There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root. — Henry David Thoreau
There is a pattern I commonly see in troubled or failing IT projects, a near-constant oscillation over a period of weeks in the system’s readiness and/or stability. It appears for a while that progress is being made, and those in charge give optimistic projections for when the system will be finally ready to function as intended. Then, some new defects or problems crop up, and the project is delayed yet again. Depending on whether the system has actually been deployed, you can classify the fact pattern as “Faulty Towers” (if in production) or as “The Never-Ending Story” (if not in production), or sometimes a blend of the two (if in production, but so bad as to be nearly useless).
When you look at the history of such projects, here’s what you typically see:
- The project is approaching its current deadline/estimate release date.
- An all-out push is made to fix as many defects as possible.
- A short period before that date — just a few weeks, or even just a few days — the deadline is slipped due to new or reappearing defects.
- Rinse and repeat.
That’s pretty much it. I have seen projects that over a period of a year have perpetually been “four to six weeks” away from system stabilization without ever achieving it.
When I analyze such projects, I usually find that the reason for that oscillation is an unwillingness to take the time to trace defects and performance problems back to first causes. There is such pressure on all parties involved that all efforts are made to “close out bugs” (fix defects) — even if such bugs are closed in a rather dubious fashion — declare victory, and go home. They are, in fact, hacking at the leaves without ever striking at the root. The result?
OK, a stretch perhaps, but too good a quote to pass up. Besides, it ties into the previous Star Wars theme.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the usual coping mechanism for missed deadlines is to reduce functionality, performance, and/or quality. What I expect to see in the next five weeks is just that: a constant defining-down of what Healthcare.gov is supposed to accomplish. The on-going delay of the Spanish-language version of Healthcare.gov — which has gone from “a few weeks” to “indefinitely” (warning: annoying auto-play video) — is a good example of that.
By an odd coincidence, the end of November — the new projected “all is well” date for Healthcare.gov — happens to be Thanksgiving weekend.
Expect a bad news dump on Black Friday. ..bruce w..
About the Author (Author Profile)Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at email@example.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Obamacare and the Unstopped Project : And Still I Persist… | November 13, 2013
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- Obamacare and the Bursting Dam : And Still I Persist… | November 25, 2013