Happy 20th Birthday to “Managing the Design Factory”

Happy 20th Birthday to “Managing the Design Factory”

birthday cake candles

Managing the Design Factory” by Donald G. Reinertsen was first published 20 years ago, and its tools, techniques and message are still relevant today.

In software delivery, Scrum and agile are not mandatory. I find it useful to remember this, since I often find myself in conversations with people who are interested in the successes and risk mitigations that Scrum enables. As a Scrum Master, understanding when and how Scrum can be successful helps me make responsible and informed recommendations. Yes, it’s true, I don’t always recommend Scrum, but I do always recommend that people learn more about it, try it and then decide for themselves.

So, I’d like to recommend a book to you, which was itself recommended to me by Mike Cohn when I attended his product owner training in London last year. If you have not read it, then I hope the following brief review will encourage you to do so.

First published in 1997, in the early days of Scrum and before the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was created, “Managing the Design Factory” takes a ground up, economic value-driven view of software development. It will be of interest to senior IT and business managers, product owners, Scrum Masters and anyone else with an interest in the history of software.

It contains no explicit references to agile or Scrum, but it does contain clear expositions of process design that can be seen in the Scrum Guide. I have found the beautifully concise Scrum Guide to be enriched by the detailed and soundly reasoned explanations in “Managing the Design Factory.”

Each chapter is clearly and methodically written, and simple but effective planning and estimation tools are provided. This allows the reader to systematically acquire the knowledge and techniques that will enable them to make the best decisions possible when designing the process best suited to their own particular business requirement for software.

Some of the key messages I have taken, and which we hold in our minds when we enact Scrum, are:

  • The purpose of the design process is to make money. In addition, we need to understand where in the process value is being added or taken away. This is manifested in Scrum’s product backlog, where there is constant review of value and priorities.
  • Manufacturing process design and software development process design require different approaches. In fact, applying manufacturing quality standards to software not only removes the potential value of the software, it reduces software quality. It is worth remembering that there are still national and global enterprises whose software delivery processes are based on manufacturing process rules.
  • In the software delivery process, where there is risk, there is also potential value.
  • Development of small increments of software product release business value more quickly. As I am sure we all know, the delivery of regular, valuable software is a core agile principle.

“Managing the Design Factory” addresses manufacturing process design, firmware process design and software process design. This breadth provides excellent context for the reader to understand what is different about the design of the processes as well as the management of the people involved in software development. This knowledge will help managers decide if Scrum and agile could work for them.

For those of us who are already convinced of the benefits and value of Scrum, this book may help you understand why Scrum works and thus may also help you explain it to others – something I find myself doing almost daily.

Reading this book has made me a more informed, more confident and more effective Scrum Master. So, thank you, “Managing the Design Factory,” and Happy 20th Birthday!

Have you read “Managing the Design Factory,” or any of Donald G. Reinertsen’s other books? What did you think? Let me know in the comments section below.


Ted Morris Dawson is a Scrum Master at Sopra Steria, helping to transform the ways of doing business by practising and mentoring others in the rules of Scrum and principles of agile.

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