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Uncommon Sense (for Software)

This blog has been moved to www.UncommonSenseForSoftware.com.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The power of suggestion

Big fat books have been written on the subject of delivering software on time. Expensive courses are offered. You can actually go get your Masters Degree in Project Management. The success rate of software projects still stinks: sitting somewhere around the 30% mark.

I don't know of any other kind of business project that fails as often as software projects do. The strange thing is, people in the biz seem to know why they get off track, they just haven't figured out what to do about it! If you ask anyone in the software biz why projects fall off track, they'd tell you:

- Changing requirements
- Bad time estimates
- People getting pulled off the project to go do other work
- Etc.

If so many people know the text-book reasons that software projects run off the tracks, then why the unbelievable failure rate?

I think it's the power of suggestion. People want to believe they can get it done faster than they really can. They want to believe that they can keep playing with requirements after the schedule is set and the developers are off to the races, and they want to believe that the software keeps getting built even while the whole team is taken off to go help the Sales department figure out their new CRM system. So they keep telling themselves, "I think I can, I think I can...", until they actually become convinced of it.

So countless software project managers run off trying to come up with a Gantt chart that, while structurally sound, has no chance of ever being implemented on time. They've fallen victim to the trap of drawing out what they want to believe will happen, rather than what statistics and experience should be telling them will actually happen.

The tools don't help either. They say that people that give-in to addictive personalities are called "enablers". Like, if you take your alcoholic friend to a bar, then you're an "enabler". You're supposedly partly to blame for your friend falling off the wagon (or is it jumping back on the wagon again? I can't remember). If that's the case, then today's project management tools are enablers of bad schedules and failed projects. They show you want you want to see, not what will actually happen. Tsk. Tsk. Those pesky tools should know better. Countless failed schedules have been typed into those bloody tools and a few good ones too. You'd think by now they'd be able to stop you from making the same mistakes over and over again, by saying, "Ahem. Did you think about this?", and, "Um, I can tell you from your history that this schedule is just not going to work. Try this, that and the other."

What we really need are virtual project management Nanny's that slap us when we forget to build in vacations, sick time, holidays (the basics), and coach us with their vast historical references by telling us that on average, Suzy Queue is off her time estimates by 30% and Little Boy Blue always gets called off the project for at least 5 days each month to go help lead customers - so build that into your schedule! Reading a book once and subsequently forgetting it doesn't work. Neither does going to that annual conference in Las Vegas on Project Management. It's got to be in the tool, in your face, all the time.

We want to believe so badly that we suppress our experience and in some cases, actual historical data from our own environment so that we get the Gantt chart that makes us all feel good. Unless it's staring us in the face every time we look at that Gantt chart, we conveniently overlook the things that kill us every time.

If only there were such a tool. Wouldn't that be nice.


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