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The Wetware Crisis: All Our Sins Remembered – Intro

May 14, 2008 0 Comments

[Copyright 2008 by Bruce F. Webster. All rights reserved. Adapted from Surviving Complexity (forthcoming).]

Humanity has been developing information technology for half a century. That experience has taught us this unpleasant truth: virtually every information technology project above a certain size or complexity is significantly late and over budget or fails altogether; those that don’t fail are often riddled with defects and difficult to enhance. Fred Brooks explored many of the root causes over twenty years ago in The Mythical Man-Month, a classic book that could be regarded as the “Bible” of information technology because it is universally known, often quoted, occasionally read, and rarely heeded. Most publications and books on IT since then have debated, discussed, and deplored these same problems. And they are with us still. Their causes stem not from technology but from human frailties. Indeed, when asked why so many IT projects go wrong in spite of all we know, one could simply cite the seven deadly sins: avarice, sloth, envy, gluttony, wrath, lust, and pride. It is as good an answer as any and more accurate than most.

Testimony given by Bruce F. Webster before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology, United States House of Representatives, June 22, 1998.

Many, if not most, information technology (IT) failures result from human factors, not technical ones. In my dual roles as an IT consultant to large organizations since 1995 and as an expert witness in IT systems failure litigation since 1999, I have spent thousands of hours reviewing documents, interviewing developers, managers, and executives, analyzing software lifecycle deliverables, reading deposition transcripts, pouring through error tracking logs and even reviewing source code. The goal in all this is to figure out (depending upon my role) why a project is or was troubled. In some cases, it may be because of reliance upon software or hardware that was unexpectedly flawed or insufficiently capable, or due to some unexpected external circumstances. But in the majority of cases, it really does come down to human factors — and usually one or more of the seven deadly sins cited above.

I now recite those sins in a different order and with slightly different wording — pride, envy, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, sloth — because that way they form the handy mnemonic “PEG LAGS” (with apologies to all Margarets and Peggys reading this). That’s the order I’ll address them in subsequent posts. ..bruce..

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About the Author:

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU Computer Science Department. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at 303.502.4141 or at bwebster@bfwa.com.

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