Is your software project failing? Blame management

I just read the Chaos Manifeto 2013: Think Big, Act Small paper from the Standish Group. It blew my mind.

Let me give a few introductions about the Standish Group and the chaos manifesto before I elaborate on my mind blowing revelation.

Who’s the Standish Group and Why Should You Care?

The Standish Group has been collecting information on IT projects since 1985. This situation allows them to give unique and informed commentary on what does and does not work for building software projects.

The Chaos Manifesto provides their insight and perspective into software projects based on the data they have. The Chaos Manifesto 2013: Think Big, Act Small paper provides that for “small projects” based on 50,000 projects since 2002.

I would recommend everyone involved in building software to read it (particularly if you have a management role).

The paper claims that there exists 10 “Factors of Success” to a project, and that some factors matter more than others. Each one of the factors has a very technical meaning, and I will not talk about it in this post. I challenge you to download the pdf and read it for yourself.

I have replicated a table that summarizes their findings below.

Factors of Success Points
Executive management support 20
User involvement 15
Optimization 15
Skilled resources 13
Project management expertise 12
Agile process 10
Clear business objectives 6
Emotional maturity 5
Execution 3
Tools and infrastructure 1

The Lesson To Be Learned

I’d like you to notice just how little developer actually matters according to the Standish Group.

Within this paradigm, the individual developer only has control of their own knowledge, skill, and emotional maturity, and that falls under the “skilled resources” and “emotional maturity” category.

That means that developers can really only contribute at most 18% to the success of a project. The other 72% belongs to management.

That blew my mind.

However, once I really thought about it, I realized just how consistent it was with all of my experiences.

All of my best (and successful) projects had good management, and most of my worst (and failing) projects had horrible management.

For example, I have been in many situations where very important aspects of my job were completely out of my control, or I had to work in an environment or with people and tools that made me very unproductive.

This revelation both humbles and horrifies me.

It humbles me because I understand just how much those above me contribute to my success.

It horrifies me because I understand just how much those above me contribute to my success.

I wish that management really understand just how much their actions (or lack thereof) affects their people.


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