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Review:Software Runaways 112

Stern has written a review of Software Runaways -- Lessons Learned from Massive Software Project Failures. You know that delicious thrill you get from seeing massive destruction? Imagine that applied to software projects-click below for more information.
Software Runaways -- Lessons Learned From Massive Software Project Failures
author Robert L. Glass
publisher Prentice-Hall, Inc.
rating 9
reviewer Stern
summary ulti-million dollar and multi-billion dollar software projects, the reasons they failed, the companies they destroyed, and the people to blame.

The Scenario

Humans are drawn to scenes of carnage; we can't pass an accident on the highway without slowing to look for blood. Robert L. Glass reports on the car crashes of the computer industry -- massive software projects which failed, sometimes destroying the firms which created them.

Glass has been writing on these topics for decades, but this is his first book since 1987, and there have been a rich array of projects for him to discuss since then.

Much of the book is composed of articles written by other people, from the Wall Street Journal, Computer Decisions Magazine, and other periodicals and studies. These are uniformly well written, and Glass has selected a valuable set of outside sources.

What's Bad?

The books is not intended as a tutorial for programmers or even program managers. Those readers will find the book interesting, but I would suggest they turn to Steve McConnell's Software Project Survival Guide or similar books for how-to help. Software Runaways is intended for people operating at a political level, especially those confronted with management which believes that fundamental business problems can be solved by the deployment of new computer systems or trendy infrastructure designs.

What's Good?

Glass has no fear of assigning blame, naming the particular corporate executives, government officials or consulting companies whose incompetence or malfeasance led to disaster. He has a deep understanding of the superiority of software that works over software that is flashy or serves some conflicting interest of the decision maker or consultant. The book should be in the library of anybody who ever has to argue against the deployment of a new system.

The 1986 article "Anatomy of a 4GL Disaster", which describes the failed rollout of a new computer system at the New Jersey Division of Motor Vehicles is practically a political thriller. The 1996 article "When Things Go Wrong" describes how the failure of a $65 million inventory control system destroyed FoxMeyer Drug, a $5 billion company. Each reader will have a different favorite chapter, depending on the industries and technologies for which he has personally worked in the past.

So What's In It For Me?

Primarily, the book is fun to read. It is practically techno-porn. For those who work on massive software projects, this is also a collection of useful cautionary tales and lessons that may save you grief and money.

So, if you want to read up about all the pitfalls - and know how to avoid them, pick this book up over here.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Software Runaway War Stories
    1. Project Objectives Not Fully Specified
    2. Bad Planning and Estimating
    3. Technology New to the Organization
    4. Inadequate/No Project Management Methodology
    5. Insufficient Staff on the Team
    6. Poor Performance by Suppliers of Hardware/Software
    7. Other -- Performance (Efficiency) Problems
  3. Software Runaway Remedies
  4. Conclusions
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Review:Software Runaways

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    up next on WHEN COMPUTERS GO BAD.. /lib/Therac_25/Therac_1.html []

    Numerous people died when they were overexposed to radiation that was supposed to only destroy cancerous cells..
  • by Anonymous Coward
    When should a techie leave an organization that is going bad? At what point should I send out resumes, and get out before the train finally goes off the tracks and bursts into flames?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I bought this book about a year ago and was very disappointed. It's mostly old Datamation and other mainstream computer trade magazine articles wrapped with meandering introductions. There are some interesting details here but basically I was unimpressed with the quality. The projects covered are mostly glass house apps and the revelance is mostly how we have moved beyond that mode.

    It's too bad that Glass provided virtually no countering examples of projects that have fared well under better software engineering and management discipline. Yes, many large projects are "runaways" (more than twice over budget or time). Yes, there is *something* you can do about it.

    For example, in the mega-project range, look at some of the work being done by the Automated Software Engineering group [] at NASA Ames. Successes in the open source field like Linux, Perl, Samba and many others demonstrate how alternative methods to software development can produce results. If you want rigorous analysis of software development, check the work of Watts Humphreys, Capers Jones, and the Software Engineering Institute [] at Carnegie-Mellon, developers the Capability Maturity Model, which if not exactly a template for software development in large organizations at least provides a model to aspire to.

