The Killer Difference between Mechanical Engineering and Software Engineering

I always run into the same discussions when it comes to project management and quality assurance in software development. Some people (mostly people without technical background in software development) do not really understand why classic project management and quality assurance methods fail in software development. Here is the killer argument why this does not work:

In hardware engineering for each piece of hardware product the same procedure is applied repeatedly. In software  the procedure is applied once and then the product is copied.

This is now my killer argument in most discussions related to that topic to stop discussions why these methods do fail. The difference should be easy to understand. For a deeper understanding, I explain a little more:

  1. Hardware engineering has a lot of physical constraints which limit the choices and there for timelines are more predictable.
  2. In hardware engineering it is not so easy to define new requirements and the requirements do not change on regular basis like in software development. A car needs to go fast and safe, but it is not to be intended to dive from one day to another. Nobody would think about requesting something like this and expects the car to be able to dive in the next release within a short period of time. For software it is a common pattern, because it is just easily put in, there is only some code to be written…
  3. In hardware production, due to its repeating nature, one can track cp and cpk values and drive the process to engineering. After some prototypes (which are fixed manually later or disposed), the production process is optimized and controlled. The products become better in quality over time due to continuous improvements. That’s classic quality assurance. For software: A product is produced once (and hopefully well tested), but shipped not just once, but up to thousands of time until a bug is reported. Hardware products are all a kind of special. Software is copied.

In this way, I could go on. I just take the classic methodologies and apply them to software development with the difference in mind.

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