Saturday, March 31, 2007

Some of us are more equal then the others

A few days ago I told you about the three forces that are often at work within a project: what, when and how. This is a follow up, to tell you what the discussion I had was about.

I feel strongly that there should be a balance between what is built, how it's built and when it will be done. You need to strike a balance between these three forces to make any project a success. That balance can be achieved in two really different ways: either make it all the responsibility of one person, or make each force the responsibility of a separate person.

Years ago when projects were often relatively simple, scope was relatively clear and deadlines were realistic, it was reasonable to have one person run an entire project. And even today there are projects and people that can make the "one responsible person" setup work. Mind you: that one person doesn't have to do all the work him or herself. But he or she is responsible for all three facets (what, when and how) at the same time and has to strike a balance between them all the time. Constantly balancing whether having this extra feature is really worth the extra time and risk. Or whether changing the code structure this close to the deadline is really worth the risk it introduces of not being done on time.

But most projects these days have grown way too complex for one person to handle all these responsibilities. These days it is more common to have three separate people fulfill the three separate roles: the functional guy, the technical guy and the "deadline guy". They're always fighting with each other and often you will find two of them ganging up on the third. But in the end they always have to find a compromise on which all three agree.

Now imagine what happens if one of these three is also made responsible for the project as a whole. What happens to the balance of power between the three then? They're all responsible for one aspect, but suddenly one of them is also responsible for the total result. This completely destroys the delicate balance of power that was so carefully introduced by having a different person be responsible for each of the factors. You might as well just have one person be responsible for all three powers. In fact, that would be better. Because then at least there is one leader, instead of three leaders of which one is a bit more important then the others.

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