    So I guess my disappointment with this book is that it was such a slapdash, backward-looking view on a very important subject.

  • by kovacsp ( 113 )
    This along with the whole "NT left a Navy ship dead in the water" fiasco really makes me cringe whenever I hear about NT running mission critical operations.

    Maybe when I run my own company...
  • I wouldn't call it promoting the book. Slashdot posts links to amazon to buy the book whether it was a positive or negative review. There was a link to buy Bill Gates's book from when Jon Katz reviewed it, and I somehow doubt, after reading his scathing review, that he was trying to promote the book.
  • 1) AFAIK, slashdot gets no money from people clicking on the links. They do get a (small) percentage of any books sold as a result of the link, but if you click on the link and buy nothing, slashdot gets no money.

    2) I think the fact that "slashdot" is in the URL of the link to Amazon should be enough of a disclaimer.
  • Posted by LOTHAR, of the Hill People:

    Slashdot does not write book reviews. They are submitted, (almost) just like any other story. A link to Amazon is provided so I can get more info. If I buy, Slashdot might make a few cents for the referral.
  • So, what scenerio are you looking for here? "Here's a book I reviewed. I liked it. But I can't tell you where you might be able to buy it since that would be a conflict of interest. You'll have to guess where you can get it if you want it. Good Luck."

    Whenever you see movie reviews, the tell you the theatres where the movie is playing. I don't see how this is different.

  • When the company misses targets, and then announces a new logo.
    When they change a well known name to something unknown.
    When your missed in a round of layoffs (Anytime there is a layoff take a day to polish your resume, even if nobody in your area was affected)

  • Note that neither the Gnu folks nor the Open Sourcers require that all software be distributed to be moral or approved. Heck, the GPL allows you to make a modification to gcc or egcs (say, one that provides a significant speed improvement), and then have people send you source code and you send them back super-optimized source.
  • Amazon spams without remorse.
    Perhaps this is because you didn't properly RTFW? I've never received in spam from Amazon over the years I've been a customer. This might possibly have something to do with the fact that I read the pages and uncheck "Email me" options before sending them. I've never met anyone who's done that and received email they didn't request.
  • Bob Glass is well known for his "reality check"-like debunking. His book on "Software Creativity" is a classic [though sadly out of print, I believe.]

    Recently he wrote an article for IEEE Software, sort of trying to debunk a lot of the Linux hype going around... if you have an IEEE membership, check it out. I thought it was a fairly good article.
  • seconded.

    BTW - really cool .sig :)
  • Some hints from experience:
    • When you're on course to take the fall for managerial incompetence/stupidity/arrogance. (Ie. when they're not listening.)
    • When your quality of life outside work is poor (lack of social life, bad environment, etc.)
    • When the organisation doesn't learn from its mistakes.
    • When your future prospects are limited, either by design or simply the size of the organisation.
    • When you're BORED.

    NB. It helps to realise what's good about your present employment, and then you can either look for those factors next time or at least accept change with a clear idea of what you'll be losing.
    I found a list of pros and cons, with scores, immensely helpful in coming to a decision.
    Finally, always bear in mind that you can leave at any time.

  • I worked at a startup branch that was supposed to offer long distance (don't know if they do yet--I left). A monolithic piece of software was developed in-house that ran on 20 suns using Tuxedo and and Oracle. It was supposed to provision your service, setup billing, etc..

    One of the problems was that it was nearly impossible to tell what the hell it was doing at any one time and if it fucked up at one point then the whole setup was basically screwed.

    Another problem was that the IT director was a dork. He required his personal signature to order a mouse.

    At one point they hired Sun Professional Service (read $$$$$$$$) to come in and fix things.

    I don't know if the software was ever brought to a usable state. I pity the poor bastards that were working 80 hour weeks to get it going. (Then again, they were contractors, so screw 'em.)

  • Yourdon wrote "Death March", and the title won't be uncommon -- most cow-orkers mistake it for a book on the Bataan Death March.

