The mythical man month

It is more than 20 years since Frederick Brooks first published The Mythical Man Month, his classic work on how software projects...

It is more than 20 years since Frederick Brooks first published The Mythical Man Month, his classic work on how software projects snowball. The work is as valid today as ever, particularly given that software development is meant to be about creating solutions to reduce human effort.

So, after all these years, why have so few learnt to run lean, efficient projects and drive simplicity into their business solutions?

To find the answer I believe we have to look at why projects grow large and ugly in the first place.

First and foremost, it is human nature. There is an inbuilt tendency to empire build, a tendency reinforced by our reward systems. What counts on your CV is the size of the budgets managed and the size of teams you have led or been part of. When a project can afford to be big, there is little incentive for suppliers or internal teams to explore simple solutions.

Second, it is a knee-jerk reaction. When a project is under pressure (which most software projects will be at some stage) project teams will naturally complain of having too much work to do, and request more people to help. What project manager could refuse?

Last but not least, given the central role IT now plays in business, most projects have a cast of thousands with a vested interest. With so many people trying to pull the strings, is it any wonder project scope spirals out of control, and delivery of simple business solutions flies out of the window?

By all means let's improve our project management discipline, but unless we address these underlying issues I guarantee we will be looking at even more bloated teams and systems in another 20 years time.

Ed Darnell is an interim IT manager

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