A Commonplace

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21/7/2020

Lead bullets

Yesterday I talked about alchemy, turning lead into gold.

And I talked about how the process of trying to turn lead into gold resulted in a bunch of knowledge which looked a lot light failure, but was really chemistry and physics.

I think something similar is going on in project managment.

Ideas feel golden and shiny, they are attractive and seductive. That's why they get funded.

What comes out of software development, especially at the early days of a project feels more like lead.

Actually, you know what? I'm being euphemistic. The first outputs of most projects look and feel like shit.

Very expensive shit.

Sure, the idea of Agile is that you should have working software in the first few weeks. But the reality is that on a project that experiences a lot of "Bricks without straw" problems like not being able to get in the building, not being able to access computers and environments that you're allowed to work on, it might be a few months before you actually have anything that can be demonstrated.

When you're demonstrating this thing, it can feel very much like a very expensive, very stinky lump of lead/turd that's been found in the bottom of a crucible after yet another attempt to create gold.

This is a threatening lump.

It's cost a fortune and it doesn't do much. It probably works badly, incorrectly, or hardly at all.

Yesterday we talked about contradictions and this is one of the most profound in project managment.

This expensive, ugly, turd, is a step in the right direction.

But at the same time, it's hugely threatening to the person who wants the project to happen. They've got some money to fund this project. They jumped through all the hoops to get this project funded, they got the money, they might, by this point, have spent a big chunk of this money, and this turd is all they see!

At this point, they might feel very emotional.

Similarly, this is a difficult moment for the project manager and the development team. They've spent all this money and this is all that they've managed to do. OK, what've they've really spent the last three months doing is persuading the client that it's actually impossible to develop software without a development environment. But still. This doesn't feel like much.

Make no doubts about it, this is a potentially difficult, embarrassing moment. And if your project doesn't have this moment, early. And then doesn't follow it up with more, similarly embarrassing and awkward moments, it will never be a success.