    "No, really, it's about programming projects like this one."
  • Excuse me, but isn't this the internet. The new, exciting medium which changes almost everything about the way the world works.

    Where is the rule that says you can't make money from your homepage?

    Slashdot is not a magazine or ezine like C|Net or ZDNet. It's basically the outgrowth of a homepage that became pretty popular over a period of time (remember Chips & Dips?)

    Cmdr Taco, Hemos & co are only editors in the sense that it's their website and they can do what they want.

    They let complete strangers submit stories that will feature on the front page read by more geeks than I can imagine.

    The criteria? Taco thinks its pretty cool or Hemos knows some people who would be into it. Not because they can make 15 cents by pointing to a link at Amazon.

    The slashdot effect tells us that it's a pretty good editorial policy

    I check out /. several times a day. There is always something I am interested in on the front page (especially since the invention of the JenniCam slashbox :->) I have never paid a single cent to the people who run /. yet I am always amused or entertained in some way.

    If you like /. but don't like Amazon, don't click the link.

    But please don't complain about editorial policy or objectiveness or anything like that. Use your brain instead. Decide for yourself.

  • Taken to the logical extreme, you should complain to your newspaper that it reviews movies which paid money for advertising. Slashdot makes no secret of Amazon's partnering program, and Rob needs the money.

    I need not rely on /.'s opinion though: a review of the site shows that the book's actually getting mixed reviews there.

    Personally, the idea of buying a book and supporting Slashdot gives me a warm fuzzy feeling all over.
  • The thing is, speaking as someone who's written /. reviews in the past, I'm less likely to write a negative review. If I read a book that's really crackingly good, like Alan Guth's _The Inflationary Universe_, I think "What a great book! I should tell everyone about it." If I read a mediocre book, like the O'Reilly Java books, there's less of an inclination to tell people about it. If it's a really awful book, I won't finish reading it and won't write a review of it, unless it's so bad it's funny, or if a bit of spleen-venting is in order (as in Katz's recent review of the recent Bill Gates book).
  • >"More people have ascended bodily into heaven
    >than have shipped great software on time."

    The quote is from Jim McCarthy, in his most excellent book "Dynamics of Software Development".

    (It's a Microsoft Press book, and McCarthy used to be in charge of the Visual C++ developer team)

    There's a review of it here on /. I think.
  • It's time to leave when you're 21 years old, fresh out of university, given the job of 3 people with PhD's, forced to work on something that can't work (laws of physics etc), no one listens to you and you're told you will be a millionaire in two years time.
  • After graduation, I worked for a small software company for a period of four months, after which I quit and enrolled in graduate school. I thought at first it was just me not being able to handle a 'real' work environment. It turns out this company eats programmers and projectmanagers like popcorn - my four months were not much under the average for this place. By now people reading CompSci or systems design know about it, so they've resorted to advertising for people under other company names and to hire unschooled people (littel or no programming experience) to get employees...
  • When they replace the big UNIX box with an NT "server"....

  • When the company is bought out for "strategic" reasons, and the new management tells you "Don't worry, very little will change".
  • Would you like to be informed if /. were selling any user information you entered to Microsoft?

    This is a fallacious appeal, and an error in logic. It is an appeal to fear fallacy, in that it equates a referral fee with selling personal information to what is generally considered in this forum a malicious company.

    It's also a loaded question. It implies that something of yours is being transfered to by bringing up the non sequitur of selling your personal information to Microsoft.

    One has nothing to do with the other. Your arguement is wrong. Your logic is flawed.

  • Yup, logic classes are fun.

    Anyway, maybe if slashdot posted some reviews that less than glowing (trashed the book, in other words), yet still included the link, you would feel better.

    Rob's gotta make money to pay for this stuff somehow, and linking into from book reviews seems pretty innocent.

