Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Review: The Deadline

I came across a review I wrote for Amazon sometime back 2010:

The Deadline : A Novel About Project Management is a novel attempt at describing life as a practising project manager in the software development industry. Choosing fiction as a means for distilling this experience was the right call, since many books on software project management talk about mostly the process, but less so on the fundamental human experiences.

This book attempts just that, a perspective on the people elements, and it doesn't do too bad a job either: It tells the story of a Mr. Tompkins who takes on the job of managing an army of software engineers, to create and deliver 6 software products from scratch, limitless resources. So he sets off creating an experiment: create 3 project teams for each product, each with the same goal of delivering the product by an artificial deadline (that was later made real by a tyrant manager bringing the deadline many months forward) and set about observing the progress of each team, thereby understanding the implications of their actions - in an effort to understand the secrets behind real world processes...

Whilst this book does get my recommendation, it must be noted that this was written and published over 10 years ago - which makes much of the experiments seem a bit out-dated and irrelevant. The shrink wrapped software industry age has passed on, which is why I feel the book has missed out on exploring modern practises seen with open source development, off-shoring, outsourcing; large scale distributed development, test driven development, agile, etc - with real world demanding customers, where companies are driven by competition, so hard that there is really no time for proper planning, estimating, playing around with models and predictions is a luxury rather than necessity - the deadline is really about winning new business and keeping your customers happy; and your competitors at bay; delivering software that is of acceptable quality to your customer, stressing less on established processes like CMM level 3/4/5 (depends on the industry of course), etc.

This book is considered  a work of fiction but it does contain real world references for follow-up reading. One such interesting reference is the topic of modelling your hunch-base, using for example, iThink a systems thinking tool that allows you to model business processes, using parameters for tuning and testing output of various scenarios. This, along with archaeological project data mining for metrics, will provide invaluable resource to a team when considering new projects.

If you're an experienced software manager however, then most of the encounters will not be new to you. It feels like there should be a sequel to this book, updated to support and test out current theories, offering more detailed explanations of each experiment, which is lacking here. One gets the overall idea that the project management laboratory is an interesting topic, but there is so much more to play with rather than just over staffing and design philosophy...

All in all, I am nevertheless pleased I read it and would definitely recommend to anyone involved in software projects.

2013 Update: Although times have changed since DeMarco & Lister's experiences, much of the essence with the challenges of Software Projects nevertheless remain relevant today. For those of you not familiar with DeMarco, I strongly recommend you follow-up on their works - I've read & own all of these - highly recommended, I learnt quite a bit from these, further amplifying my passion & respect for the Software Engineering Profession:

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