Why all late projects are the same

Just read an astonishing article by Tom DeMarco (PDF here) on why “All late projects are the same”. It’s just amazing. Had some great insights. Some highlights:

All projects that finish late have this one thing in common: they started late.

This sounds really, really obvious at first, but it isn’t. Tom defines two underlying reasons for not starting a project early:

  1. Nobody had the guts to kick off the project until the competition proved it doable and desirable; by then, the project was in catch-up mode and had to be  nished lickety-split. […] is a legitimate business failure. Interestingly, it’s not software developer failure that’s in question here, but that of some marketing arm that got one-upped by superior marketers in another company. Making a lot of noise about those software folks who failed to build the catch-up product fast enough is just a way to de ect attention from what really happened and who is responsible.
  2. If the project were started long enough before its due date to  finish on time, all involved would have had to face up to the fact from the beginning that it was going to cost a lot more than anyone was willing to pay. […] This leaves us with projects that started late because they didn’t offer enough value to justify their true cost. This is garden variety failure, in my opinion: it happens all the time. If a project offered a value of 10 times its estimated cost, no one would care if the actual cost to get it done were double the estimate. On the other hand, if expected value were only 10 percent greater than expected cost, lateness would be a disaster.

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