    Impartiality is one of the things I like about Amazon. You can post a horrendous review of a book, and they leave it up. Why? Because they've got millions of books to sell. It doesn't matter to them if some of them are clunkers, you'll just be glad someone let you know that in advance, and gave you a chance to buy another title (hopefully from them). As someone spends $100-$200 a month on my own books (not counting books my company provides), I'd like to hear bad reviews as well as good ones, and I think a link included with a bad review would keep things balanced.

    Since I can only imagine how hard it is for Rob to find ways to make slashdot pay for itself, as well as leave a little bit for himself, I like to give him the benefit of the doubt as much as possible. He really makes an effort to keep the money making parts as unobtrustive as possible.

    I respect your complaint, even if I don't completely agree with it, I just had to cough up a hairball at that Microsoft reference.
  • Of course you'd still better "plan to throw one away".

    I wish people would respect this principle more. In the corporate world, gone are the days (if they ever existed) of a prototype being used as proof of concept and leading to a real product. Now it seems like if the prototype works, it's good enough to ship.

    In my own experience, there have been dozens of times I would like to rewrite some functionality or feature once I proved it could be done, simply because the exercise of making it work the first time showed me a way to make it work right the second time.

    But, in the world of deadlines, ship dates, and bean counters, if you can make it work the first time, that's all they want, and all they will allow. That's why I love free software. As Linus often says "It will be ready when it's ready". The pressure to pass through a prototype isn't there, and you can do something just because it's the right thing to do.

  • I thought it was pretty useful - it's not like the book is being pushed, and it's nice to be able to just click and get more information or to buy it. If I'm going to get it anyway, I'd also rather /. got a cut of it. Any book review will list the information necessary for a person to purchase the book - it's just that online, you can link them directly to that information.

  • ...happened to a friend working for a
    company specialising in telco software.
    She was put on a nine-week project when
    she joined, as a junior programmer.
    The project was their first contract for
    N****l, and their reputation hinged on

    Eighteen months later, she was in charge
    of the self-same project, everyone else
    involved with it having either quit or
    had a nervous breakdown.

    Two years later, she left it still
    chugging along and moved into sales.

    The company's since been bought out for
    their IP. Oh how I laughed.


    To the extent that I wear skirts and cheap nylon slips, I've gone native.
  • Virtually every post you have ever made to Slashdot has been to praise Microsoft or to criticize Linux or to criticize Netscape. I see you've started criticizing Corel as well now.

    Given that the vast majority of Slashdot readers and posters who hold opinions on these subject are pro-Free/Open Source, you don't really belong here at all. You're not 'one of us'. So why do you come here? All your posts have been negative, attacking the basic tenets of the community which this site serves, so it can't be for fun unless you are a very hostile, bitter person who thrives on conflict.

    There are only two explanations I can think of that don't require you to be severely maladjusted. You're either a Microsoft employee under orders to spread FUD on slashdot or else you own a large number of Microsoft shares and are extremely worried about the imminent disappearance of your fortune.

    Ah well I guess that makes you maladjusted after all...
    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction
  • I like you. You're a nice guy. Zico isn't however. If you click on his 'user info' and read all the posts he's made you'll see what I mean.
    Consciousness is not what it thinks it is
    Thought exists only as an abstraction

  • That's really all there is to it, IMHO.


  • I'm sitting here in front of a large mess I created four months ago, which hasn't shipped yet . . . contemplating the argument with my boss when I tell him I have to euthanize the poor thing and start over . . . I don't think he's gonna go for that. Shit.

  • Alta Vista sold spots. Slashdot does not sell reviews. Amazon Associates make less than a dollar per click, and only if the customer buys from the first page linked to -- no browsing allowed. There's a difference between selling something and acting as an intermediary.
  • No one is making money "off of" anyone clicking the link. If Amazon is willing to pay /. for that link seeing usage, more power to them.

    If I follow the link to read the Amazon reader reviews of the book - I get something out of it, and so does /. Win-win.
  • ...But I'm guessing that they went to print before people started jumping off the Tita^h^h^h^h Good Ship Mozilla. But hey, Javagator's probably a good example. Speaking of Java, this book could probably include every new thing that Corel has tried this decade.


  • You got that right! That was my answer to the question before I saw your post.

