Have we learned from classic mistakes, or are we continuing the cycle?
Published 14 January 09 01:38 PM | TechLeaders
While doing content research for TechLeaders I came across an interesting list that describes some of the people-related classic mistakes in the software industry. The article was broken down into people, process, product and technology. Over the next several posts we will be sharing each category.
Please keep in mind that the studies and list are pre-2000 (thus classic), but we are interested to see if managers have learned from these "classics", or is history bound to repeat itself.
First Topic of the 4 part series:
Undermined motivation. Study after study has shown that motivation probably has a larger effect on productivity and quality than any other factor (Boehm 1981). In Case Study 3-1, management took steps that undermined morale throughout the project--from giving a hokey pep talk at the beginning to requiring overtime in the middle and going on a long vacation while the team worked through the holidays to providing bonuses that work out to less than a dollar per overtime hour at the end.
Weak personnel. After motivation, either the individual capabilities of the team members or their relationship as a team probably has the greatest influence on productivity (Boehm 1981, Lakhanpal 1993). Hiring from the bottom of the barrel will threaten a rapid development effort. In the case study, personnel selections were made with an eye toward who could be hired fastest instead of who would get the most work done over the life of the project. That practice gets the project off to a quick start but doesn't set it up for rapid completion.
Heroics. Some software developers place a high emphasis on project heroics, thinking that the certain kinds of heroics can be beneficial (Bach 1995). But I think that emphasizing heroics in any form usually does more harm than good. In the case study, mid-level management placed a higher premium on can-do attitudes than on steady and consistent progress and meaningful progress reporting. The result was a pattern of scheduling brinkmanship in which impending schedule slips weren't detected, acknowledged, or reported up the management chain until the last minute. A small development team held an entire company hostage because they wouldn't admit that they were having trouble meeting their schedule. An emphasis on heroics encourages extreme risk taking and discourages cooperation among the many stakeholders in the software-development process.
Some managers encourage this behavior when they focus too strongly on can-do attitudes. By elevating can-do attitudes above accurate-and-sometimes-gloomy status reporting, such project managers undercut their ability to take corrective action. They don't even know they need to take corrective action until the damage has been done. As Tom DeMarco says, can-do attitudes escalate minor setback into true disasters (DeMarco 1995).
Friction between developers and customers. Friction between developers and customers can arise in several ways. Customers may feel that developers are not cooperative when they refuse to sign up for the development schedule that the customers want, or when they fail to deliver on their promises. Developers may feel that customers unreasonably insisting on unrealistic schedules or requirements changes after requirements have been baselined. There might simply be personality conflicts between the two groups.
The primary effect of this friction is poor communication, and the secondary effects of poor communication include poorly understood requirements, poor user-interface design, and, in the worst case, customers' refusing to accept the completed product. On average, friction between customers and software developers is so severe that both parties consider canceling the project (Jones 1994). Such friction is time-consuming to overcome, and it distracts both customers and developers from the real work of the project.
Unrealistic expectations. One of the most common causes of friction between developers and their customers or managers is unrealistic expectations. In Case Study 3-1, Bill had no reason to think that the Giga-Quote program could be developed in six months except for the fact that the company needed it in that amount of time. Mike's failure to correct that unrealistic expectation was a major source of problems. In other cases, project managers or developers ask for trouble by getting funding based on overly optimistic schedule estimates. Sometimes they promise a pie-in-the-sky feature set. Although unrealistic expectations do not in themselves lengthen development schedules, they contribute to the perception that development schedules are too long, and that can be almost as bad. A Standish Group survey listed realistic expectations as one of the top five factors needed to ensure the success of an in-house business-software project (Standish Group 1994).
Lack of effective project sponsorship. High-level project sponsorship is necessary to support many aspects of rapid development including realistic planning, change control, and the introduction of new development practices. Without an effective project sponsor, other high-level personnel in your organization can force you to accept unrealistic deadlines or make changes that undermine your project. Australian consultant Rob Thomsett argues that lack of an effective project sponsor virtually guarantees project failure (Thomsett 1995).
Lack of stakeholder buy-in. All of the major players in a software-development effort must buy in to the project. That includes the executive sponsor, team leader, team members, marketing, end-users, customers, and anyone else who has a stake in it. The close cooperation that occurs only when you have complete buy-in from all stakeholders allows for precise coordination of a rapid development effort that is impossible to attain without good buy-in.
Politics placed over substance. Larry Constantine reported on four teams that had four different kinds of political orientations (Constantine 1995a). "Politicians" specialized in "managing up," concentrating on relationships with their managers. "Researchers" concentrated on scouting out and gathering information. "Isolationists" kept to themselves, creating project boundaries that they kept closed to non-team members. "Generalists" did a little bit of everything: they tended their relationships with their managers, performed research and scouting activities, and coordinated with other teams through the course of their normal work flow. Constantine reported that initially the political and generalist teams were both well regarded by top management. But after a year and a half, the political team was ranked dead last. Putting politics over results is fatal to speed-oriented development.