Magazine article Mortgage Banking

Project Management History Lesson

Magazine article Mortgage Banking

Project Management History Lesson

Article excerpt

Remember, take no cutoffs. And hurry along just as fast as you can.

These are the last words in a PBS documentary about the Donner Party, a group of homesteaders heading for the promised land of California who were trapped in the Sierra Nevada and ended up resorting to cannibalism to survive. The words were written by Virgina Reed, a teenage girl who was a member of the only family not to eat human flesh during the ordeal.

I might add a third proviso: "Pick your traveling companions well." This advice is extremely relevant for those responsible for developing information systems.

Take no cutoffs. Everyone is constantly searching for the magic bullet, the tool or technique that will take the tedium and frustration out of designing, developing, implementing and maintaining software. Every half-decade brings its new panacea - from structured analysis and design through third/fourth-generation languages through CASE, information engineering, object-oriented, JAVA and so on. Nothing against any of these disciplines, but we have yet to demonstrate that they make a material difference in allowing us to get through the core tasks of development. Method after method has been tried, and we always come back to the essential proposition: to develop systems effectively, we have to go through distinct stages that mark our increased understanding of the business problem, the technical solution and the implementation requirements.

Call it what you will, diagram it with any combination of boxes, arrows and circles, but we need to:

* Define the business process (along with how that process may change), the data flow, the desired interface and eventually the physical outputs.

* Design the components of the system, how they will interact and their performance and capacity requirements so that adequate hardware and network facilities can be put in place.

* Anticipate the support requirements, from training to help desk to documentation.

A systems development project manager has to be absolutely diligent in keeping on the sure path and not falling for shortcuts, no matter how tempting. In almost 20 years in this business, I have yet to see a major shortcut that didn't end up costing us in the long run. We short-circuit analysis and end up having to redo programming; we do only a cursory job of design, so we end up with performance problems; we breeze through testing and then get the late-night production calls.

It is particularly difficult to follow the path as the project gets delayed or encounters problems, yet it is precisely at this time that we have to remind ourselves what we're truly trying to accomplish. Sure, like the Donner Party, we can jettison superfluous accoutrements (requirements). But the main plan, the overall purpose, has to be maintained.

Hurry along just as fast as you can. In today's rapidly changing business environment, a system delivered too late may mean the market opportunity is lost entirely. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of pitfalls in the path of an I/T project that can prevent its timely delivery. Some of them we truly can't control, but many are the result of our own actions.

Our ancient ancestors understood life and its various tasks have a rhythm. In culture after culture, we have songs for planting, winnowing, cooking, hunting and the like. Systems development has a rhythm as well, which tends to be very rapid at the beginning of the project, get bogged down in the middle and slowly, painfully, stretch out into ever-delayed implementations. …

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