    You've only got one life, don't waste it.
  • Wasn't it just a couple of weeks ago that someone was whining about a book review that didn't have an Amazon link? No matter what Rob does, someone is going to piss and moan. It's a link. You can click on it or not.
  • To my understanding, no one gets money from us hitting a link.

    Rob does get some miniscule percentage if someone hits the link and BUYS something from Amazon.

    That's my understanding of the affiliate system.

    Whether that's immoral, unethical, or whatnot, is still up for opinion. I guess it comes down to, if you don't like it, don't click it.
  • On a similar subject, I liked "Crash" by Tony Collins. That goes through a series a case studies of why major software projects failed, theres some really scary/stupid stuff that goes on.

    Mainly UK based, but a good read for anyone interested

  • Ditto. I've never received email from them. If you make a mistake and forget to uncheck a box, be courageous enough to take the liability for the consequences, don't try to blame someone else.

  • I worked there in 1996, on the Tuxedo middleware. I agree, that project was totally screwed up. Andersen Consulting had scores of consultants working on the database part that we were supposed to interface with - no docs, nothing. The place was a big bureacracy - no one could get anything done. The rumor going around was that Ameritech had so much money that they could afford to spend millions on one to throw away. Which is where that project was headed.

  • In Rapid Development [], Steve McConnell recommends writing your prototype in a "rapid prototyping" language, like VB. That way you can't (shouldn't) use the prototype as the real product! When you're done with the prototype, throw it away (thank you, Fred Brooks []) and start the real product with some learned lessons under your belt.

  • As soon as you recognize that there's a problem that isn't going to be fixed.

    I'm not suggesting that you bail out at the first sign of trouble -- you'd never hold a job for long in the industry with that approach. But if things keep happening that makes you think that no can or will stop the train wreck, start preparing to go.

    How does the quote go... "Insanity is doing the
    same thing over and over and expecting different
  • I bought a semi-related book for a friend that
    was like 101 business failures. It talked about
    products that just didn't make it and why.

    And yes... New Coke was listed as one of them :)
  • You might have heard of it already, but there's a book about the history of NT up to 3.1 called 'Showstopper'.

    And just think. W2K is turning out to be a much bigger mess than 3.1 was. At least they improved 3.1 with service packs (they actually worked back then, they were actually new NT builds IIRC), and eventually made it work well with 3.5x...

  • You're right that it makes it easier for the reader... but as a reader, you are only given one place to purchase the book, ie

    So effectively the reviever is now suggesting the place where you should buy the book.

    It would be more appropriate for there to be a list of places where the book is available (ie a list of bookstores that carry it, and a list of places where you can purchase it online). As long as there is more than one option listed...

  • Is there anyone who surfs much at all that doesn't know has agreements with people that provide links? I would think by now it's common knowledge enough that anyone should know what's happening.

    Rob's completely upfront abt the cdnow link.
  • I worked on a $10 million+ project that used a prototype that was cobbled up over a weekend by four people. They never changed the basic design. There were over 120 people working on this project at some points. The users were actually told that they couldn't get changes they requested because it didn't fit the prototype.

    Very depressing.
  • Agreed. Over the last couple years, I've bought more books through Amazon than in a brick-n-mortar bookstore, and have had ZERO problems with them... everything has been shipped on or before the expected date, and only ONCE have I gotten any mail, and that was quickly rectified as I realized I'd left that little box unchecked.
  • I'm not equating the two, and I'm certainly not implying that something is being sold to Amazon, though I believe that with cookies it would be possible that through accidental or purposeful configuration amazon could receive information on the users clicking on the link.

    You believe wrongly. Read the cookie spec some time. Then you too can tell people that cannot read cookies.
  • I care because it's relevant. I like to know when people are making money off me.

    It's also for the same reason that when a newspaper does a story on itself or an affiliated group (like MSNBC does a story on Microsoft) they mention that they are affiliated. A book review should be objective, but if the reviewer makes more money when people buy more copies of the book, the temptation to give the book a better review is there.

