Monthly Archives: April 2008

Religion vs. Science

I think I’ve discovered the secret of the long standing conflict between IT workers and management.  Which is to say, one of my commenters (RobMoir) articulated it and I’m totally stealing his concept.
 
It comes down to the same mentality as religion vs. science.
 
A true believer in religion doesn’t need proof, faith is enough for them.  In fact, a lack of faith and a desire to see empirical truth is seen as a severe failing of character by the faithful.  Conversely, a follower of science finds it difficult to conceive of how someone could simply not want to undertsand something.  The very act of surrendering to a higher power rather continuing the quest for knowledge is incomprehensible to the follower of science.
 
And that’s where the gap in managing IT projects seems to be.  Managers all too often seem to operate on principle of religious faith rather than responding to any objective reality.  The project plan becomes holy scripture.  Or worse still, management exhorts the team to operate on faith alone.  “If we all work together, we can meet the delivery date.”  Reality be damned.
 
A good IT worker treats a project more like science and asks pertinent questions.  What exactly will happen?  How will we make it happen?  Who specifically has the skills to make it happen?  What course of action will we follow when the unexpected inevitably happens?
 
Mind you, if you want to see an IT worker get religious, start up on their pet operating system / programming language / development methodology / technology platform and/or gaming system.  There’s nothing quite as fierce as a technology based holy war.
 
For an illustration I’ll provide another slightly dramatised discussion based on a very real experience from my (thankfully distant) past.  A bit of context first: I’m a Business Analyst (BA) but there are often two sorts of BAs.  One is based with a business unit and represents their interests.  This person usually writes a Business Requirements document.  The other is an IT based BA who looks at things from a systems basis.  This person is often called a Systems Analyst or Technical Analyst and writes a Functional Specification.
 
In my time, I have been both.  Sometimes on the same job.  In the following example, I was a Systems Analyst.  The BA from the business group was presenting their requirements document and wanted us (the IT group) to sign off.  This was the first time we has seen requirements from them.  And quite frankly, they were shit.  The best bits were ambiguous to the point of being useless and it was full of straight out errors.
 
The BA’s starting point was that me signing off their document was a foregone conclusion.  My starting point was that this was a review meeting.  If the document didn’t pass review it was going back for more work.  When we reached the critical point of “No, I’m not signing off on this piece of shit you call a requirements document,” the following discussion too place (translations provided for people who don’t understand polite business speak).
 
BA: But this meeting was to get a sign off.
(Translation: It’s inconceivable that you could doubt the Holy Scripture.)
 
ME: This meeting was to review the document, I can’t sign it of in its current state.
(Translation: I need proof, not blind faith.)
 
BA: But the project plan says we have to have this signed off today!
(Translation: The Divine Word from on high tell me it is so – I dare not question.)
ME: Then you should have had review sessions before today so we could have given you the feedback you needed to have it ready for signoff.
(Translation: We sign off requirements when they’re right.  We don’t sign off steaming piles of camel turn simply because an arbitrary date has been reached.)
BA: But to meet the schedule this has to be signed off today. We’re delivering it on schedule but you have to sign it off.
(Translation: The schedule said I had to produce a document by today.  I produced a document.  What could possibly be wrong?)
ME: We can only sign off on the requirements when they’re right, not when they schedule says they should be signed off.
(Translation: Was I not clear about the steaming camel turd?)
BA: Well, could you do a “conditional” signoff and we’ll make a note of your issues?
(Translation: If you’re stupid enough to put your name to this you’ll never see me again – it’s your problem from then on.)
ME: You’ve got my feedback, that’s all that’s coming out of this meeting.  There’s no way I can sign off on these requirements. Take the feedback to your manager and if he has any issues he can take it up with my manager because I’m under strict instructions to not sign off anything until it’s ready to be signed off no matter what the schedule says.
(Translation: We’re onto your little games.  Now get the fuck out of my face or I’ll jam that worthless document down your throat until you choke.)
Surprisingly enough, I did not extend my contract at that place.  The job market was very strong at the time and life is far too short to put up with that sort of insanity-inducing dysfunction.  Mind you, it did form the basis of my forthcoming thesis “Project Management Failure – an archetypal example of how to fuck things up completely.”

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The luckiest people in Australia

There is a “satirical news programme” in Australia known as The Chaser (technically, they have gone through a few names for different series – their latest was called “The Chaser’s War on Everything” but let’s keep things simple and call them The Chaser.)  They specialise in doing public stunts designed to make someone look silly.
 
The closest approximation I can think of that would make sense for an international audience are the characters of Sascha Baron-Cohen (namely Ali G and Borat).  They don’t do character based comedy like Baron Cohen, they mostly do something very public and see what reaction they get. So maybe they’re closer to Candid Camera than they are to Kazakhstan’s finest.
 
