The book The Mythical Man-Month is a very interesting piece of work. It was originally published four years before I was born, but still today in 2015 it tells what is usually wrong with IT-projects. Although the technology has evolved and changed a lot in the past 40 years it seems to me that people have not changed that much. This is probably why the book still describes the problems that you face even today in IT-projects. And the problems do not limit to the IT-business they also seem to be evident in other professions as well.
Something that was rather confusing and almost painful when reading this book was the fact that there were a lot of issues and suggestions that I had come to the conclusion trough experience. There were some things explained very clearly why they do not work or why they are not a good choice for doing things. Same things that I have tried to explain to my current employer. Without success might I add.
Back in the early 2000’s when I was still doing real-time graphics stuff in the form of game programming and demo scene I constantly checked gamedev.net for books to read. I did see this book, but I was a bit put off by the “software engineering” term in the title. Now that I look back at those times and myself I think if I had read this book I would not have got much out of it. I probably would not have read the first chapter entirely and the book would have become one of those dust collectors that every household probably has. And about the title of this blog entry. The “Moth” is not a typo I actually read that the book was called “The Mythical Man-Moth” when I was younger, back in the early 2000’s.
It is now over ten years later that I found this book to be a gold mine and very valuable and something that everybody should read who is in this profession. This book explains quite well what is wrong even today and how it would be best to avoid problems and do things differently. For me this book contains something that I have experienced myself during my career put into clear words.
But why I did this post is because there seem to be missing something that I have experienced more than once during my career. Something that makes all the knowledge in this book worthless. Something that differentiates from the projects that the book applies to. Something that is so different from the things this book addresses, something that this book does not apply to. What that might be you might wonder? Well I will tell you:
“Our project is different”
There are a lot of pitfalls and places where you can go wrong and the book explains them. But our project is different and the issues does not apply to our project. We will do this project differently and we will not face those issues. This project will be the best yet and will be a successful one. We will use different methods and we will do things in a different way. We will create a product that is the best the market has ever seen. Our project team is formed from the best people only so we can succeed. We will do something that others have failed at because our project is different.
Now in a project like that there is no need to read The Mythical Man-Month because the project simply cannot fail. There is no room for errors and failures. We will do things in a way that no one else has ever done. We will make things work.
Sounds great doesn’t it? Well bullshit I say. Something like that I have heard from the mouth of the managers. Their job is to talk bullshit and sell bullshit. For the young players this could be the talk that gets you excited and ready to make a difference. But from my experience the reality will hit the face sooner or later. The project will have the same issues as other projects and it will drop into same pitfalls that most other projects. Now do not get me wrong, not all projects are like this. There are exceptions and there are IT-projects that really are different than the mainstream. But they are rare. Usually projects are run by managers that do not know much about IT and they try to manage the projects in their own manner. Usually the customer does not know what they want and they communicate with the managers whom are only interested in making money, sucking the customer dry in worst case. Throw in a micro manager and the project is doomed. And I mean doooomed. Now throw in a company that does not know about better things and the project will continue quite a long time burning money without really making any money.
There are experienced people that can see that the projects keeps failing and probably can see why they are failing. There are companies that know that they must react and they must do it fast and they know that the change is not going to be easy and will require some dramatic changes in the way of working. The Mythical Man-Month is a book that is a valuable resource of knowledge and something that would be worth the time to read specially when there are plans to change the way of working. There is a big possibility that a company reacts and changes things, but in the end they have not actually changed at all. Saying that things are done differently and using different terms than before does not count as a change. I’ve seen this happening. Sometimes it might be evident quite quickly and sometimes it takes time before it is noticed that everything works just as before and going to the wrong direction.
There is hope, but we got still quite a journey ahead. I do not know if I interpreted things correctly, but one might think that the methods presented in this book might be out dated, There are new things like scrum and agile development. It’s the thing in IT today. If I read some chapters in the book correctly and understood them correctly then this book, published in 1975, explains methods that are today known as scrum and agile. Go figure.
I do agree with the “No Silver Bullet” essay, but I would like to bring out one of my personal thought on the subject, something that almost disagrees with the essay. In case you are reading the essay from the book then I would say that there is something that could be quite like a silver bullet. If understood correctly and changing things accordingly then there is something that really could be the silver bullet for the IT-projects, something that could improve things in the order of magnitude. You would be holding it in your hand.
Just as a side note I thought that maybe changing profession would bring to conclusion to some issues present in IT. But I think I am wrong about this. At least when it comes to technical professions. Now that I’ve taken interest in electronics I have come a cross this video blog called EEVBlog. It is also a website. The man, Dave Jones, who run this blog has had these episodes where he rant on about some issues in electronic engineering. These rants has shown me that same issues are present in electronic engineering as in IT. This also explains some of the term I have used in this blog post, I have taken them from the EEVBlog. You should check it out. It shows that there are people that do it for the love of it and knows what they are talking about.