Can a competent developer be undisciplined?

In this article, I talk about the concept of competence. In English, there are two very close concepts: skills and competence. So loot at the following equation:

Competence = Discipline * Skill

A developer with good skills can be unruly and a disciplined developer may not have good skills.

Now, let’s look at the notions of discipline and skills.

The notion of competence

The notion of skills is clear. The notion of discipline probably a lot less. What are we talking about? It’s about following the procedures. In other words, not following the procedures leads to diminishing one’s competence.

The Boomerang effect

This was described by the notion of Boomerang effect introduced by Gerald Weinberg, who says that not following the procedures introduces problems in the delivered product, which triggers emergency situations and causes them to ignore themselves other procedures.

So, where we thought we could save time by not following the procedure, in the end, we lose because we create technical debt.

Weinberg described six levels of maturity describing how processes are selected and applied:

  • Oblivious: “We do not even know that we are following a process.”
  • Variable: “We are doing everything we feel right now.”
  • Routine: “We follow our habits (except when we panic).”
  • Steerin: “We make a choice among our habits according to the results they produce.”
  • Anticipating: “We establish habits based on our experience.”
  • Congruent: “Everybody is involved in improving everything all the time.”

The six levels of Ross Pettit

Ross Pettit introduced six levels, which are: regressive, neutral, collaborative, operating, adaptive and innovating.

The concept of skills

The Japanese concept Shuhari

The Japanese concept Shuhari describes the three stages of martial arts practice: Shu, Ha and Ri.

  • The first level, “Shu”, is to learn the basic techniques, to simply apply what he learns;
  • The second level, “Ha”, consists in understanding the theory behind these techniques, integrating these techniques into one’s practice and learning from other sources;
  • The third level, “Ri”, is to create one’s own approach and adapt what one has learned to the particular circumstances.

The Dreyfus model

The model of Dreyfus models the acquisition of skills. It is based on five stages of competence development: novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient and expert.

Competence = Discipline * Skills

Since the competence is based on both the notion of discipline and skills, the manager must take care that both are maintained and developed.

Indeed, both can be lost:

  • the notion of skills if the developer (or other) does not continually maintain his skills with the appearance of new technologies;
  • the notion of discipline if the developer (or other) is unmotivated or distracted.

In an Agile team, the question of skills is crucial and yet sometimes obscured. The notion of discipline is particularly important in such a team. By understanding these concepts, one understand that a developer with very good skills but a very bad discipline will not make a good candidate to be integrated into an Agile team. Unless the manager manages to make it evolve of course… Hence the importance of being well aware of this subtlety between competence and skills.

Concept from Jurgen Appelo, Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders, Addison-Wesley Professional

More on my blog

My DevOpsTestLab Youtube channel.

My LinkedIn profile:

Interests in the full lifecycle: design, Agile Coaching, development, testing, DevOps, Cloud, Management 3.0, ITIL. It defines me.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store