Last year there was a big talk fest in Sydney known as APEC – the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum.  This was attended mainly by leaders from the Asia/Pacific area (big surprise) but perhaps the highest profile guest was US President George W Bush.  In these nervous times, security was particularly high.  Supposedly.  Much of Sydney went into total lockdown.  Which really pissed off Sydneysiders.
 
The media were given a briefing that included a warning about how serious the whole affair was.  People should not make the mistake of making light of proceedings or causing trouble.  Pranks would not be tolerated.  The Chaser team were looked at very sternly and pointedly during this lecture.  There was an “exclusion zone” into which unauthorised persons were most definitely not allowed.  Any protesters or pranksters who broke the exclusion zone would find themselves in a metric shitload of trouble.
 
And so the inevitable happened.  The Chaser team set up a fake motorcade (flying Canadian flags for those who are interested) and drove into the exclusion zone.  They got through two of the “security” checkpoints.  When they were arrested it looked to me like they were seriously fucked.  It didn’t seem likely to me that the then in power Federal Government who were responsible for the event would take kindly to being made look like such fools.
 
Eleven people were arrested, two of them were stars and the others were faceless nobodies who I kind of felt sorry for.  I figured the least they were going to get was being totally unable to fly internationally for the rest of their lives.  And I suspected they weren’t being paid enough to suffer that punishment.  I would not have been surprised if some jail terms were handed out.
 
Anyway, I figure these are the luckiest people in Australia because today the charges were dropped.  This link gives a few details and also has a link to a video of the actual prank.  They got off on what could be described as a technicality.  It wasn’t found that breaching the exclusion zone wasn’t breaking the law, it’s more that it wasn’t their fault they got into the exclusion zone.
 
At the time, I found it very hard to understand why they thought the prank was a good idea.  After all, they drove into the middle of some very heavily armed men who were probably very nervous and were unlikely to spend a lot of time figuring out the difference between a prank and a terrorist threat.
 
Oh yeah, and one of the cast was dressed up in an Osama Bin Laden costume.  A really shit Osama costume but there was no doubt who he was meant to be.  This action looked like a death wish personified.
 
As it turns out, they had checked out the first checkpoint the day before and decided there was no way they would get through.  And that’s why the charges were dropped.  Something was different when they actually pulled the prank which is why they got through.  But the court decided it was never their intention to breach the exclusion zone and so they got off.
 
The big joke was to be that when they were refused entry, “Osama” would step out of his limo and say “Why can’t I go in?”  Hilarity would ensue.  But some idiot waved them through.  So they drove in.  A different idiot waved them through the second checkpoint.  They kept driving. 
 
At some point The Chaser team themselves decided “this is a bad fucking situation.”  Who knows, maybe it was Osama himself who said “Stop driving me toward more guys with machine guns!”  They turned their motorcade around and told the security forces something along the lines of “ummmm, fellahs… we really don’t want to be here any more.  Please don’t shoot us.”
 
How do you start a conversation like that?
 
It’s hard to imagine pushing the envelope more than that.  A representative has said that just because they got away with this they won’t try anything even more outlandish.
 
Yeah, riiiiiight.

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Filed under Comedy, Politics

April 25th – ANZAC Day

April 25th is one of the most significant days of the year in Australia.  It marks the day that the Australia and New Zealand Army Corp (along with other armed forces of the British Empire) landed on the beaches of Gallipoli on the Turkish peninsula.

A long, bloody, pointless and quite frankly disastrous campaign ensued the ended with a retreat.  It was, like all of World War One, an horrific and senseless waste of life.  And yet it was certainly a turning point in the establishment of an individual identity for Australia and for modern Turkey.  Interestingly, there is quite a bit of closeness between Australia, New Zealand and Turkey over the commemoration of Gallipoli with shared respect for the sacrifices made and bravery shown on both sides.  I don’t know of any other major conflict where the opposing sides now identify so closely over the conflict.

Here’s a video I made to mark this year’s ANZAC Day.

For anyone who wants to know more, this link leads to the official Australian government site.  Also, here’s a series of videos I made last year.

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Filed under Politics, Video Blogging

A message to the crazy bastard on the bus

If I could say one thing to the guy I had to deal with on the bus it would be: “TAKE YOUR FUCKING MEDICATION!”

