Why Software will Always be Hard, Part 2

My last post on Why Software will Always be Hard got me thinking about the implications for the software team that wants to create value (i.e., be worth more than they cost). If the bar is constantly being raised on what is considered commodity, then the software team creating value, must continue to get better in order to continue to deliver more next year than they did this year.


In the graph above, I’ve depicted the drive toward higher and higher expectations as the blue line. The green line represents the delivery level of the  high-performing team. The space between the two lines represents the value created by that team. In order to continue to deliver value, it must continue to innovate to deliver more for less.

While the commodity line drives steadily upward, the innovation line sometimes plateaus and may even drop prior to new increases. Innovation always brings risk and sometimes they will reduce your output before improving it. This is why even the high-performing team must continue to look for and expect improvements in its processed and technologies.

Why Software will Always be Hard

There is a funny thing about the software business… people expect that building great software should be getting easier. On the surface, that seems like a reasonable expectation. Software is a maturing field. The tools and technology are improving rapidly. The money to be made is attracting bright and capable people. So, why does making great software seem just as hard as it ever was?

There are two market forces working together to ensure that making software will be hard for a long time—at least as long as software will be worth building.

Market Forces

The first force in play is the fact that as soon as technology improves to allow us to build today’s software more efficiently and effectively, the market will raise the expectation of what it will pay for.

The second force in play is that the world is flat. This is especially true in the software business. Unlike automobiles and silly bands, software incurs no shipping costs; so the market of suppliers is truly global.


Those two market forces mean that as soon as a certain level of software functionality becomes easy to provide reliably (think on-time with no bugs), there is such a large supply of providers that no one will pay enough for that software to make a company profitable. Any software company (or department) that wishes to make a profit is going to have to provide something more: better integration to more complex systems; unseen functionality levels; innovative new platforms;  more immersive experiences, etc.

That pushing of the envelope means that software will be hard as long as there is any money to be made in it. My dad used to say to me “Eric, if it was easy, anyone could do it.” And if anyone could do it, it hardly ever pays well.