Part II: It Costs You Big Time
Chapter 3. Wasting Money
It's harder than you might think to squander millions of dollars, but a flawed
There is a lot of obsessive behavior in Silicon Valley about time to market. It is frequently asserted that shipping a product
is far better than shipping it later. This imperative is used as a justification for setting impossibly ambitious ship dates and for burning out
What Does "Done" Look Like?
After we have a specific description of what the finished software will be, we can compare our creation with it and really know when the product is done.
There are two types of descriptions. We can create a very complete and detailed physical description of the actual product, or we can describe the reaction we'd like the end
Unfortunately, most software products never have a description. Instead, all they have is a shopping list of features. A shopping bag filled with flour, sugar, milk, and eggs is not the same thing as a cake. It's only a cake when all the steps of the recipe have been followed, and the result looks, smells, and tastes substantially like the known characteristics of a cake.
Having the proper
In most conventional construction jobs, we know we're done because we have a clear understanding of what a "done" job looks like. We know that the building is completed because it looks and works just like the blueprints say it should look and work. If the deadline for construction is June 1, the arrival of June doesn't necessarily mean that the building is done. The relative completeness of the building can only be measured by examining the actual building in comparison to the plans.
Without blueprints, software builders don't really have a firm grasp on what makes the product "done," so they pick a likely date for completion, and when that day arrives they declare it done. It is June 1; therefore, the product is completed. "Ship it!" they say, and the deadline becomes the sole definition of project completion.
The programmers and businesspeople are
Managers know that software development
In the 1980s and 1990s, Royal Farros was the vice president of development for T/Maker, a small but influential software company. He says, "A lot of us set deadlines that we
When software entrepreneur Ridgely Evers was with Intuit, working on the creation of QuickBooks, he
Software architect Scott McGregor points out that Gresham's Law—that bad currency
Some development projects have deadlines that are unreasonable by virtue of their arbitrariness. Most rational managers still choose deadlines that, while reachable, are only
The Product That Never Ships
This preference is often due to every software development manager's deepest fear: that after having become late, the product will never ship at all. Stories of products never shipping are not apocryphal. The project goes late, first by one year, then two years, then is euthanized in its third year by a vengeful upper management or board of directors. This explains the rabid adherence to deadlines, even at the expense of a
For example, in the late 1990s, at the much-publicized start-up company Worlds, Inc., many
In the early 1990s, another start-up company, Nomadic Computing, spent about $15 million creating a new product for mobile businesspeople. Unfortunately, no one at the company was quite sure what its product was. They knew their market, and most of the program's functions, but weren't clear on their users' goals. Like mad sculptors chipping away at a huge block of marble hoping to discover a statue inside, the developers wrote immense
Even Microsoft isn't immune from such wild goose chases. Its first attempt at creating a database product in the late 1980s consumed many person-years of effort before Bill Gates mercifully shut it down. Its premature death sent a