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Project management disasters

Over more than 10 years of contracting as an IT Business Analyst, I’ve learned there are two main reasons companies hire contractors. Either they’re running some huge sprawling project and want to throw more bodies at it or they don’t have the in house expertise for a particular project so they want to bring in an outsider who does.
Although the big, sprawling projects are a major source of employment, I really don’t like working on them. The main reason for my dislike is that most of these massive projects are disasters. The company is trying to do too much with too little idea of how to do it. The classic nightmare for IT staff is to be stuck in a project that’s date driven.
By “date driven” I mean that the only way the project is measured is by whether or not is it delivered by some totally arbitrary date. It’s bad enough when you have to deal with a project manager who wants you to bow down before their Gantt chart as if it’s Holy Scripture. But I have actually worked on multi-million dollar projects where all activity is driven by the fact that someone in senior management has said it should be done by a certain date.
There’s nothing that fills a development team with horror quite so much as something along the lines of “the new financial system wil be in place before the end of the financial year.” And when you ask how that date was arrived at you get little more than “that should be enough time.” As an analyst I find that sort of crap particularly galling because people who think this is a good way to run a project usually get pissed off when I start actually doing my job.
They get pissed off because my job is to ask questions and arbitrarily set dates usually don’t hold up well to questioning. Here’s an approximation of fun conversations that happen on projects like this
BOSS: The project has to be completed by the end of the year
ME: What’s actually involved?
B: A new CRM system has to be installed. It will replace thee old stand alone systems and make us more efficient.
M: But what’s actually involved?
B: I just told you, we’re implementing a new CRM system.
M: But what has to happen for that to be installed? You said it’s replacing three existing systems, what happens to the data stored in those systems? There’s no way we’ll be lucky enough that the new system handles data exactly the same way. Can it be configured to handle existing data somehow or will that require programming changes? Or is that not even possible which means we’ll have to convert the existing data to a usable format? Can we do that via an automated process or will it have to be done manually? And what about other systems that had interfaces to the systems being replaced? How many interfaces to the new system are required and how long will it take to develop all of them? And what about the users? Have you checked that the new system can actually meet all of their requirements? Are they going to have to change any existing processes in order to use the new system? Have you allowed enough time for training? And how does it affect external suppliers?
(At about this point I can see the boss is making a mental note that I’m a troublemaker. I can see it in his eyes.)
B: We don’t know the answers to any of those questions but we’ve committed to meeting the delivery date. I’m sure if we all get on board and make a commitment as a team we can make it happen.
(At this point I’m making a mental note that the boss is a fucking moron. I hope he can’t see it in my eyes.)
M: But you haven’t even defined what “it” is. You made a commitment to deliver the project by a set date without even quantifying what work has to be performed. How can you possibly commit to a date when you don’t even know what you have to do?
B: If we discover that the volume of work is too much for the existing team to handle then we’ll add more people to the team.
M: Have you ever read “The Mythical Man Month”?
B: Never heard of it.
M: That doesn’t surprise me.
The book “The Mythical Man Month” was written more than 30 years ago by a manager at IBM. The single most important point in the book can be summarised as “adding people to a project that is already behind schedule will make it later”. The main reason for this is that the more people you add, the more convoluted lines of communication become until it gets to the point where communication takes more time than the work itself. There’s also the fact that when a project becomes severely behind schedule resourcing usually isn’t the main problem. An utter lack of direction from clueless management is usually the bigger issue.
 
Software development is one of the fastest changing industries in the world.  But even after 30 years this book is regarded as one of the fundamental classics in the field.  The author jokes that it is referred to as the software development “bible” because of the number of people who say they believe in it but don’t follow its teachings in their day to day life.
 
I have often considered bringing it in to work to show particularly clueless managers.  I think that maybe if I brought a really nice hard bound edition in, I might be able to beat them to death with it.  And then I realise why I’ve never moved into management. 
 
I like to be able to face myself in the mirror.

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The meaning of life

Forty Two.

Douglas Adams knew the score.

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Filed under Video Blogging

Fuck Scientology!

I never got into this whole “Anonymous” is going to take down Scientology thing.  I’ve always thought Scientology sucked – I did their “personality” test about 20 years ago and it was clear that they were evil, manipulative bastards.  But I never really spent a lot of effort attacking them.

Until the fuckers decided to start advertising on YouTube.  Just after I got partner status.  Which means I get fucking Scientology ads next to my videos.  Now *I* know the fact that an ad appears next to my video doesn’t mean I endorse that product.  But I know there are some people stupid enough to make that assumption.

Luckily, I don’t give a shit about stupid people.

But I have to admit, seeing an ad for something as evil as Scientology next to my videos creeped me right out.  Even I started to suspect I was endorsing Scientology.  This would not stand.  YouTube doesn’t actually give partners the ability to block certain advertising – they just serve up whatever they feel like.  I don’t like feeling powerless.  So I took action!

Just in case anyone thought I was gonna wuss out now I’m a partner.

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Filed under Video Blogging, YouTube