(Anti) Darwin Story (8/23/2007)

Well, I'm back from the summer break, so it's time for another Darwin story. Interesting that InfoWorld is now publishing regular horror stories as well. I guess it's just too easy. I know it's easy for me. The hard part is obfuscating the people enough that they can't be identified. It's a good thing "artistic license" is allowed on blogs.

So here's the story of an executive sponsor that heard one of her staff members was interested in project management. She knew from past experience that this person was very detail-oriented, so she assigned Zlerx (not his real name) to be the project manager for a high-risk, unpopular software project that was already behind schedule and well over budget. But upper management wanted the software done toot sweet, so it was off to the salt mines for Zlerx.

Note that it wasn't management's problem that the budget sucked, the deadline was politically motivated, the end users were hostile, there were no functional requirements (not even high-level goals), the contractor was pre-selected and already alienated, and Zlerx had never actually run a software project before. Once Zlerx was appointed, that was it. All those problems were now his.

I wound up helping Zlerx put together a high-level set of generic functional requirements based on what the contractor had as part of his base code and what similar solutions in industry were exhibiting. Then nothing happened. And nothing continued to happen. For months and months. This was a surprise only to upper management, but they had bigger problems to deal with, and so the little project continued to languish in the pits of ignorance and negligence.

In large organizations, people do not get fired. They find other opportunities within the organization and go there. There's a lot of brownian motion in large organizations, which in my opinion prevents a lot of cream from rising to the top and sludge from settling to the bottom. I guess the environment in many large organizations is so distorted that Darwinism rarely applies. It certainly didn't in this case.