech Leadership, Product Delivery & Startup Strategy.

Outsourced Engineering: Painting By Numbers Kills Product Innovation

Most groundbreaking ideas bubble up directly from those closest to the technology. Why?

Writing Software is not a manufacturing process. It is not about “producing” anything. The written code is a byproduct. Software Engineering is a design process, the essential design process of solving problems and building a product.

Software engineers discover their real tasks only by starting to do real work. Sometimes, they even discover something that prohibits or boosts the value provided to the user.

So, empowered engineers in a product team must be part of the discovery and shaping phases. They are front and central to problem-solving. They are closest to the tech and, therefore, to the tech solution.

When coding becomes a task divorced from the broader vision, it’s no more innovative than painting by numbers. You don’t need an artist for that. Even worse, engineers who work too long in a “just give me my tickets with acceptance criteria” mindset eventually stop thinking. For them, it becomes more important to have hourlong refinement sessions to discuss and complain than to solve a customer’s problem.

Insourced engineers pay for themself, manifold.

If the engineers’ proximity to the problem space is removed, their lever is removed. Even worse, any chance of building a successful product team is removed.

Not even “agile” can help then.

Update, 2024-05-03: In the LinkedIn discussion for this blog post, a fascinating Swedish neologism came to light: “närkodat.” It stems from the term “närodlat,” used in grocery stores to describe locally grown products. So, “närkodat” refers to local or close software developers, emphasizing the value of proximity in engineering just as it is in agriculture.