    I hold Slashdot in high enough regard that I don't think this would likely happen conciously... but it's something I think is relevant. Would you like to be informed if /. were selling any user information you entered to Microsoft?

  • No one is making money "off of" anyone clicking the link.

    Those are some mighty fine hairs you're splitting. Slashdot receives money (or some kind of financial remuneration) when someone clicks on the link.

    I agree that it's great if, in a way that's transparent to me, slashdot can make a little money by my clicking on a link. I just think the fact that's what's happening should be disclosed.

    I'm not so worried about that one particular little link as I am about the precedent it sets. Say Wired starts a similar program where they pay back people who link to their stories. Will we start seeing more things posted on slashdot saying "Wired is reporting...", even if the article isn't particularly interesting/newsworthy/useful, etc. All I would like is something similar to what's mentioned for the job search engine, saying that Rob benefits when people use it.

  • Ok, so if you agree there's the possibility I might find the hidden side-effect of the link "immoral, unethical or whatnot", shouldn't I be informed of that side effect?

    Some have said the very fact that it says "Slashdot" in the URL is enough of a disclaimer -- but not everyone is as paranoid as me, and checks the url before they click it.

  • Ooh, someone who took a logic course! *grin*

    I'm not equating the two, and I'm certainly not implying that something is being sold to Amazon, though I believe that with cookies it would be possible that through accidental or purposeful configuration amazon could receive information on the users clicking on the link.

    But it's not a non-sequitor. It all falls in the category of disclosure. I don't mind seeing a link to amazon that makes money for slashdot, but when it's in a context that doesn't suggest that it is making money for slashdot, I want to know that that's why it's there.

    I found the placement of this link misleading. It seems an entirely innocent link meant purely to allow the user to buy the book, but has a secondary hidden motive -- to make money. To me that begs the question of what other things have a hidden motive. *shrug*, but maybe that's just me.

  • Yes I have, and nowhere there does it mention that links to amazon make money for Rob if and only if we buy the book mentioned.

  • Fair enough -- and I agree. It's great if Rob has found a minimally intrusive way of helping slashdot pay for itself. And I don't believe that reviews are at all biased, even if they include a link to Amazon.

    However, if what other people are saying is true, Rob only makes money from these links if people buy the books. Therefore Rob is likely to profit more when a book review is positive. Now this hopefully has never, and will never influence a review. But somewhere it should be disclosed that links to books at have the side effect of perhaps making Rob money.

    Maybe just a disclaimer page somewhere deep in the bowels of slashdot that says "all comments belong to those who post them, all trademarks belong to those who own them, all user information is kept solely for use on the site and is not given out or resold, and all links to books at amazon are part of the amazon affiliate program"

    PS -- I also agree logic classes are fun. It was so long ago I took mine I don't remember any of the cool terms though. But I do remember how horrible most of the artsie types were at understanding the simple concept of boolean logic. hehe.
  • That isn't my argument. I'm happy if Rob makes money off me, but only in an honest way. If the amazon book link is presented as simply being a book link, but is really there because it could make him money then it's a little underhanded.

    A better comparison might be if a coworker tells you about a great life insurance company he uses, and you decide to sign on. Then later you find out he was paid a commision for getting you to sign on. Sure, he might truly believe that it's great insurance -- but can you trust that his opinion is subjective?

    Rob has chosen to make this his job instead of going out and getting a salaried job. I don't plan to pay him directly for this service, but if he can make money off my presence here that's great. On the other hand, I'm not going to go out of my way to buy a book at amazon simply because he can get a cut of the money I spend.

    But in any case, you're missing the whole point. It is deceptive to present a link as if it were simply a link to where to buy the book -- when it actually is a way to make money.

    If this were disclosed somewhere then it would be fine, but as it is, I find it deceptive.

  • Why not two links. So it's not hidden that slashdot is profiting, and if you don't want them to profit you don't have to help out.

    Take a look at the review [] or take a look and help us out [].

  • They could easily post a link on where to get it without having that link benefit them in any way.

