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.”


Filed under Work

24 responses to “Religion vs. Science

  1. What happened next? Did your manager kick their managers ass?

    Also, isn’t it odd how years after we grew out of “my dad’s bigger than your dad and he’ll beat him up” we still end up having to say: “Look, my boss outranks your boss and he’ll beat him up.”

    Sigh… I’m working on a project with a fixed deadline at the moment, thankfully those above are smart enough to know they may need to ditch functionality to meet it. (And they’re publicly committed to not ditching quality, methinks they’ll regret that… or perhaps not. If you want to know what it is, check the UK IT news around October time… I’m sure we’ll make a headline or two.)

  2. custador

    It’s amusing just how bad project managers can be at their jobs when you consider that the whole idea of doing courses like PRINCE2 is to make you as effective as possible… Most problems occur (in my experience) when you combine a lot of technical training with a manager who doesn’t have the intellect to apply it correctly. Your story above is a classic example: You signing off on that document was on the critical-flow diagram, and that’s all the PM wanted to know. PMs like that just don’t have the wit to comprehend the problems that will be caused or just how “off schedule” and “over budget” their projects will become if the groundwork isn’t done properly… I guess I’m preaching to the choir here, so I’ll shut up!

  3. Jules

    As the daughter of a project manager and wife of a project engineer, I had a great laugh out of this. Sorry, I know it was a serious, but it reminded me of daily conversations. In product engineering you get to throw the marketing asses into the mix also. They make the engineering project management look like geniuses. This happened recently, “Oh, we promised the customer this function will be on the machine coming out next week. We need the software for the machine by Monday.” Husband basically told marketing where they could stick it.

  4. simon

    Maybe its time for a career change Mr A

  5. Tooley Wordsworth III

    Hey Massif,

    Sure we’ll comb the headlines starting Oct. 1 for IT news… because of course your company is the only one making news…. never mind daily news of IBM acquisitions, Cisco partnerships and Oracle releases, your company is special enough that when this magical news is released, we’ll all be in awe and say “Sooooo… *that* is what Massif was talking about.”

    Jackass. Get over yourself.

  6. Hey Tooley McSmallDick Mk 3

    Yep, you will be in awe. That’s exactly what you’ll be saying.

    Or, you know, you could not take comments on someone else’s blog personally. Just a thought.

  7. Massif: In short, my manager was in no hurry to get screwed and so backed me up. My action was to leave at the first opportunity.

    Custador: No need to shut up – venting is valuable.

    Jules: it might be a serious situation but this post was intended to give a laugh

    Simon: well, I certainly moved on from that place

    Tool: I have a standard phrase for morons like you – Shut the fuck up!

  8. So Sean, did you read the article or were you in too much of a rush to run your mouth off? I’m only asking because your comments appear to be totally unrelated to what we’re actually talking about here.

  9. chemboy

    Science will always have its advantages. In fact, when I grow up I hope to pursue a career in chemical engineering. Yes I’m an uber nerd!

  10. chemboy

    I’m sorry I have to vent also about random stuff. As you know I also have a blog, and what wordpress has done is stupid. They now put related post links at the bottom of the blogs posts. Sometimes these randomly generated links come up with insane blogs! Sorry for going off topic, I had to get that off my chest! And plus I am groggy from state testing!

  11. Rob: That spiel was from someone who was pissed off at something I said on YouTube. As you point out, totally irrelevant to this post and so I deleted it as spam. Also, it was an insane amount of fun to delete something that some moron spent so long writing. Just the thought of his head exploding in frustration fills me with delight.

    Chemboy: I agree with you about the related posts thing. A lot of people don’t like them. I’m going to try and switch them off.

  12. Vladimir

    “Cargo Cult Software Engineering” comes to mind.

  13. Rob Moir

    You do surely know how to annoy people merely by calling it how you see it sir. I take my hat off to you.

  14. Simon

    They really should stop teaching management and employ the bottom level workers as managers so the person at the top knows what he’s doing and how things work :/

  15. Vlad: Yes, that’s a great analogy

    Rob: It’s a skill I practice regularly and take great pride in

    Simon: I do believe internal promotion is almost always better than appointment of external “experts” but the you do get the “Peter Principle” where people are promoted until they reach their level of incompetence.

  16. Papa Stokes

    oh Mr. Angry, You make my day. No matter how shit of a day im having, Listening to your rants makes it all better.

  17. That is the purpose of my rants 😀

  18. Massimo

    It is actually simpler. Science believes events happen because they have a cause in the past. Religion says events happen because there are goals in the future that have to be met. This is also why it is dangerous to mix them and one ends up with circular arguments.

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  20. Unhappy

    And if you are unfortunate enough to inherit documents that have been signed off and then find out that they are shit then management will tell you get on with it as someone in your team signed off.

  21. Stew Dean

    Thing is in this case it’s two religions fighting each other, that of the business and that of the technology. I work on many projects and know that if you really want to know what the requirements are then yes you do need to test against reality but reality in this case is not the business or the technology but the end users/customers. Now this could be another religion but my view is a system that users can’t use is a bad system and a business that customers don’t want to deal with is a bad business. In the BA/Tech view of things the BA (both forms) try to take on what they think the user/customer wants and often try to use bad things like ‘common sense’ – which as you know Einstein was no fan of. The solution is User Centered Design. That way there’s no faith required, you want to know if a requirement is good, test it, ask the people who the requirement is for and, more importantly, let them be the source of requirements. And most importantly see ‘IT’ as the implementation of the project, the engineering and have folks who think in terms of ‘how can we do this’ rather than ‘can we do this’. It’s a different world view than exists in many ‘traditional’ organisations but, to me, it’s a way to avoid what is essentially a battle of two faiths – the god of business and the god of technology.

  22. Massimo: good analogy

    Unhappy: been there, done that, got the scars to prove it.

    Stew: You’re right, and nobody wins a holy war.

  23. Pingback: nothing happens :: echo chamber may 28, 2008

  24. Pingback: IT Science vs. IT Religion. Again | It's always MY problem

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