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Communications of the ACM


Apocalypse No! (Part 1)

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Bertrand Meyer

On a cold morning of February 2012, Mr. S woke up early. Even though his sleep was always deep, he did not resent having to interrupt it since he had set up his iPhone's alarm to a favorite tune from Götterdämmerung, downloaded from a free-MP3 site. He liked his breakfast eggs made in a very specific way, and got them exactly right since he had programmed his microwave oven to the exact combination of heat and cooking time.

He had left his car to his daughter on the previous night; even though the roads were icy, he did not worry too much for her, since he knew the automatic braking system was good at silently correcting the mistakes of a still somewhat novice driver; and with the car's built-in navigation system she would be advised away from any impracticable street.

As for himself he decided to take public transportation, something he did only rarely. He had forgotten the schedule, but found it on the Web and saw that he had a few minutes before the next bus. The extra time meant that he could quickly check his email. He noticed that he had received, as a PDF attachment, the pay slip for his last consulting gig; as an Agile consultant, Mr. S was in high demand. He knew his accountant's system would automatically receive and check the information, but still made a cursory pass to convince himself that the figures looked right, with social security contributions and tax deductions properly computed.

He went out and hopped onto the bus, all the way to the client's office continuing to check his email on his phone, even finding the time to confirm the online flight reservation for his next consulting assignment, while monitoring the hanging displays to check the bus's progress (it was all dark outside and he was not that familiar with the route). Unlike some mornings, he had remembered to take his id card, so he was able to slide it into the slot at the building's entrance and again into the elevator, gaining access to the right floor. Before heading to his office he walked to the beverage machine for his morning coffee, a particular but programmable combination of two-shot expresso, a bit of hot water, and just a touch of milk.

Sitting down at his computer, he brought it up from hibernation, for some reason remembering — Mr. S was fond of such trivia that Windows 7 was estimated to consist of 50 million lines of code, and reflecting that the system now kind of did what he wanted from it. Mr. S had thought to move, like many of his friends, to a Mac, but the advantages were not clear, and he was fond of the old Word text processing system with which he was writing his latest agile advocacy text, tentatively entitled Software in 30 days. (It has since appeared as a book [1].)

Mr. S — whose full name was either "Schwaber" or  "Sutherland", although it might have been "Scrum", as some of the details of the story are missing — opened up the document at the place where he had left it the evening before. Like many a good author, he had postponed finalizing the introduction to the last moment. Until then inspiration had failed him and his coauthor: it is always so hard to discover how best to begin! Over the past months, working together in long Skype discussions from wherever each happened to be, they had tried many different variants, often simultaneously editing their shared Google Docs draft. But now he suddenly knew exactly what he had to say to capture the future readers' attention.

The sentence, which was to remain as the key punch delivered by the first page of the published book [1, page 1], sprung to his mind in one single, felicitous shot:

You have been ill served by the software industry for 40 years not purposefully, but inextricably.


[1] Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland: Software in 30 Days How Agile Managers Beat the Odds, Delight their Customers and Leave Competitors in the Dust, Wiley, 2012.


Jeffrey Sutherland

Let me just say that Bertrand is a Certified Scrum Master who attended my training in Moscow a few years ago so he has apparently had some second thoughts. If you don't like the Standish data, let's look at real data from one of the largest consultancies in the world:

TCS (Tata Consultancy Services) 2007
62% of organizations experienced IT projects that
failed to meet their schedules.
49% suffered from budget overruns.
47% had higher-than-expected maintenance
41% failed to deliver the expected business value
and ROI.
33% file to perform against expectations.
Avanade Research Report (2007)
66% of failure due to system specification.
51% due requirement understanding.
49% due to technology selection.
ESSU (European Service Strategy Unit) Research Report
57% of contracts experienced cost overruns.
33% of contracts suffered major delays.
30% of contracts were terminated.
12.5% of Strategic Service Delivery Partnerships
have failed

This is rather typical data and likely to be better than average.

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