Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Comic-book software projects

If software projects were comic-book characters they would NOT be Dilbert, nor would they be ugly beasts with two heads and dripping slime. Instead they would be insidious, vicious, but mostly normally proportioned human beings, with a exterior veneer of smooth style and a hidden core of vile aggression.

Put another way, software projects can be compared to one of two sports (sorry if you only follow US sports): rugby, a thug's game played by gentlemen; or football (soccer), a gentlemen's game, played by thugs. Which you get depends on the vendor you pick, but that's another story.

Does this mean I don't like software project? No.

It does mean that I treat software projects (either the implementation of products or the deployment of customer systems) with the utmost respect. I know they can bite. I've been bitten in previous lives, and I would never trust a software professional who won't admit to having been involved in (but of course was never leading) a software project that hadn't failed fairly spectacularly. You learn from these failures, not so much from the successes.

Software projects make for an interesting challenge. For the uninitiated, trust me when I tell you that this is not like dealing with some other services vendor your company may employ to get stuff done. Software is unpredictable at the best of times. So if you don't really know the rules of that particular game, expect that the other team - the inanimate software, not the software vendor itself - will get the better of you.

The moral of this comic-book tale? If you don't know the software industry well, find an expert who can help you run that project your are planning, or at least set best-practices upfront and track the milestones for it throughout. We cost more after a project is already on the way down the tubes.

Alternatively, don't run a software project at all. Use prepackaged, ready to run solutions based on software that is already running, hosted and maintained by a single vendor (the software as a server, or SaaS model). When the solution you need is already running and just needs you to set up account, there is a lot less to go wrong.

A post from the Improving It blog

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