Why we need to stop doing projects?

The other day I was looking back at my career and thinking about my journey. Where I have started. Where I have ended up. Reflecting on my journey.

I was trying to figure out why so many projects fail. What is it that we are doing wrong, and more important than that, what drove us to do things as we do?

Just because a broken clock works good two times a day, doesn’t mean you should use it to always check the time.

My background is in computer engineering. This is fairly new engineering as far as engineering goes, we are not even 100 yr old. Civil engineering can be traced as far back as 3rd century BC, which is a long time ago in a galaxy not that far away.

An argument from authority

As we started doing more complex projects we started looking around for more established practices.
If the practice has been around for hundreds of years then it works.
If it works for them, it works for us.
We wanted safety. We wanted to reduce the risk. We want to be on Scope, on Budget and on Time.
We felt victim to one of the oldest fallacies in the world. An argument from authority.

Our older cousin that lives next door

As far as engineering practices go, civil engineering is pretty solid (pun intended).

You cannot build the new building without first planning it in great detail.
The building needs to be designed properly before it gets built. Needs to follow the fire and safety code. You need to know how many windows you need to order when they need to arrive. How many tons of cement, sand, brick, wood, the list goes on. How many workers? When something starts. When something ends.

Today is different from tomorrow. What is true today, tomorrow is a lie.

This all needs to happen before you shovel out the first bit of sand.
Planning in extreme detail every task that needs to happen for a building to go up, and it works really well.

We wanted that. We’ve needed that safety.
Two millennia of knowledge. Perfected. Tested. Optimized.

The world is ever-changing.

The creative part of a new building happens at the start. It happens in the architect offices. Architects iterate. Sketch around. Create Scaled versions. Sometimes even used for testing (earthquake, wind tunnel). They show it to the customer and adapt the design to their feedback. It’s easier and cheaper to change a mock-up than a final building.

There is not much that will change when you construct a new building. The tools won’t change radically. The materials have existed for millennia. Surprises beside the weather are very rare.

When you are creating a piece of software you don’t have that luxury. The materials are always changing. The tools of today are the legacy of tomorrow. The only certainty that you can have is that you cannot be certain of anything.

So how can we mitigate this?

We need quicker feedback loops

Let us throw away the planning fallacy and stop doing projects. Build something small. Test it fast. Show it frequently.

Try this challenge :

Pick the best surfer in the world.
Take him to a beach and ask him to describe every single move. To plan in extreme detail how he would surf a wave on that beach.
Pick up someone that never surfed and ask him to go Surf. Do to the letter what has been planned.

It will be impossible to surf like that. Even the best surfer in the world would have failed. Yes, there is always a chance that he could surf a wave or two, but every wave is different.

IT is the same. The landscape is always changing. Today is different from tomorrow. What is true today, tomorrow is a lie.

So, please. Let’s all stop doing projects.
Just because a broken clock works good two times a day, doesn’t mean you should use it to always check the time.



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