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RE: Bad Business (was Re: advocating XML)
- From: "Bullard, Claude L (Len)" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- To: David Megginson <email@example.com>, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2001 09:56:15 -0600
From: David Megginson [mailto:email@example.com]
>Then they make a wild guess, and are nearly always wrong.
I'd be lieing if I didn't account for the utility of well
practiced instincts. But they don't make a simple wild
guess, not the competent ones. They engage their peers
in a discussion, then they guess.
>Projectplanning in the first decade of the 21st century is about as
>as medical diagnosis in the first decade of the 11th century.
>Sometimes we get it right -- generally by accident -- but usually our
>treatments do more harm than the original disease.
Umm... no. Not the ones who stay in business. Accuracy may
vary, but if one knows their market, stays focused on it,
and doesn't do too many wild projects, it is a reasonable
task to plan and make profits. That focus is realllll important.
>The truth is that people are not smart enough to plan that far ahead
Maybe that's just the Canadians. :-) Oops, no I forgot
about the Big Dig in Boston.
>(look at the US stock markets for another, similar example).
The US stock markets and the world markets are perfect example
of what happens when simple solutions get sold
for complex tasks and fall on their bums. The real dilemma
is belief and amplified hype. Hysteria and fads are common
problems of intense feedback. I haven't lost a dime on the
Internet stocks. Planning wasn't required. Being knowledgeable
of the history of the technology, what had been tried, what had
failed, what were the contexts (one can learn from accurate
history; one only guesses if the history was systemically
distorted) worked just fine. In the last year, my investments
have doubled and are increasing at a fairly even rate. Why?
Fundamentals of Fair Dinkum. Buy not on expectation but on
capability, market share, assessment of management strengths,
etc. It isn't that hard to make a reasonable profit. Greed
on the other hand, well, that is gambling. Pleasurable but
somehwat unreasonable. Most of the people out their losing
their condos and Ferraris should reevaluate their analysts.
Their analysts should reevaluate their sources.
Lies and statistics....
>Now, for a six-month project, she has a 53% (0.9 ^ 6) chance of being
>right. That's not so good -- if she thinks we'll need XML in six
>months, should we risk investing, say, $750,000, when there's almost a
>50% chance she's wrong?
If all you have is that statistical rule, you will react like any
superstitious person does. The failure is not knowing what XML
is good for and knowing if you will have a good requirement in
six months. That is easier than doing superstitious math.
I understand what superstitious acquisition means in behavioral
systems: reacting to a signal which has no coupling to the
behavior. ACK! She can't breathe underwater. She's not a
witch. Too bad she's dead, but her soul is on its way to
heaven and she is really better off. We did her a favor. Next!
>In the real world, where most project managers aren't this good
>(they're lucky to hit 90% for the next day), things get much worse.
The issue is competence over good information. Both are expensive
to obtain but not hard to apply.
>The best solution is to admit our limitations rather than strutting
>with false confidence while we bleed our patients, slap on leeches,
>put them on all-mustard diets, and carve the shape of the cross in
>their foreheads (or the modern equivalents, write 200-page functional
>specifications and draw incomprehensible Gant charts in Microsoft
Bad data in a good format is still superstition. I agree.
On the other hand, good data in an incomprehensible format is just
as useless. The only reason to do the analysis is to see if there
is a pattern. Are the metrics good metrics or is the tool in
the way? Is the pattern real or superstition?
>People -- even smart, well-meaning people -- really, really suck at
>project planning, especially in an area like high tech where things
>change so fast.
Sure but they still have to cost the problem. Fixed price contracting
demands it. So they do their best and many people are very good at
it and get better with practice. Hire these people.
>Even in the dirt-and-concrete world (where things
>change slowly and it is possible to plan further ahead), I'd guess
>that about 50% of roads projects around my hometown of Ottawa miss the
Does the word graft come into the accounting? I agree, the larger
the project, the more the cost overruns are likely, but it comes
down to competence. We watched the German rocket scientists build
machines that ran the first time, every time. Why? They'd done
it a lot and they built the first one locally and measured the
costs. When they contracted out the rest, they sent the the
instructions and the precise costs. It worked wonderfully until
Nixon declared this just wasn't the American way and turned good
engineers into managers of engineers on the other side of the
country. Then the game was afoot and the cost overruns became
>This is something Kent Beck and the other XP people got right -- build
>for today, not for tomorrow.
And tomorrow they can build it all over again. And the next day.
And the next. Nope, not on a fixed price contract. I don't care
what method you use as long as you hit the marks.
Von Braun got it right. Build one and cost it. Sell the heck
out of that one. MS got that right too.
They want what they want. If they can afford what they want,
they get that. They don't get more than that.