Managing Large Projects (Part5)
The management and development of large projects is one of the critical issues in computing over the next decade. The relative lack of published material dealing with this area is symptomatic of the criticality of the issue.
While organizations can expect to gain major benefits from the new technology and delivered services and products involved with the next wave of information system development, should the implementation of the approaches discussed in this paper be inadequate, rather than a "brave new world", many organizations will be facing a "new nightmare" of system and organization failure of an unprecedented magnitude.
The hubris associated with large systems is well documented in the texts referred to in Appendix A. Failure of large projects is not inevitable however, but the margin of success is narrow and all levels of management must make the effort in time, education, finance and leadership to ensure success.
B.W. Boehm, "Software Engineering Economics", IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, Vol. SE-10, No.1, Jan. 1984, pp. 4-21.
F.W. Brooks, The Mythical Man-Month. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1975, 1995.
C. Jones, Programming Productivity : Issues for the Eighties, L.A., IEEE Computer Society, EHO 186-7, 1981.
C. Jones, Applied Software Measurement, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1991 & 1995.
R. Likert "The Principle of Supportive Relationships", Organization Theory,
D.A. Ludlum, "$80M MIS Disaster", Computerworld, Vol XXII, Feb. 1, 1988, pp1
J. Sprouster, Total Quality Control - The Australian Experience, Sydney, N.S.W., Horwitz Grahame Books, 1984.
R. Thomsett, "Effective Project Teams: A Dilemma, a Model, a Solution", American Programmer, Vol. 3, nos 7-8, July/August, 1990.
Two excellent books on the behavior of large projects, systems and high-risk technology are Professor Charles Perrow's Normal Accidents, Living with High-Risk Technologies (Basic Books, N.Y., 1984) and Professor John Gall's Systemantics (New York Times Book Co, 1977). Perrow's book deals with the failure of large projects in construction, engineering, nuclear power and other areas. Gall's is a look at the behavior of large systems with a serious message but presented as a series of simple laws.
Three other books look at specific industries. Mary Kaldor's The Baroque Arsenal (Abacus, 1983) details the massive problems in the projects that are developing new weapons technology and Patrick Tyler's Running Critical - The Silent War, Rickover and General Dynamics (Harper & Row, N.Y., 1986) is an essential text as it presents both the political, human and project costs associated with the development of Trident submarines. Malcolm McConnell's Challenger - A Major Malfunction (Simon & Schuster, London, 1987) is similar to Tyler's book as it presents a detailed account of the poor project management, political and human concerns and massive communication breakdown typical of large projects under pressure of deadlines.
Management Disasters and how to prevent them by O.P. Kharbanda and E.A. Stallworthy (Gower, Brookfield, Vermont, 1986) provides a detailed examination of a large number of large projects including the Bhopal disaster and develops an excellent set of general diagnostics and preventative measures for large projects. Henry Petroski's To Engineer Is Human ( MacMillan , London, 1985) is another broad-ranging discussion of the engineering problems associated with large projects and the role of management in preventing potential disaster.
John Stringer while at the Australian Graduate School of Management (University of New South Wales) produced a number of papers on the problems of managing large engineering projects. In particular, Management Problems of Large Engineering Construction Projects (Working Paper No. 82-005, May 1982) provides an extremely well-researched approach to large project management which has direct implications for large information system projects. The Auditor-General's Efficiency Report on the new Parliament House (A.G.P.S.,1988) also contains many examples of the behavior of large projects.
Capers Jones' Programming Productivity: Issues for the Eighties (see References) provides articles written by some of the leading experts in software engineering. A number of these articles refer specifically to the special issues of large projects in computing. Notable articles include "On Understanding Laws, Evolution, and Conservation in the Large-Program Life Cycle" by Lehman and "Management Perspectives on Programs, Programming and Productivity" by Kendall and Lamb.
Software Runaways by Bob Glass (Prentice-Hall, 1996) contains detailed descriptions of the Denver Airport fiasco and the multiple attempts by the Internal Revenue Service to re-write the US Tax systems and well as many other large project failures. Crash by Tony Collins with David Bicknell (Simon & Schuster, London, 1998) also focuses on large IT project disasters and the learnings gained from them.
Finally, Tracy Kidder's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Soul of a New Machine (Avon Books, N.Y., 1981) details the development of Data-General's Eclipse super-mini and contains many examples of the behavior of large projects written with a journalist's flair. Also in the riveting read category are two wonderful books on how Microsoft develops large and highly-innovative systems. Fred Moody's I Sing the Body Electric (Penguin Books, New York, 1995) and G. Pascal Zachary's Showstopper (London, Warner Books, 1994) are a revelation.