Once again I find myself on the road, this time with an itinerary that started with the long haul from Sydney to Finland by way of Singapore and Frankfurt - all of which translated to some 36 hours of time spent in the air and airport lounges. You can eat, drink and sleep only so much (or so little), which meant I spent a fair chunk of the time reading and watching movies. I did bring my notebook with the somewhat vague intention of working, but, as so often is the case, the road to hell - or in this case, Helsinki - was paved with good intentions.
Now reading and watching a handful of movies while flying isn't particularly remarkable except that the book I was reading was about movies, specifically the making of excessive, indulgent, ego-laden and costly turkeys. James Robert Parish's Fiasco: A History of Hollywood's Iconic Flops details the behind-the scenes manoeuvrings that see 14 high-profile movies becoming expensive box office disasters (Waterworld, Ishtar and Showgirls are some examples).
And I suggest that it's a book every CIO who has a major business-led project in the works should buy and surreptitiously place on the desk of the project's sponsor. Why? Because this book is ultimately about project management/governance - and the lack thereof. Moreover, it's about what happens when the wrong people, with hefty chequebooks, are dead certain they know what's best and no one's willing - or able - to curb egos gone feral.
Regular readers will know that one of my major pet peeves is the ongoing one-dimensional portrayal of IT projects gone off the boil. And usually it's some poor schmuck CIO taking the heat in the press for the business behaving badly. Conferences are rife with so-called experts who regularly cite some bone-chilling stat along the lines of: 30 percent of IT projects fail and another 80 percent are over time and over budget. They leave that single nugget of information floating in the air like a bad fart, which continues to perpetuate the notion among CEOs, CFOs et al that: 1. IT never gets it right, 2. only IT projects are dogged by failure, and 3. we should can the CIO and outsource the IT department. What these experts fail to mention is that it's almost always because the specs or scope have changed (usually because the business didn't get them right the first time around).
In one chapter of his book, Parish cites two Kevin Costner movies, Waterworld and The Postman, as poster children for movie-making gone awry. He points out the two movies proved "that when a major movie star/producer with a tremendous ego has too much control over a large film project, a real-life disaster is frequently the final result".
Substitute movie star/producer for business sponsor and film for IT and you pretty much sum up why many a software project heads south.
Parish ends the chapter with a cogent observation: "In such a potentially devastating industry situation, it becomes a requirement for the film company to have in place - before the fact - a strong set of checks and balances in order to rein in costs and any excessively indulgent artistic choices."
Enter stage right, the CIO.
On a final note I suggest you buy and read the book yourself. It's not only a good yarn, but you'll feel substantially better after reading it. After all, at least you didn't have to direct Battleship Earth.
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