Software is both driving and disrupting business in today’s world. Software is being developed at a record-breaking pace to run almost everything, from startups to government organizations to publicly traded companies. The constant evolution of technology has had a significant impact on how businesses operate today. As the race to be first to market with the next best product or service heats up, considerations about the social implications of these systems and gadgets are frequently overlooked.
Technology developed by companies like YouTube and Volkswagen, for example, has had and continues to have a significant impact on society. YouTube has influenced how people create, share, and consume video content for more than a decade. In the same way, it isn’t easy to imagine a world without Volkswagen automobiles, as the company has been a mainstay since the early twentieth century. That is why rogue incidents such as YouTube’s controversial recommended videos incident featured conspiracy theories, partisan viewpoints, misleading videos, or Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, which “duped” the standards have such a significant social impact. Could we come to distrust innovations that could, in the end, help people all over the world live better lives and connect?
Due to the pressure to meet deadlines and sell products, delivery teams may overlook security, unit, integration, and performance tests, which can help to eliminate bugs and other issues. This can result in “bad” software going rogue in the hands of the general public. Indeed, a New York Times article revealed Silicon Valley’s “build it first, ask for forgiveness later” mentality, which has grown in part due to pressure from CEOs, board members, and other company stakeholders who want to be first-to-market with their products.
This mindset exemplifies why tech companies need a code of ethics for software delivery to ensure that their intentions are good-willed when delivering products. While a single standardized code of ethics (similar to the Hippocratic Oath in the medical profession) could be a solution for the software industry, it’s also critical to teach delivery teams how to ask the right questions when evaluating the implications of emerging innovations. The ethics question may differ for different organizations, leaning more toward an individual, organizational view than a global one.
This movement is already underway in academia. A new course on the ethics and laws of artificial intelligence is being offered jointly by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Texas at Austin recently launched its Ethical Foundations of Computer Science course, and Stanford University is developing a computer science ethics course for next year.
While more ethics education is undoubtedly required, it must also be integrated into a broader professional standard. In the absence of an international standardized code of ethics, one immediate solution that organizations can implement is to foster a culture of ethics among their delivery teams. This means that all stakeholders have agreed to be open and honest with one another about the work they’re doing and the obstacles they face. This way, teams can avoid rushing products to market that may have unintended consequences.
Creating an internal code of ethics is one of the most effective ways for businesses to achieve transparency. Scrum’s five values serve as a foundation for developing an organization’s code of ethics. Scrum is the most widely used Agile framework, having been used by teams delivering software-based products to market since the mid-1990s — essentially almost everything people use in their daily lives. Commitment, courage, focus, openness, and respect are some of the values organizations can use. They can assist in decision-making as well as improve team dynamics.
Not to confuse with committing to a specific delivery date or set of features, commitment refers to the team’s faith in the agile methodology and its values. Many people assume that everyone takes the same approach and starts from the same place. Still, by making the commitment explicit as an individual, team, or organization, everyone starts from the same place.
Members of an organization with courage can speak up and call out unethical management behavior that can affect the produced work. several organizations believe that “if you don’t say anything, the bad decision will go away.” Still, decisions do not go away quickly in today’s globally connected world, so company leaders must act responsibly. Encouragement of transparency among delivery teams leads to ethically positive outcomes for the organization, customers, shareholders, employees, and everyday citizens. It is the entire team’s responsibility, not just management, QA, or executives, to deliver a high-quality product.
Teams are more effective when they collaborate on small sets of customer-driven outcomes rather than working independently. This is why, as they work toward a final product, company leaders should empower their teams to focus on the most important tasks first. Keeping teams focused on one task at a time ensures that only the best resources are used to create a final product that any organization can be proud of.
Company leaders should empower their teams to be open about their work, which helps create transparency in their progress, similar to how they should empower their employees to be committed. When assumptions about how a product should be developed turn out to be incorrect, openness allows team members to admit they were wrong to stakeholders, ask for help, and change course to improve and create a better product. The phrase “fail fast” is frequently used to describe agile approaches, but the correct phrase is “learn fast,” with openness as a prerequisite.
Above all, business leaders should value their employees’ diverse backgrounds, experiences, and skillsets. Respecting team members and assuming they have good intentions can lead to conversations that resolve conflict and improve team performance within an organization. People can fully support company decisions if they feel respected and heard, even if the decision is not their preferred option.
The popular Spiderman adage “with great power comes great responsibility” applies perfectly to the companies that create and release the products that define a society. After all, these products have a daily impact on how people live and interact with one another. This is why big tech companies must take the lead and develop their own ethics code. Product teams are better positioned to deliver amazing software that people can trust when following a code of ethics.