[unrev-II] Big Projects Usually Fail

From: Dick Karpinski (dick@cfcl.com)
Date: Tue Jan 25 2000 - 00:14:12 PST

From: Dick Karpinski <dick@cfcl.com>

Some of you may not understand this, but literally most multi-million
dollar computer projects actually fail and are thrown away. The best
solution to this horrible state of affairs that I know of is the one
Tom Gilb suggests in "Principles of Software Engineering Management".
He demands that such projects be done in twenty to fifty sub parts,
each of which is delivered and used and tested while the next is being
implemented. This reduces the cost of failures to a maximum of five
percent of the project, per failure. Using such a scheme, you will not
ever see a total failure after 180 percent of allocated resources have
been consumed.

Therefor, I suggest that we seek as many useful sub-projects with tiny
costs and significant payoffs, that fit into the chosen general plan,
as we can. We should pay special attention to short term, low cost
efforts. I will have a few to suggest, such as the Idea Farm, which I
claim can be implemented in some useful form within a week by a single
person or a team of two or three.

Permit no one to avoid facing reality often by claiming that we should
leave them alone for two years, we're gonna love the system. We won't.
Besides it'll be two years out of date. I call it the big bang theory
of programming. In general, success in such plans requires more miracles
than can be collected by a determined crew in two years.

Perhaps it should be compared to the wrong way to get to New Orleans on
the Mississippi River. We do not give the helm to a man who measures
very carefully the direction to the destination and ties the rudder.
Instead, we require a captain who will be continually correcting her
course to keep the boat in the navigable part of the river, and even
avoid running into other boats. We laugh derisively at the first, for
we know in our bones that his plan will fail.


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