Lispian Random meanderings on whatever catches my fancy

The Management Myth

I’m reading Matthew Stewart’s The Management Myth. It’s an excellent book and I recommend it highly.

Although I hope to write a bit of a review once I’m through the book, this post, however, concerns a quote from his book that just struck me on a number of levels.

Strategy makes sense as a project only in the context of uncertainty, or, more generally, in a context where pure reason will not deliver a definitive answer to the question “what is to be done?” But a purely rational framework … leaves no space for such “irrationality.” So the framework solves strategic problems only in a context where there is no possibility that such problems will arise.

A stunning statement. And it reminds me oh so much of Project Management, especially as applied to software projects — which, to be honest, are highly irrational. However, we try to push some form of framework atop a project only to watch projects flounder the more tightly we adhere to a given framework or project management strategy.

Stewart’s book reminds me of deMarco’s recent paper in the IEEE on Project Management and this choice quote:

My early metrics book, Controlling Software Projects: Management, Measurement, and Estimates [1986], played a role in the way many budding software engineers quantified work and planned their projects. In my reflective mood, I’m wondering, was its advice correct at the time, is it still relevant, and do I still believe that metrics are a must for any successful software development effort? My answers are no, no, and no.

I’m gradually coming to the conclusion that software engineering is an idea whose time has come and gone.

Software development is and always will be somewhat experimental. The actual software construction isn’t necessarily experimental, but its conception is. And this is where our focus ought to be. It’s where our focus always ought to have been.

As Knuth has repeatedly stated, software development is an art. It’s a craft. It’s not a science. And I, as many of my friends know, have long stated that anything that has to put “science” in its name isn’t a science. And the sooner we realize and behave according to the reality that computer science is more artistic but with a rigorous requirement pertaining to mathematics and that might be why it attracts the eccentric individuals that I spend my days with. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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September 2009
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