OASIS Mailing List ArchivesView the OASIS mailing list archive below
or browse/search using MarkMail.


Help: OASIS Mailing Lists Help | MarkMail Help

[Date Prev] | [Thread Prev] | [Thread Next] | [Date Next] -- [Date Index] | [Thread Index]
Re: [xml-dev] Re: XML As Fall Guy

Hi, Steve!

On 12/2/2013 9:11 PM, Steve Newcomb wrote:
Tom, I'm trying to understand how to act on your excellent observation.

I think I'd put it a bit differently.  I think the fatal flaw in
government contracting, as I have frequently experienced it, is very
simple indeed.  It takes three things for anyone to succeed in any project:

(1) Responsibility for making it work.

(2) Authority for making it work.

(3) Ability to make it work.

In my experience, these three essentials are almost never left in the
same hands, and their separation from each other is the reason for
failure.  Putting them all in the same same hands may not work, but
separating them will surely not work.
It's not just the government, though. If you follow The Daily WTF site for a while, you'll see that non-government companies can be just as bad.

I can give you a more concrete example of the separation of these three activities. Take an hardware item destined to go into a submarine. I - my company at the time - have built such items, reactor related things for nuclear subs. If you or I go to the hardware store and buy a tool, but it doesn't do what it's supposed to, we find out quickly and usually can return it. But for our submarine item, even if there is an existing supply contract (and there usually is), the contract and specification were written and the item developed and qualified by (or for) one agency. The procurement may have been done by another. The item is shipped to and stored by yet another organization. Finally, perhaps many years later, the item is requisitioned and delivered to a ship, whose personnel have to use it. And, for our sub, it has to work. They can't take it back, and they can't rework it.

And, for our subs at least, all such items by and large do work - we know because the subs sail, and the reactors don't blow up or melt. But I will tell you that none of it worked right the first time.

It's not the government's fault, but that item *cannot* be procured, developed, tested, qualified, and used all by the same people or organization. The areas of expertise are too diverse, and the span of time between development and use is too large.

Well, here we're mostly talking about software systems, but it's not that different in this regard. So we *want* to have things work as if developed and used by the same person or organization, who as you say, can take responsibility and have a personal stake in the outcome. But we can't. The name of the game, then, is to invent ways to come as close as possible to the ideal.

Now, it's certainly the case that the government (whichever one it is, not just the Federal government of the US) can mess up each and every level we've pointed out above. And it often does. That only makes things worse.

Back to the submarine example, we came close to your ideal, as close as we could anyway, when Rickover developed the nuclear submarine. *He* was the one in charge, he had the authority and the backing, and apparently he had good managerial skills. And every Tuesday without fail we and every nuclear contractor had to send a letter addressed to him *personally* that would begin

"Dear Admiral Rickover: The following items are critical to the development of XXX:"

If there were no critical items, you had to write "None". Otherwise you had to state the critical item or items, it's expected delay, what has changed from the last letter, and who was responsible in the government for making it happen.

This letter was a contractual requirement. (As an aside, at first the letter had to be addressed "Dear Vice Admiral Rickover". When he finally got promoted, we were notified to change it to "Dear Admiral Rickover").

Maybe this is the way to handle these complex, important systems. It worked for Rickover. Or maybe this can only work when you have a truly exceptional person like Rickover or Kelly Johnson.

[Date Prev] | [Thread Prev] | [Thread Next] | [Date Next] -- [Date Index] | [Thread Index]

News | XML in Industry | Calendar | XML Registry
Marketplace | Resources | MyXML.org | Sponsors | Privacy Statement

Copyright 1993-2007 XML.org. This site is hosted by OASIS