    The comparison with movie theatres is a flawed one, because AFAIK the movie reviewers don't get anything for saying where the movie is playing, and they also don't just mention one theater.

  • Admittedly, I haven't read the cookie spec, what I was basing that on was that one of the Cookie options in Netscape is "only accept cookies that are sent back to the originating server", which to me implies that you can have cookies which are sent back to other servers, like maybe slashdot to amazon.

    But if I'm wrong... I'm wrong. I basically don't use cookies at all.

  • They could easily post a link on where to get it without having that link benefit them in any way.

    I'm sorry but if you feel that Rob doesn't desearve to be supported by us then there is something wrong with YOU. this is what he does for a living. How would you like to go out and spend a hell of a lot of time on your job and then saying "But don't bother buying this product from me because I told you all about it. Buy it from my competitor who did nothing to help you." You wouldn't would you?
  • why do you care if they get money when you click on the link...
    either you click on it because you want to, or you don't...
  • Obviously, you can't jump ship everytime something doesn't go the way you think it should.
    The times I have decided to leave it was because conditions got to the point where it was consistently interfering with enjoying my life outside of work. When absurd deadlines and job stress caused me to snap at loved ones or spend weekends in a surly mood -- I polished the resume.

    Also, when a project is clearly doomed and your job depends on the project, I think it's time to start looking -- you will be looking eventually, anyway.

    /* Two cents of advice for tech employers -- with IT professionals in demand right now, it's often easier to go elsewhere than it is to put up with managerial stupidity. */
  • Pretty much says it all.

    "More people have ascended bodily into heaven than have shipped great software on time."
    (Author forgotten -- sorry)
  • It's licensed under GPL -- you can copy it, modify it, or redistribute it. :)
  • It looks like an interesting book. I would have liked a bit more meat about an actual disaster. I was also disturbed by this little bit...

    Stern is the president of, a company developing radically new technology for online question answering. Don't worry, our client software will be open source.

    Umm, so the server will be proprietary? The client will be completely useless without the server, right? This is exactly the kind of crap RMS warned us about. Thy hypocrisy is hidden in the above quote, due to the vagueness of the term Open Source. If you replace "Open Source" with "Free Software", the hypocrisy becomes obvious.

  • There should be a web site to collect stories of this kind. Anyone heard of one? Anyone want to host it? It could be fun and possibly even theraputic to trade project disaster tales. Heck, it was a screwed up work environment that encouraged me to go the self employed route.


  • When you see this in your manager's code:

    if (TRUE) then

  • The next edition of the book should have an
    exciting chapter about the W2K problem from M$.
  • When the handwriting on the wall says "leave soon bunkie", you don't have a friend around anymore to pass this onto, and you have a good offer in your briefcase. The worst feeling of all is to get canned and realize you could have left gracefully a few months ago.
  • I just left a very large company shipping company (company x) to work for a smaller, almost unknown company (company y). Hope this helps. At company x, I was a network administrator. My job was to make sure that all servers were up most of the time and that all users could connect to the network. This is a layout of our hardware.
    File Servers (2x): 486DX 66mHz, 32 MB/2 GB running NetWare 3.12.
    Workstations (150x): 486 50mHz, 16 MB/1 GB running MS Windows 95.
    When I started the job I asked my manager for the money to upgrade the servers. (btw: NON Y2K compliant) After I had been there a year, 1 of the 2 servers went tits up. This did not phase my manager. I soon realized that neither the servers nor the workstations (also non-y2k compliant) were to be upgraded. When everything shat itself, I would be the one holding the bag. If your situation is anything like mine was, turn in a 2-weeks notice ASAFP. I left and got a great job at company y. I'm now actually using some of the things I learned in school!

