L.B.S Raccoon describes the basics of learning curves in a great article in the Proceedings from the 1996 ACM SIGSOFT Conference (“A Learning Curve Primer for Software Engineers“). A key point we often refuse to believe: learning curves go down and start at the top, so you actually want them to be as steep as possible to get back to parity and start process improvement.
Raccoon points out that all people learn. If you create a stable process, people will continue to improve it on their own. It’s just what we do.
Of course, that’s incremental improvement and you may actually hit a bottleneck that needs removing before it gets much better. He covers these problems, too.
All in all very good primer on learning curves and how they apply to the ROI for software, and how learning curves explain good management practices for software development teams. Never take people off a team, since they are just beginning to understand the project. Projects always bog down at the end because it took that long for the developers to figure out the project and they just realized what it really takes to do it. We all go through this unconsciously (or perhaps simply unconscious).
Image Credit: Training in China for the AP1000 reactor. Nuclear Regulatory Commission