Schools are bracing themselves for more problems with Novopay just days out from another education pay round.
With many new school staff joining the pay roll and some big issues showing up on pay reports, worries about Novopay’s competence are second only to schools’ concerns about their budgets.
At Mount Eden Normal School in Auckland, the balance available for spending on staff has swung from $10,000 in credit, to tens of thousands in debt.
When things go wrong with big software engineering projects, it’s often hard to explain to non-technical people why the damn thing is so hard to resolve. Why not just throw people and money at it? Hire more staff? Sack the managers and bring in someone competent, etc. The answer to those questions is Brooks’ Law.
Imagine that the Novopay system is a gigantic factory filled with tens of thousands of complex machines, all interlinked and interdependent on each other. Because that’s basically what it is, it’s just built in computer code instead of bricks and steel. If you make a small change to, say, the machine that calculates holiday pay, that change can have a massive impact on the entire factory. It could short out all the power. It could also have a very subtle impact that causes problems over the long term – like an error in calculating long service leave.
So if you have ten software engineers all fixing problems at once, they’re going to spend a lot of time talking to each other, and testing their changes to make sure they don’t cause problems in other parts of the system. And if you hire another ten engineers, all you’ve done is increase the amount of communication and testing that needs to be performed.
Software development companies know all of this stuff. It’s why they conduct extensive testing and often ship products months, or sometimes even years late. Because they’re aware that if they ship a faulty product something like the Novopay fiasco will happen. But Talent2 isn’t a software development company – they’re a recruitment company that decided to branch out into software development.
I guess the lesson here is that they call it software engineering for a reason. If you were building a real bricks n’ mortar factory you wouldn’t hire an HR company who’d never built anything before, and if half of the test subjects told you that a real factory wasn’t ready you wouldn’t ignore them and switch it on anyway. (I acknowledge that it’s possible Craig Foss and Hekia Parata would actually do both of those things.)