  • When you've been a temp for a year with no offer, when you find yourself doing the job 3 people used to do and you have not had an increase, when you have had 3 managers in a year and the last 2 you have not even met, when you're not allowed to update your inventory, when they give you 27 floppy disks to restore a Win95 O/S, and last but not least all the office software is pirated!
  • What scares me most are all of the SCADA folks who come dancing in with their puppet show and try to claim they can do Real-Time control with what amounts to a VB application with some silly little DDE server, and all for $50,000 dollars a site. One of them recently sold one of our management types on how they could not only do SCADA and Process Control on a Not There box, but the same system would happily do all of our Office System automation and DP stuff with OLAP as well!
    When I gave them a description of the systems they were proposing they replace and listed the 6 operating systems (including QNX and OS9) that they were claiming they could outperform and outlast on uptime, I asked them to send me a detailed proposal listing which component of their system would handle each task and just a guestimated MTBF.
    I never heard from them again, but they keep taking their Management Boy out to lunch.
    The other day, Management Boy told me the reason the engineers don't like Not There OS is because we, "Don't understand it."
    I explained that I spent 8 years in M$HELL and asked him if he knew that device drivers all share the same priority level in Not There OS. Or if he could give me a definition of Real Time?
    I probably shouldn't speak that way to a guy who's probably about number two in the company, but I was about ready to ring his neck!
    So I stopped work on the 100% java OLAP app I've been working on for a year and started an OSS implementation of the BASIC09 syntax for Linux to work with an A/B PLC for some of our softer control stuff. I figure while they run around in circles, I'll get something coded that does the job and tell them about it after we've installed a few.

    RMS take me away!
  • When you see this in your manager's code:

    if (TRUE) then
    if (FALSE) then
    if (!TRUE) and (!FALSE) then

  • Let's be fair about this - although I totally agree that we're almost all pro-Linux/OpenSource advocates here, it's stupid to say that someone who's ideas differ should leave. So he likes Microsoft and isn't a big fan of Netscape... Big deal. That doesn't mean he's a henchman working under the wing of Bill Gates.

    If two people agree on everything all the time, then one of them isn't necessary.
  • by Aaron M. Renn ( 539 ) <> on Wednesday April 14, 1999 @01:39PM (#1933945) Homepage
    The stats are large software project failures is amazing. I seem to recall from Capers Jones' Applied Software Measurement (an excellent book BTW) that 40% of "large" projects fail. (I can't remember, but I think that a large project is one with more than 1000 function points. I don't have the book with me). That is, they are never actually put into production for even one day.

    When I worked as a consultant a client had some questions about the quality of the work that was performed. I did some research into software quality and discovered that despite the problems my project had, we had actually performed far above average. (The system was successful has been in production for some time). Two of the keys to our success were good scope control and aggressive defect containment program.

    Scope control is an obvious success factor, but finding and correcting defects as close to the time of occurrence is absolutely critical as well. (We tried to "contain" our defects within the project stage where they originated via a long list of formal exit criteria for a given development stage). It's obvious, but worth repeating, errors in requirements are many, many, many times more costly to correct than simple programming errors. Of course you'd still better "plan to throw one away". But the key is to make sure you do a good enough job at requirements definition and system design that one is it!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 1999 @01:09PM (#1933946)
    I can relate to bad software doing damage. I work in the manufacturing industry as a technician. Our production lines use coordinated DC motors up to 400 horsepower and various pneumatic and hydraulic devices to move things along. Traditionaly, we have used simple relays, or the more advanced PLC's. Things work great when its kept simple and they are easy to work with. If I get run over by a truck tomorrow, someone off the street can replace me to keep the plant running. Every machine operator's job should be secure.

    Unfortunately, in the last few years, there has been a push to run things through computers with a operating system that is Not There yet. Worse yet is the programs that have not been tested to be fail safe. Debugging is a matter of blame. When the machines hicupp, the scrap piles up requiring forklifts to remove the heaps. A computer would be fine for monitoring a line and fine tuning operations, but for sole control of every instantaneous megawatt around operators and raw material is dangerous!

    What I found most interesting was when the plant managers had their meeting with the suits, the director of the computing services was at the same table. When the subject about computer problems came up, I was told he sunk in his chair after the COO stated he was surprised that we had any computer problems.

    We are trapped with a proprietary operating system with its proprietary programming systerm, and its proprietary office suite. I bet its all leased too. :(

User hostile.