Technology Can Only Do So MuchPosted By Kate Armel on Thu, 2011-03-03 17:20
It’s hard to believe it’s been 36 years since an IBM manager named Fred Brooks came out with his seminal insights about software development, the most famous of which ("adding more people to a late software project makes it later") came to be known as Brooks’ Law. These days, most software professionals accept and appreciate Brooks’ analysis, yet we continue to make the very mistakes that prompted him to write The Mythical Man Month!
Which leads to an interesting question: armed with such a clear and compelling argument against piling on staff at the last minute, why do we repeatedly employ a strategy that not only fails to achieve the hoped-for schedule reductions but often results in buggy, unreliable software?
The most likely answer combines schedule pressure with the human tendency to over-optimism. Basing plans on hope rather than experience is encouraged by a constant parade of new tools and methods. Faced with the pressure to win business, please customers and maintain market share, is it really surprising that new technologies tempt us to discount the past and hope that – if we use this tool, this team, this methodology - this project will be different?
How can software developers counter the human tendency to fall for overly optimistic estimates and unachievable schedules?
What's needed is perspective: the kind of perspective that comes from honestly examining - and reminding ourselves - how things have worked in the past. In a paper called, “Technology Can Only Do So Much”, I look at the human and technological factors that trip up so many software projects. Good historical data provides a sound empirical baseline, against which both conventional wisdom and future plans can be assessed.